back to top

17 Badass Black Women You Should Know That Aren't Beyoncé

Proof that "Black Girl Magic" started a long, long time ago.

Posted on

1. Baroness Valerie Amos, first black woman to sit in the British cabinet.

Eamonn M. Mccormack / Getty Images

Other than being queen of the coral blazer, Baroness Valerie Amos is a badass for several reasons. Not only did she become the first black British cabinet member when she was appointed as international development secretary in 2003, she also made history as the first black woman to lead a British university when she became director of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Amos. She’s held several positions in the public sector, including chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, acted as an adviser to the Mandela government, served as Foreign Office minister, AND worked as the UK High Commissioner to Australia.

After all that exhausting success, she was made a Companion of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2016 because really, it's only right, isn't it?

2. Sislin Fay Allen, first black policewoman in the UK.

William Vanderson / Getty Images

Before we get into the badassery of Sislin Fay Allen, I want you to take a quick look at this photo. You see that hat? You see that jacket? Classic qualities of a badass.

When Allen joined the Metropolitan police in 1968 there were no black female officers at all. She’d been working as a nurse when she saw the job advert, and her acceptance to the interview stage came as a shock to her own family.

On the selection day, there were only 10 women in attendance, Allen being the only black woman among them. Any other person may have been intimidated, but Allen clearly gave no fucks. After passing a set of exams, she began her work in Croydon, before being transferred to Scotland Yard's missing persons bureau.

3. Claudia Jones, founder of Britain's first major black newspaper.

Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Born in Trinidad in 1924, political activist, freedom fighter, and all around badass Claudia Jones was a pioneer of radical journalism. While living in New York, she was a member of the Young Communist League and joined the staff of the Daily Worker. She was arrested in 1955 and served a year in prison, before ultimately being deported and given asylum in the UK.

Faced with Britain’s racism, Jones became a leader in the Black Equal Rights Movement and founded the West Indian Gazette, the first black newspaper in the UK.

Jones's reporting not only had zero tolerance for bullshit, it also increased awareness of the growing number of black and Asian people living in the UK by dealing with issues such as racial discrimination. And if running the newspaper wasn’t enough, she's also credited as a co-founder of the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the world's largest street festivals.

So, what have you done today?

4. Hope Powell, first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro Licence.

Joern Pollex / Getty Images

Hope Powell has always been a force to be reckoned with in the football world, achieving a string of firsts in her field. She was the first ever full-time England women’s head coach in 1998, the first female coach director named by the Professional Footballers’ Association, and the first woman to obtain the UEFA Pro Licence.

As a footballer herself, she won 66 caps for the England women’s team, and was even head coach of the Great Britain women’s football team for the London 2012 Olympics. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

5. Paulette Randall, first black female director to bring a production to the West End.

Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Funnily enough, Randall’s theatre career originated from a bet – after showing her an advert for a community theatre course, Paulette’s friend bet her £5 she wouldn’t apply, and in an attempt to prove her wrong, she did.

Now Randall is one of the leading female directors in the UK. She was the first black female director to bring a production to the West End with Fences in 2013, and she received an MBE (becoming a member of the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire") in 2015, for her contribution to theatre.

6. Mary Prince, first black woman to write and publish an autobiography in the UK.

penguin.co.uk

Born the daughter of slaves in 1788, Mary Prince was sold away from her family at the age of 10. As both a domestic and field slave, Prince was treated terribly by a series of masters, suffering physical and sexual abuse.

In 1828, Prince was taken to England by her owners, and soon ran away to find freedom. She worked alongside the Anti-Slavery Society for abolition and became the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to parliament. Her book, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, was the first autobiography to be written and published by a black woman, and was a key part of the anti-slavery campaign. Although the slave trade was illegal in Britain, it was through learning of her ordeal that many Britons became aware of how dreadful life on the plantations really was.

7. Baroness Patricia Scotland, first woman and British citizen to hold office as secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Carl Court / Getty Images

Baroness Patricia Scotland’s CV is so badass it would probably put the Queen to shame. To start off, not only did she make legal history by becoming the first British citizen to be elected secretary-general of the Commonwealth, she was the first woman to get elected too.

