Celia Cruz was the undisputed “Queen of Salsa” over her six-decade career. She unabashedly embraced her Cuban heritage at a time when being different could decimate lives and careers. She encouraged many Afro-Latino Americans to celebrate and own their heritage, of which salsa was an intrinsic part.
Cruz’s career took off in 1950 when she teamed up with the popular group “La Sonora Matancera.” Cruz carved her space in the male-dominated salsa music industry, becoming one of the most iconic musicians in Latin America. She was an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro, championing the cause of fellow Cubans suffering under his government.
Indira Gandhi became the third prime minister of independent India in 1966 – the first and only woman PM of the country so far. The formidable Gandhi remained in power for over two decades. Among her progressive reforms were the Green Revolution (an enormously successful agriculture program) and India’s Nuclear Program.
As a complex woman leader, Gandhi was no stranger to controversy, but she ruled with an iron fist. Her undoing came in 1958 when she ordered an attack on militants holed up inside the Golden Temple, a place sacred to the Sikh community. Outraged by the desecration, her two bodyguards assassinated her.
Katherine G. Johnson
Katherine G. Johnson’s story received prominence after the 2016 Academy Award-nominated film “ Hidden Figures.” The film chronicles the achievements of a group of Black women who worked at NASA in the 1960s when this was not an accepted norm. Dubbed “human computers,” Johnson was a math genius who calculated space trajectories by hand, and whose exceptional talents guided Alan B. Shephard’s mission in 1961.
Johnson’s skills helped John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth. In 1969, she guided Apollo 11 on its trajectory to the moon – arguably among the greatest scientific feats accomplished by the U.S.
Shirley Chisholm broke gender and racial barriers throughout her life. The world knows her best for her 1972 Presidential run – the first African-American woman to contest — but Chisholm’s legacy goes beyond. She experienced community activism early on as an educator.
She became a member of the NAACP, the Urban League, and the League of Women Voters. Chisolm made history in 1968 as the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress. Fittingly dubbed “Fighting Shirley,” she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation in her political career – most centered around rights for children, the poor, and racial and gender equality.
Angela Davis is a prominent writer, educator, activist, and feminist who has been at the forefront of several causes for over 50 years. Davis is one of the leading voices for prison reform and the Black liberation movements. In 1970, the state of California wrongfully imprisoned Davis for her alleged involvement in an armed standoff inside a county courtroom. Authorities released her in 1972, and the undaunted Davis picked up right where she left off.
She founded Critical Resistance — a grassroots organization aiming to abolish the prison-industrial complex. The activist continues advocating for gender, race, and class equality through her writings and community work.