5 Black Women Philanthropists Who Paved The Way

Madam CJ Walker in Automobile/Author Unknown /Wikimedia/Pub

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Black people have a long history of philanthropy. We can trace this back to when our ancestors lived on the African continent, and worked as a community to obtain and share resources.

Black American philanthropy dates all the way back to 1700s when many enslaved Blacks were able to practice a trade outside of their master’s home and keep the earnings. These earnings were sometimes used to buy their freedom and the freedom of relatives.  

Throughout our history in America, our giving has been rooted in efforts to overcome oppression and make a difference in the daily lives of other African Americans.

Despite a lack of wealth, Black people are actually one of the most giving groups, particularly when it comes to churches, social service organizations, and schools. In fact, it has been reported that nearly 70 percent of African American households make donations totaling a staggering 11 billion dollars each year.

But to be clear, our philanthropy extends beyond simply financial gifts and encompasses how we use our time, voice, and skills to contribute to meaningful causes.

In this article, we highlight 5 pioneering Black female philanthropists who were predecessors to women like Oprah, Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Rihanna, and probably even your own grandmother to use their resources to benefit African Americans as a collective. Check them out below!

Bridget “Biddy” Mason

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Born in 1818 in Mississippi, Mason was a nurse and midwife who sued her master for her freedom and won before moving to Los Angeles.

Making $2.50 a day, she lived frugally and saved up enough money to purchase real estate and a commercial building that would propel her to amassing $300,000.

While she donated generously to charities, Mason’s is most well known philanthropic efforts were financing the First African Methodist Episcopal church and founding an elementary school for Black children in LA.

Annie Malone

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After reaching multi-millionaire status from selling cosmetics and hair care products, Malone used her wealth to uplift other African Americans across the nation. For several years, she provided full-tuition for two students at every Black land-grant college in the U.S.

Additionally, she donated $25,000 to Howard University Medical Center and another $25,000 to help build a YMCA and support several orphanages in the St. Louis area.

When she passed away in 1957, her remaining fortune was gifted to her nieces, nephews, and multiple charitable organizations.

Madam C.J. Walker

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As a protege of Annie Malone, Walker became a tycoon in the hair care industry and integrated philanthropy into the moral fabric of her business persona. She was a staunch supporter of anti-lynching programs run by the NAACP and National Association of Colored Women.

More than her money, she donated her time to causes that she believed were advancing the race. Throughout her career, she gave speeches on the value of education, invested in training Black women to be entrepreneurs, and advocated for the rights of Black soldiers who had fought in America’s wars.

Mary Church Terrell

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One of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, Terrell dedicated her time and talents to endeavors that directly improved the lives of Black women.

Although she was not wealthy, it was her social activism and personal investment in the Black community that shined through her philanthropic work.

She was a founding member of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women in addition to her frontline efforts in the women’s suffrage movement organizing picket-lines and boycotts.  

Oseola McCarty

Upon dropping out of sixth grade to take care of her aunt and grandmother, McCarty took up the family profession as a washerwoman and began saving just about every dime she made.

Her modesty and contentment with a simple life enabled her to accumulate nearly $300,000 by the time she retired in 1995.

Given her thwarted education, she was passionate about other African Americans having the opportunity to go to college so she made a $150,000 donation to The University of Southern Mississippi and lived off the rest of her savings.

As you can see, philanthropy is not just for the wealthy. These stories show Black women of varying financial levels giving back to their communities in a multiplicity of ways whether it be with their money, time, or talents.

It is imperative that we start relying on each other and encouraging giving to one another in order to strengthen our communities and begin the path to generational wealth.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved in philanthropic work, check out The Give Black Foundation, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, and the Black Philanthropic Network.

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