But that's not all. In 1991, Scotland was the first black woman to be made a Queen's Counsel, and at the age of 35, she was also the youngest ever female QC. She was the first black woman to be appointed deputy high court judge and recorder and master of Middle Temple, and the first woman to hold the post as appointed attorney general. The list of accomplishments goes on and on and on, proving that Baroness Scotland is not to be messed with.

8. Diane Abbott, first black female MP.

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

If you have any interest in British politics at all, you've probably heard (or should have heard) about Diane Abbott. In 1987, Abbott made history by becoming the first black woman ever elected to the British parliament. Do you hear that? EVER. But that's not the only reason she's badass.

In a bid to raise awareness of specific challenges black pupils face in education, Abbott founded the "London Schools and the Black Child" initiative, which focuses on raising achievement levels. She was also a founding member of the Black Media Workers' Organisation, and has been active in the Black Sections movement within the Labour party, including the "Scrap SUS" campaign to ban police stop-and-search tactics targeting black youth.

9. Lilian Bader, one of the first black women to join the British Armed Forces.

voice-online.co.uk

Born to an Irish mother and Bajan father, Lilian Bader began her career in the domestic service after struggling to find employment as a mixed-raced woman. She eventually joined the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes as a canteen assistant when World War II broke out in 1939, but was asked to leave seven weeks later when it was revealed that her father wasn't born in the UK.

Not content with being kicked out of the armed forces due to lame old discrimination, Bader applied to the Royal Air Force after hearing it was accepting recruits with a West Indian background. She was soon enlisted with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and was the only black woman in the force.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Bader's brother was killed while serving in the Merchant Navy. She found out two weeks into her training. On her return from compassionate leave, Bader embarked on a training course that would qualify her as an instrument repairer, and she later graduated as an airwoman first class.

10. Marianne Jean-Baptiste, first black British actress to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Marianne Jean-Baptiste didn't always want to be actor. Initially she dreamt of becoming a barrister, but she ended up at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art instead, and the rest is pretty much history.

She first became known internationally through her performance in Secrets and Lies in 1996, which Jean-Baptiste received several award nominations for, including Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. She was Britain's first black Oscar nominee.

In addition to her success, Jean-Baptiste has never been afraid to voice her discontent with the lack of diversity in TV, particularly in Britain. On the 50th anniversary of the funding body British Screen, for which 50 of the UK's top actors were invited to the Cannes film festival, Jean-Baptiste wasn't included, and she spoke out against this. Her artistic prowess and candidness on racism in the industry have contributed to her status as one of the most important black British actors today.

11. Ethel Scott, first black woman to represent Great Britain in an international athletics competition.

commons.wikimedia.org

Although many details of her athletics career remain unknown, Ethel Scott is still a legend in black history. Competing between 1928 and 1950, Scott specialised in short-distance track events, and achieved her greatest successes around 1930.

What successes? I hear you ask. To name a few, in August 1930, Scott set a personal best for the 60 metres, coming 2 tenths of a second off the world record at the time, and equalling the British record. In September of that year, she was one of 15 athletes chosen to represent Britain at the third Women's World Games in Prague, making her the first black woman to represent Great Britain in an international athletics competition.

Sure, Scott may have been largely forgotten by history, but that doesn't mean she wasn't a goddamn badass.

12. Margaret Busby, Britain's youngest and first black female book publisher.

Evening Standard / Getty Images

Meet Margaret Busby and her gorgeous 'fro. Look deep into her eyes. Her face says "finishing some light work on a rainy afternoon", but her eyes scream business.

Born in Ghana to Caribbean parents, Busby was educated at the University of London in the 1960s and went on to become the youngest person and first black woman to establish herself as a publisher in the UK when she co-founded Allison & Busby Ltd with Clive Allison. Busby served as the editorial director there for 20 years.

Aside from, you know, establishing her own publishing company and all, Busby has contributed greatly to the literary and creative scene. She's a writer, editor, reviewer, and broadcaster, with bylines in The Guardian, Independent, Observer, New Statesman, and more. She compiled the Daughters of Africa anthology, has served as a judge for several literary awards, and is the patron of Independent Black Publishers.

