‘They Made History’: Ms. Magazine’s 10 Fave Features of Black Feminists

As Ms. turns 50, we are looking back at the life and legacy of some of the groundbreaking Black feminists who have been featured on the magazine’s covers and in its pages over the years, and who have made history.

Contemporary feminist movements in the U.S. and globally are stronger and more transformational because of the tremendous contribution of Black feminists and their struggles against multiple and intersecting forms of oppression. As Ms. editor Janell Hobson writes, “A history that centers the contributions of Black women, who have modeled resistance and nurturing—especially during times of crisis—just might provide the blueprint for survival and thriving” in our current political moment. 

The Nature of the Beast
Anita Hill

“The reality is that this powerful beast is used to perpetuate a sense of inequality, to keep women in their place notwithstanding our increasing presence in the workplace.”

—Jan/Feb 1992, p. 32

…And the Language Is Race
Eleanor Holmes Norton

“Anita [Hill] was ahead of a time she helped define—a time to be black and a woman.”

—Jan/Feb 1992, p.43
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Oct. 22, 1992. (Chris Ayers / CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Pauli Murray: Priest, Lawyer, Teacher, Poet
Casey Miller and Kate Swift

“I will resist every attempt to categorize me, to place me in some caste, or to assign me to some segregated pigeonhole. No law which imprisons my body or custom which wounds my spirit can stop me.”

—March 1980

“Five years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued her first gender equality case, Pauli Murray coined the term ‘Jane Crow’ to address the intersectional oppression affecting Black women. …

“‘My Name is Pauli Murray‘ utilizes a dynamic mix of archival footage; recordings of Murray reading from their memoir; quotes and images from Murray’s legal cases, letters, and diaries; contemporary footage of scholars like Brittany Cooper teaching her students about Murray; and interviews with scholars, biographers and family members who speak to Murray’s enduring legacy. It’s a well-crafted, engaging documentary that’s both edifying and inspiring. May we all be able to say, as Murray does, that ‘I lived to see my lost causes found.'”

—”Documentary ‘My Name is Pauli Murray’ Illuminates the Life of Visionary Feminist Lawyer,” Aviva Dove-Viebahn, February 2021

NAACP, SCLC, SNCC: Ella Baker Got Them Moving
Ellen Cantariw and Susan Gushee O’Malley

“I have not seen anything in the nonviolent technique that dissuades me from challenging somebody who wants to stand on my neck.”

—June 1980, p. 56

In Search of Zora Neale Hurston
Alice Walker

“There are times—and finding Zora Hurston’s grave was one of them—when normal responses of grief, horror, and so on, do not make sense because they bear no real relation to the depth of the emotion one feels….It is only later, when the pain is not so direct a threat to one’s existence that what was learned in that moment of comical lunacy is understood.”

—March 1975, p. 74

“The idea that you could be an independent Black woman researcher and scholar is really almost like talking about going to the moon at that moment. It just seems unattainable. And there she is trying to do it.”

‘Why We Still Love Zora’: Irma McClaurin on PBS Documentary ‘Claiming a Space’ and Zora Neale Hurston’s Legacy, Janell Hobson, January 2023

A Revolutionary Woman: Coretta Scott King
Beverly Guy-Sheftall

“When we retell the story of radical African American activism in the 20th century, we can finally embrace Coretta Scott King as the truly revolutionary figure she was.”

—Spring 2006, p. 58-59

A Home Girl With A Mission: An Interview with Barbara Smith
Patricia Bell Scott

“I wasn’t raised to think everything was about me. Black feminism means that I have to help build resources for other women of color.”

—Jan/Feb 1995

The Combahee River Collective Statement

“There have always been Black women activists—some known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thousands unknown—who have had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and the focus of their political struggle unique. Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of sacrifice, militancy and work by our mothers and sisters.

—July/August 1991
Ms. magazine, July/August 1991.

Harriet and the Combahee River Raid
Dr. Edd I. Field-Black

“Most Americans know only of Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad. Before the biopic Harriet, most depictions of Tubman’s life ignored a critical chapter of her life: Harriet Tubman worked for the U.S. Army as a nurse, cook, spy and scout during the U.S. Civil War, including leading the freedom seekers in the Combahee River Raid.”

—February 2022
Scene from the movie Harriet (2019), starring Cynthia Erivo and directed by Kasi Lemmons, depicting Harriet Tubman leading the Combahee River Raid that freed over 750 enslaved people in South Carolina. 

The Black Feminist Guide: bell hooks 
Janell Hobson

“bell hooks gave us language that literally saved our lives by helping to articulate the oppressions we face as women, as black people.”

—Winter 2022, p.47
Bell hooks died on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at her home in Berea, Ky. She was 69. (Creative Commons)

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Karon Jolna, Ph.D., is a scholar-activist with two decades of experience in nonprofit feminist media and higher education. Currently she serves as program director and editor at Ms. magazine, leading its efforts to bring women’s, gender and sexuality studies analyses and voices to a broader national audience. Previously she served as a lecturer of gender studies at UCLA and research scholar at UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. Jolna was among the first cohort to earn a Ph.D. in women’s studies at Emory University. Canadian-born, Jolna currently lives in Los Angeles.