Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison is shown aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour
during STS-47 preparing to deploy the lower body negative
pressure (LBNP) apparatus. NASA.

In politics and professionalism, black women occupied federal appointments, enjoyed entrepreneurial successes and recognition in religious communities.  In 1984 Leontine T.C. Kelly, the first black woman bishop of a major religious denomination in the United States, was elected head of the United Methodist Church in the San Francisco area. In 1988 Barbara Clementine Harris of Boston was the first woman to become a bishop in the Episcopal denomination.  In 1990 Sister Cora Billings was installed as a pastor in Richmond, VA, becoming the first black nun to head a parish in the U.S.

Despite conservative leanings throughout the 1980s, black women obtained firsts in local and national politics. In 1980 Mary Frances Berry was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Jimmy Carter.  In 1988 Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party was the first woman and first African American presidential candidate to get on the ballot in all fifty states. Condoleezza Rice became the first African American appointed as director of Soviet and East European Affairs on the National Security Council in 1989. Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly was elected mayor of Washington, DC, becoming the first woman to be elected in 1990. In 1997 Alexis Herman became the first African American to head the Labor Department.

In popular culture, black women excelled in the media and military. The Oprah Winfrey Show went national, making Oprah Winfrey the first African American woman to host a nationally syndicated weekday talk show in 1986.  In 1987 Mae Jemison joined NASA. She was the first black woman astronaut. In 1985 Sherian Grace Cadoria was the first black woman promoted to brigadier general in the regular U.S. Army. And in1994 Beverly Harvard of Atlanta, GA, became the first African American woman to reach the rank of chief of police in a major U.S. city.

The area of organizing and education, two mainstays within the black women’s view, continued to expand with the founding of new organizations and leadership in established interracial groups. In 1981 the National Black Women’s Health Project was founded under the leadership of Bylle Y. Avery.


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