Six Black Nurses And Health Care Workers Who Fought For Black Liberation

National Nurses United
2 min readFeb 3, 2023

The stories of these six Black nurses and health care workers teach us to imagine the impossible, to fight for justice, and to collectively build institutions that advance freedom while challenging those that would keep it from us.

A composite image of (left to right) Emma Reynolds, Salaria Kea, Claudette Colvin, Sojourner Truth, Jessie Sleet Scales, and Harriet Tubman over a red and white newspaper background.

Sojourner Truth


Early advances in nursing were made in part thanks to the advocacy of abolitionist and suffragist visionary Sojourner Truth, who worked as a nurse before escaping enslavement.

Harriet Tubman


Best known for her courageous leadership in the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was also a nurse who served the Union Army and created a home for the aged, specializing in caring for elderly African Americans.

Emma Reynolds


Because she was repeatedly refused entry into nursing school due to her race, Emma Reynolds helped establish the first nursing schools to train Black women in the United States.

Jessie Sleet Scales


A pioneer in the field of public health nursing in the U.S., Jessie Sleet Scales was the first Black district nurse for The Charity Organization Society and published a report in the American Journal of Nursing in 1901 about treating Black tuberculosis patients who were especially hard hit by the disease due to economic and social conditions.

Salaria Kea


Relentless in her pursuit of justice, Salaria Kea led fights against segregation, exposed unsafe staffing ratios at her hospital, and even traveled overseas to care for the anti-fascist resistance in Europe.

Claudette Colvin


Nine months before Rosa Parks’ historic defiance of segregation, Claudette Colvin — a young, smart, working-class, dark-skinned, Black woman — refused to stand for white supremacy on a Montgomery bus.



National Nurses United

National Nurses United, with nearly 225,000 members nationwide, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in U.S. history.