Friday, February 6, 2015

For Black History Month, 29 famous speeches by black women

Black women speakers from all over the world are often featured in The Eloquent Woman Index of famous speeches by women. Whether African, American or from elsewhere in the world, they make up close to 20 percent of the speeches we've collected and featured so far.

No shortages here: Check out the 29 famous speeches from the Index given by black women speakers, arranged in chronological order. It's our way of kicking off Black History Month:
  1. Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman?" is oft-quoted, but has a disputed source, illustrating why it's often tough to find famous women's speeches. In this case, that happened because Truth could neither read nor write. That doesn't detract at all from her message about equality for all women of all races. Read Soujourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" Speech: A Primary Source Investigation for more about the many versions of this speech, only one of which contains the most-quoted phrase.
  2. Ida B. Wells's 1909 "This Awful Slaughter" busted the myth that women's safety was the reason lynchings were carried out, and used a mix of data and defiance to fight against the practice of mob killings of black men. Read the book To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells to learn more about her campaign.
  3. Josephine Baker at the March on Washington shares the brief remarks of the lone woman to share the program with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of other, male speakers. Those who thought of her as a notorious showgirl learned more about her self-enforced exile to France as a way of seeking racial equality.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer's 1964 convention committee testimony failed to gain her a seat at that convention, but succeeded in raising the visibility of violence against blacks attempting to register to vote. Four years later, she became an historic convention delegate. You can read more about her public speaking in The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is.
  5. Coretta Scott King's 1968 "10 Commandments on Vietnam" -- a speech she gave in her husband's place, just weeks after his assassination -- took scribbled notes found in his pockets and made them into a powerful call to action. Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King is a recent biography.
  6. Shirley Chisholm introduces the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't a first. This member of Congress was re-introducing the legislation, 40 years after it was first proposed--and did so in her usual fiery and forthright style.
  7. Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic convention keynote broke barriers for women and for blacks in one speech, suggesting that "the American Dream need not be deferred." It's loaded with elegant rhetoric and is a wonderful listen, thanks to Jordan's vocalizing skills. A Private Woman in Public Spaces: Barbara Jordan's Speeches on Ethics, Public Religion, and Law takes a focused look at the speeches of one of America's most eloquent women.
  8. Anita Hill's 1981 Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas disrupted the Senate confirmation hearings of the then-nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, leveling sexual harrassment allegations against him that ultimately did not prevent his appointment to the court. "It would have been more comfortable to remain silent," she said in this televised testimony that stunned viewers and brought harrassment into the open as an issue. In Speaking Truth to Power, she tells her story.
  9. Maya Angelou's 1995 poem, "Phenomenal Woman," often delivered by her and others as a speech, summed up for me and many others what made this frequent speaker so special. Listen closely to her charming delivery.
  10. Angelou's 2006 eulogy for Coretta Scott King might be any eulogy from one close friend for another, as Angelou tells stories about the civil rights icon that only a girlfriend would know. This is a lovely, simple and moving tribute.
  11. Edwidge Danticat's 2007 testimony on death in detention gave the novelist a gripping real-life story to tell, about her uncle's treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration and customs officials when he was held in detention. It's moving, direct and powerful, just like her fictional writings. You can read more about this dramatic story in her book Brother, I'm Dying.
  12. Rep. Gwen Moore's 2011 floor speech on abortion rights and family planning came during a debate about federal funding for family planning. She chose to use her status as a member of Congress to share a personal perspective as a former teenage mother.
  13. Michelle Obama's 2011 speech to young African women leaders took place in a powerful setting, and used that visual reminder to call these young women to action. Michelle Obama: Speeches on Life, Love, and American Values collects speeches of our current First Lady, preserving the legacy of a frequent speaker.
  14. Viola Davis's 2011 awards acceptance speech, "What keeps me in the business is hope," went far beyond the usual platitudes and confronted what it's like to be a black actress in the movie industry. An eloquent extemporaneous speech.
  15. Chimamanda Adichie's "we should all be feminists," a 2012 TEDxEuston talk, has inspired pop icons and women and men around the world with its frank, funny, and fierce viewpoint.
  16. Michelle Obama's 2012 Democratic National Convention speech follows a formula for memorable speeches recommended by President John F. Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. And it worked with today's audiences, garnering more than 28,000 tweets per second from those who watched it.
  17. Viola Davis's 2012 commencement speech is titled "Go out and live!" It's a stunning example of what you can do with a tired speaking format, and is like no college commencement speech you've ever endured. Perhaps my favorite line: "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you discover why you were born."
  18. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's 2013 Harvard commencement speech shared the dreams and roadblocks in the Liberian president's stellar career. She says, "If your dreams do not scare you, they're not big enough."
  19. Essie Washington-Williams's 2013 "I feel completely free" told the world a secret she'd kept most of her life: She was the daughter of a black woman and Senator Strom Thurmond, a white segregationist who campaigned against civil rights.
  20. Joyce Banda's tribute to Nelson Mandela at his memorial service in 2013 wasn't a remarkable text--until the Malawi president went off-script and put in the color and creativity she got in part from her mentor.
  21. Myrlie Evers-Williams's invocation at President Obama's second inaugural in 2013 marked the first time the invocation at the ceremony was given by a woman, and by someone other than a member of the clergy. The widow of assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers summoned the spirits of the leaders of that movement to witness the day's proceedings. Read more about her story in her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be.
  22. Leymah Gbowee's 2013 Barnard commencement speech had the Liberian Nobel laureate urging women to "step out of the shadows" and get more credit for their work.
  23. Gabourey Sidibe's speech at the 2014 Gloria Awards used an iconic photo of her aunt and Gloria Steinem to honor Steinem, and to talk about being confident despite how she's taunted because of her weight.
  24. Michelle Obama's eulogy for Maya Angelou in 2014 echoed words from "Phenomenal Woman" and told how the poet inspired her as a child.
  25. Kerry Washington spoke in 2014 on the risks of public speaking for women and women of color, admitting she'd turned down the chance to give a TED talk in an award acceptance speech.
  26. Rashema Melson's 2014 high school valedictory speech made headlines because the speaker overcame homelessness to graduate at the top of her class and get into Georgetown. A short, fierce, fantastic speech.
  27. Laverne Cox gave a 2014 keynote on transgender activism for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force meeting, offering inspiration and encouragement to local activists.
  28. Lupita Nyong'o used a 2014 acceptance speech at a Hollywood luncheon to talk about the conflicting views we have about black women and beauty in a revealing, resonant talk.
  29. Viola Davis's 2014 acceptance speech focused on hunger, taking a Hollywood audience to the dumpsters where she dived for food as a child, and speaking abou the importance of public speaking to shed light on so-called "unspeakable" issues. A riveting short speech.

Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!

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