If you haven’t seen my last post, for Women’s History Month, I began a curation of a few of the most powerful and influential speeches made by black women. That post featured a Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman”, Josephine Baker’s words from The March on Washington, and Shirley Chisolm’s introduction of The Equal Rights Amendment. This month, I wanted to touch on some influential speeches that were made a bit more recently.
Viola Davis’s 2015 Emmy Acceptance Speech
Viola Davis has quickly become a household name, and for good reason. Not only has Viola solidified herself as an amazing actress, she’s also unafraid to speak the truths of her reality in the Hollywood (as seen in her 2011 Women in Hollywood speech). Her speech in 2015 at the Emmy’s was monumental. Viola became the first African American to receive an Emmy for best actress in drama, and she shared her win with all women of color in the industry, with a poignant and beautiful thank you.
The speech was as follows:
“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.
You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.
And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”
It’s easy to see why this speech was so important. Viola was able to shed light on a situation much larger than herself, and was adamantly thankful to those who played (and continue to play) a part in the creation of opportunity for black women and other women of color in Hollywood.
Michelle Obama’s Remarks at Memorial Service for Dr. Maya Angelou
Speeches from memorial services are most definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about important speeches. But Michelle Obama’s words for the late Dr. Maya Angelou’s service went beyond a simple eulogy. She spoke of the power that Dr. Angelou possessed, and the impact that Angelou had on the lives of black women, and all women everywhere. Michelle Obama spoke not only as the First Lady of the United States but also as every woman. She spoke to how Dr. Angelou made her feel, and was able to voice her thanks, praise, and reverence for the amazing Dr. Maya Angelou.
“But while I don’t remember her exact words I do remember exactly how she made me feel. She made me feel like I owned the place, too. She made me feel like I had been born on that stage right next to her. And I remember thinking to myself, “Maya Angelou knows who I am! And she is rooting for me! So now, I’m good. I can do this. I can do this.”
You can watch the full speech here: