Explore 8 Historic Places Telling the Story of Black Women Who Fought For Civil Rights

Black women have been the backbone of civil rights in the United States for decades. Their activism and advocacy have made advancements for Black Americans and more in areas such as education, politics, and employment.

Through their resilience and determination, their efforts continue to open doors to opportunities that were once inaccessible to millions of people. These women stayed dedicated to the fight, and we must continue to honor and uplift their stories.

Inspired by the campaign for Where Women Made History and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, this guide highlights eight places that share the histories of prominent women fought for justice and equality.

  1. Exterior view of home painted white and a red roof with an enclosed porch in front. The photograph is taken at an angle that allows you to see both the front and the side of the building.

    Photo By: Drewp4vp via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

    Juanita Craft Civil Rights House

    Juanita Craft was a civil rights organizer and public servant who lived in this Dallas home for 50 years. The human rights pioneer made a significant impact on anti-discrimination laws in Texas. She sat in many "whites only" sections during her train trips across the state. She also started 182 NAACP chapters in rural areas. She helped integrate two universities (University of Texas Law School and North Texas State University), the 1954 Texas State Fair, and other retail and restaurant spaces in Dallas. In 1975, Craft was elected to the Dallas City Council at the age of 73, becoming the second Black woman to serve in the city's history.

  2. Exterior view of a large brick building known as the Edna M. Griffin Building in Des Moines, Iowa. The photograph is oriented across the street and is showing the two sides of the structure from the corner. There is a sign marked Locust street hanging on a stop signal pole in front.

    Photo By: Alexa McDowell via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

    Edna M. Griffin Building

    This downtown Des Moines building became the center of civil rights in Iowa when human rights pioneer Edna Griffin led protests and sit-ins at Katz Drug Store after the store (located in the building) refused to provide her service in 1948. Recognized as the "Rosa Parks of Iowa," Griffin filed a lawsuit against the owner, and the case reached the Iowa Supreme Court. The court ruled it illegal for the state to deny people service based on their race. The building, originally known as the Flynn Building, was renamed the Edna M. Griffin Building in 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Griffin's efforts. Constructed in 1885, today the renovated building consists of retail, office, and residential space.

  3. A view of a garden in Norman, Oklahoma with a sign providing information on Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and her history.

    Photo By: Nmajdan via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.5

    Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden

    In 1946, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, lawyer and civil rights activist, applied to attend The University of Oklahoma's law school, but the school denied her admission due to racial segregation laws. With civic leaders' support, she filed a lawsuit in Cleveland County District Court against the state and fought the case for three years. The case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1948, with Thurgood Marshall serving as her lawyer. She eventually won and became the first Black student admitted to the O.U. College of Law in 1949. In 1991, Fisher received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the school and a year later, she was appointed to the OU Board of Regents, which is the same governing body that initially rejected her admission. Fisher passed away on Oct. 18, 1995, and the university dedicated the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden in her honor.

  4. Exterior view of a white home with a sign in front by Historic Columbia identifying the building as the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House, Columbia, South Carolina.

    Photo By: Dr. Blazer via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

    Modjeska Monteith Simkins House

    A leader of public health and social reform, Modjeska Monteith Simkins played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement in South Carolina. Simkins made a substantial impact on the health of Black Americans in South Carolina. In 1931, Simkins worked as the director of Negro Work for the South Carolina Anti-Tuberculosis Association, became the state's only full-time, statewide Black public health worker, and was the first woman to serve as state secretary of the state NAACP. Simkins's home served many purposes for the community, including lodging for fellow civil rights leaders, an office, and a meeting place. She lived in the house from 1932 until she died in 1992.

  5. Photo of the the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in Washington, D.C., a red brick rowhouse in Logan Circle.

    Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

    A woman of distinction and political prowess, Mary McLeod Bethune lived at this residence from 1943 to 1949. During the early to mid-20th-century, Bethune advocated for education, racial, and gender equality in America. The civil rights leader moved to Washington, D.C. in 1935 to work as a special advisor on minority affairs for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. That same year, she founded and became the first president of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. In 1943 she bought this home at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW in the Logan Circle neighborhood, which also became the organization's first national headquarters. Bethune fought for Black and women's rights until her passing in 1955. The townhouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1982 and currently serves as a museum.

  6. Exterior view of a Baltimore Row House, brown brick with a set of eight windows and an arched doorway that is now the Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Museum

    Photo By: Photograph by Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritage via Wikimedia CC0 1.0

    Lillie Carol Jackson Civil Rights Museum

    Known as the "Mother of Freedom,” Lillie Carol Jackson was a renowned civil rights leader in Baltimore, Maryland. Jackson played a pivotal role in dismantling Jim Crow laws in the city and throughout the country. In 1935, she became the president of the NAACP's Baltimore branch growing the community to thousands of members. By 1946 the chapter was one of the largest in the country. Through her leadership, Jackson desegregated many of the Baltimore’s facilities and schools. She also helped citizens gain equal employment, hold leadership positions, and roles in public office. Jackson's daughter, Virginia Jackson-Kiah, spearheaded turning Jackson’s home into a museum. When it opened in 1978, it became the first privately owned museum commemorating a Black woman. Jackson is a part of the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, and former Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley designated May 25 as Lillie Carroll Jackson Day in Baltimore.

  7. Exterior view of a two story building with the windows and doors boarded up. It is brick and sits at the edge of a series of similar looking buildings.

    Photo By: Kendra Parzen/NTHP

    Juanita Jackson Mitchell Law Offices

    Juanita Jackson is the first Black woman to attend The University of Maryland's law school and the first Black woman to practice law in Maryland. The community activist and lawyer played a crucial role in fighting against discrimination. She participated in lawsuits to end segregation in recreation facilities, restaurants, and public schools in many jurisdictions in the state. Her involvement in school desegregation led Maryland to become the first Southern state to integrate its school system after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. Mitchell also fought for voting rights and provided opportunities for Black youth in Maryland. She founded the Baltimore City-Wide Young People's Forum in 1931 and the NAACP Youth Movement four years later in 1935.

  8. Exterior view of an old school building that is dark brick with white trim. Built in 1915 this structure was demolished in 1993.

    Photo By: Cambridge Historical Commission

    The Maria L. Baldwin School

    Originally named the Agassiz School, The Maria L. Baldwin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is named after Black educator Maria L. Baldwin. Baldwin worked as a teacher until she worked as a principal for the school in 1889. In 1916, she was appointed master of the school, becoming one of two women in the city's school system and the only Black American to hold that merit in New England. Up until her death in 1922, Baldwin cared deeply for childhood learning and introduced many firsts in the United States education system. She taught new mathematics-based methods, introduced school nurses to the institution, and led the Agassiz School to became the only public school to construct an "open-air" classroom. To honor her contributions, the Cambridge School Committee voted to rename the reconstructed school building after Baldwin in 2002.

Brianna Rhodes is a former African American Cultural Heritage Fund Fellow and a journalist and entrepreneur based in Washington, D.C. She writes on a range of topics, including Black culture, diversity and inclusion, and historic places.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

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