13. Sarah Forbes Bonetta, West African royal and companion of Queen Victoria.

commons.wikimedia.org

OK, this story is less "badass" and more surprising, which is why you need to know. Sarah Forbes Bonetta was a West African Egbado Omoba who was orphaned after a war between her tribe and the Dahomeyans.

Before she could be offered as a human sacrifice, she was saved in 1849 by British naval officer Frederick Forbes, who took her back to his ship with the intention of giving her to Queen Victoria as a gift. Victoria was so impressed by Bonetta's intelligence and "natural regal manner" that Bonetta became a regular at Windsor Castle, and she outshone her tutors with her advanced learning abilities. Queen Victoria remained Bonetta's friend and protector until she was old enough to marry.

Once reluctantly wed, Bonetta gave birth to a daughter. Her daughter was christened Victoria, and the Queen was named her godmother.

Bonetta died from tuberculosis around the age of 40 in 1880, having struggled with ill health all her life. Her daughter was given an annuity by the Queen, and she too continued to visit the royal household throughout her own life.

14. Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey, world-renowned singer.

Anthony Harvey / Getty Images

If you don't know about Dame Shirley Bassey already, I can only presume you've been living under a rock. To put it simply, Bassey is a world-famous singer responsible for a plethora of hits, most notably the theme songs for James Bond films Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Her international acclaim is something few black British artists before her had managed to achieve.

As a child (the youngest of seven children), Bassey's home life was tumultuous. Her father was sent to prison for the repeated sexual abuse of a child, prompting her mother to relocate to a working-class neighbourhood in Cardiff. Through poverty, a teenage pregnancy, and the death of her daughter, adversity seemed to plague Bassey's personal life, but her professional career continued to blossom after her first hit, "Banana Boat Song", in 1957. The crowning achievement of her career was a 1977 Britannia Award for Best Female Solo Singer in the Last 50 Years.

Bassey's incredible commercial success led to her being made a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.

15. Mary Seacole, Crimean War nurse and founder of the British Hotel.

Bruno Vincent / Getty Images

In history, Mary Seacole is often remembered as "a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War". Born in Jamaica to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother, Seacole learned her nursing skills from her mother, who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. She developed these skills as she got older, using her love of travel to aid her knowledge of both traditional medicine and European medical ideas.

When Seacole requested to be sent to the Crimea, where medical facilities for wounded soldiers were poor, her request was refused. However, undeterred by this rejection, giver of zero fucks Mary Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea, and established the British Hotel there in 1855. Its purpose was to provide for sick and wounded British soldiers, and soon the entire British army knew of the place they called "Mother Seacole's".

Seacole's success has been known to rival that of Florence Nightingale's, and the two have often been pitted against each other in history. Aside from this though, one fact remains clear: Mary Seacole was way more badass than any of us.

16. Karen Blackett, first woman to be named most influential black person in the UK.

cityparents.co.uk

Media mogul and all-around powerhouse Karen Blackett is the chief executive of MediaCom, the UK's largest media agency. In 2014, she became the first businesswoman to top the Power List of Britain's most influential black people, beating out Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, Google's Adrian Joseph, and Formula One racing river Lewis Hamilton.

Blackett has been at MediaCom for 20 years and became the chief executive in 2010. Since taking up this role, she's launched an apprenticeship scheme for disadvantaged youth who want to get into media, and has been awarded an OBE in the Queen's Honours list for her services to the media industry.

17. Linda Bellos, businessperson, gay rights activists, and co-founder of Black History Month in the UK.

Keystone / Getty Images

Linda Bellos has a long, inspiring history of championing human rights and equality in Britain. She was born of Jewish and Nigerian heritage, and has worked in the public sector for several years. When she was elected leader of Lambeth council in 1986, she became the first black woman in Britain to hold this position, and introduced Black History Month during her tenure as chair of the London Strategic Policy Unit. She was also the first black woman to join the Spare Rib feminist collective.

As a feminist, gay rights activist, and all-around hero, Bellos speaks regularly on equality, diversity, and human rights. In 2007, she was awarded an OBE for her services to diversity, and in 2009 she was elected chair of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners.

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss