How Black Women Used the Arts to Break Through Racial Barriers

No matter the profession, your work can impact your community and make a change for the ones you love. The contributions of these women left us with tangible art works that will last a lifetime. Their  work entertained while creating a platform of influence to aid their communities. 


The arts are powerful, and their work worth recognizing. Let’s explore the lives and impact of Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, and Janet Collins.

Lena Horne

(Source: Mental Floss)

Lena Horne was a triple threat. She was an actress, singer, dancer, and a civil rights activist. She performed in film, theater and television. Lena broke racial barriers by changing the way black women were represented in film. While performing all over, she used her platform to advocate and fight social injustice towards African-Americans. 

Lena Horne was the first African-American woman to sign a long-term contract with a major movie studio in Hollywood. She also set boundaries making a deal with MGM stating that she will never play the role of a servant. Black people were portrayed in the media a lot as servants, and she vowed to never play a role that disrespected her people


Lena is a true trailblazer as she shows us it is never okay to compromise your values. She used her platform to make a difference as she performed for soldiers in World War II while protesting racial separation at the hotels she performed in. Her life and legacy is admirable for young girls everywhere who aspire to be in the arts, and contribute significantly to society at the same time.

Ruby Dee

(Source: Vanity Fair)

Ruby Dee was fierce behind and in front of the camera. She was an actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and civil rights activist. She is notable for civil rights activism with her husband Ossie Davis. Ruby starred in A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 as Ruth Younger. She later reprised the role in the film. 

Ruby and her husband worked on multiple projects together, reprising the roles they played in the film version. They also were very active in the civil rights movement advocating for racial equality and marching with their known friends Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. 

Ruby collaborated with her husband to make work that shaped the way black people saw themselves in the arts and stood up for what they believed in. They used their platform and influence to make a change in their society. This is an example to little girls that any work you do is meaningful and can impact your community in a positive way. 

Janet Collins

(Source: The Weekly Challenger)

Janet Collins held her head high being one of the few black women in her profession. She was a classically trained ballet dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She performed on Broadway and on television. She represented black women in a space with little diversity yet it did not stop her from making her contributions.

She broke racial barriers by being the first African American prima ballerina. In 1952, she joined the corps de ballet, being the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera. She was the first black person to permanently join the company. When the company toured she faced racism, and was denied the right to stages that led to understudies taking her part. The rejection did not stop her as she stayed with the company for two more years, before leaving and touring America and Canada alone advancing her career. 

Janet shows little girls that they can break barriers, dare to be the first, and take center stage wherever they go on their own. She kept her head held high in the midst of her career, which led her to leaving a legacy behind for all other aspiring dancers to follow. 

These women’s lives and legacies are great examples for little girls who aspire to make an impact in the arts. Zoe has many talented curlfriends all over the world, and she wants them to know that they can achieve every goal they set their minds to. 

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