BLAC List: Accomplishments of Michigan Women

From Cora Mae Brown to Aretha Franklin, Detroit is the hometown to some powerful and influential women. In honor of Women's History Month in March, we've rounded up seven Black women who have been inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.

n February, we celebrated African-Americans for their historic accomplishments. The renowned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall and Sojourner Truth are some of the most talked about Blacks during Black History Month and some of the most respected individuals for what they've done for our country and its people.

Then you have the phenomenal women who may not have had national attention for their achievements, but paved the way for Black women in Michigan. In honor of Women's History Month, BLAC Detroit gives you a BLAC List that recognizes amazing Black women who were inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. Each woman beat the racial and gender disparities by becoming first in their fields right in our own neighborhoods.

Cora Mae Brown 

  • 1914-1972
  • Achievement: Michigan's first female African-American senator and first African- American woman president of the Senate.
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Cora Mae Brown received a bachelor's degree in sociology from Fisk University and a law degree from Wayne State University. Before she became the first Black female state senator in 1952, Brown was a social worker from 1936 to 1941 and a policewoman in Detroit from 1941 to 1946, in addition to having a private law practice. During her term as senator, Brown fought against racial discrimination and women's rights. One bill she supported raised penalties for hotels and restaurants that discriminated against Blacks. She later became the first African-American to hold the referee position on the Michigan Employment Security Commission for 35 years. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1992.

Alexa I. Canady

  • 1950-present
  • Achievement: First and youngest female African-American neurosurgeon 

Not only is Alexa I. Canady the first female African-American neurosurgeon in Michigan, but she is also the first in the country. In 1989, she was one of 50 female neurosurgeons in the United States and one of 10 who specialized in pediatrics. Canady was the Chief of Neurosurgery at Children's Hospital in Detroit. She has vast knowledge in the areas of cranio-facial abnormalities, hydrocephalus, tumors of the brain and congenital spine abnormalities. Canady has worked with a long list of health care organizations including the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The Delta Sigma Theta member was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1989.

Erma Henderson

  • 1917-2009
  • Achievement: First African-American women to serve on Detroit's City Council

Erma Henderson served on Detroit's City Council for a total of 16 years. She was council president for 12 of those years. She was the first Black woman to serve in 1972. Other notable things Henderson did were organizing the Michigan Statewide Coalition Against Redlining, which led to the anti-redlining laws. She also organized the Women's Conference of Concerns that worked together to improve the quality of city life. Henderson was considered Michigan's ambassador for peace and racial harmony. She spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations and addressed the World Peace Council on disarmament in Helsinki, to name a few. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1990.

Marjorie Peebles-Meyers

Marjorie Peebles-Meyers, born in Harlem, attended Hunter High School for the academically gifted. After graduating from Hunter College in 1937 with a degree in physics and chemistry, she applied to the medical school at Columbia University, where she was asked to come back in a few years. Instead, she attended medical school at Howard University and later transferred to Wayne State's medical school after marrying Frederick Meyers and moving to Detroit. After finishing school, she became the first Black woman to graduate from WSU's medical school and intern at Detroit Receiving Hospital. She then joined Detroit's first interracial medical practice. She was later named Chief Physician of Ford Motor Company. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1986.

Fannie M. Richards

  • 1840-1922
  • Achievement: First African-American female teacher and first kindergarten teacher in Detroit.

To avoid any type of educational restrictions and discrimination, Fannie M. Richards moved with her family from the South to Canada so she could attend Toronto Normal School in Canada and a public school in Detroit. Richards later moved to Germany to study under Professor Wilhelm Froebel's kindergarten concept. When she returned to Detroit in 1863, she founded and taught at a private elementary school for Blacks for five years and taught at the Colored School No. 2 in 1868. Richards, along with others, protested Detroit's segregated school system. After the Michigan Supreme Court abolished segregated schools in 1871, Richards taught at the newly integrated Everett Elementary School for 44 years. She taught the first kindergarten class at Everett. Richards was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1990.

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin started her singing career at her father's church – New Bethel Baptist Church – followed by other local churches by the age of 10. She left Detroit when she turned 18 and signed a contract with Columbia Records, leaving the gospel genre behind. It was at Columbia Records that she recorded nine albums in five years. She earned the title the "Queen of Soul" for her strong voice. In 1986, Michigan Legislature declared Aretha Franklin's voice to be a natural gem of the state. Franklin has been recognized national and internationally for her voice and accomplishments – and has received 20 Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2001.

Geraldine Bledsoe Ford

  • 1926-2003
  • Achievement: First African-American woman to be elected to a judgeship in the United States

Geraldine Bledsoe Ford was born to attorney Harold E. Bledsoe and state civil servant Mamie Geraldine Bledsoe, who was also inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame. She was selected from a national pool of high school students to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt before graduating in 1944. Ford earned her law degree in 1951 from Wayne State University, then joined her father's firm Bledsoe, Ford and Bledsoe. Later, she became the first Black woman to be Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Later, Ford became the first Black woman to serve as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit. In 1966, she became the first Black woman in the United States to serve as a judge on the Detroit Recorder's Court, a position she held for 33 years.  Ford retired in 1999. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2004.

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