Black women have always pushed boundaries and surpassed expectations. So, it makes sense that they would be rewarded for it. One distinction many powerful Black women have received is an honorary degree. Tracee Ellis Ross is the latest star to receive the honor. She will receive an honorary degree of Fine Arts from Spelman College on May 21 during the school’s Commencement ceremony. Ross is a a celebrated actress, producer, and the CEO and Founder of PATTERN Beauty.

21Ninety has compiled a non-exhaustive list of other Black women who have previously received honorary degrees from educational institutions.

Toni Cade Bambara

Like Tracee Ellis Ross, Toni Cade Bambara’s honorary degree is from Spelman College. The popular writer also has honorary degrees from Rutgers University and City College of New York. The institutions recognized Bambara for her astounding contribution to literature, social justice, and art. In the ’60s and ’70s, she was a prominent figure who helped promote the works of African-American writers, artists, and activists. Bambara’s literary works are deeply rooted in her experience as a Black woman, exploring themes of racial discrimination, social inequality, and women’s rights.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an iconic writer, poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist who received over 30 honorary degrees in her lifetime, including degrees from Harvard University, Princeton University, and Yale University. Angelou was honest and vulnerable about her experiences. Her authenticity showed up in her work over the years. In 2010 former President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the the United States.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was a brilliant novelist, essayist, and professor best known for some of her impressive books like “Beloved.” Morrison received over 20 honorary degrees, including degrees from Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Oxford. In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her writing which many define as lyrical and evocative.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most powerful women in media and an honorary degree recipient. Over the course of her career, Oprah has received numerous honorary degrees, including doctorates in humanities from both Duke University and Morehouse College. In 2013, she also received an esteemed honorary doctorate from Harvard University.

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Angela Davis

Angela Davis is a civil rights activist, scholar, and author who became well known for her work in the Black Panther Party. During that period, her unrelenting vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, her activism to end the prison-industrial complex, and her hair, made her a cultural icon. In June 2020, the University of California, Santa Cruz, awarded Davis an honorary degree for her lifelong commitment to social justice. She also has other degrees from the University of Michigan, the University of San Francisco, and the University of Edinburgh.

Missy Elliot

Missy Elliot is known for her memorable art, creatively charged music videos, and music acumen. Berklee College of Music awarded the iconic rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer an honorary degree in recognition of her contributions to popular music and hip-hop culture. She received a second honorary doctorate from Norfolk University last year.