Iconic Black Moms Through the Years

From the type-A multitasker to the struggling-but-regal welfare mother and even the mom-in-chief, we rounded up some of our favorite mother figures for Mother's Day and beyond.

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  • Dignity in Struggle

    Dignity in Struggle

    Florida Evans lives in the projects, yet sounds as if she’s reciting Shakespeare.


    Captions by Natalie Hopkinson

  • African Royal

    African Royal

    In Coming to America, Her Majesty, Queen Aoleon of Zamunda, oozes power and checks the husband when necessary: “Put a sock in it, Joffe; the boy’s in love!”

  • Great Expectations

    Great Expectations

    Who holds down a law-firm job and has five kids? Clair Huxtable, that’s who. Bows.

  • Pitchwoman


    Aunt Jemima, the faithful slave who supposedly made great pancakes, was pure fiction — played by the actress Nancy Green, says Micki McElya in Clinging to Mammy. Myth still sells a lot of pancakes.

  • Cosmopolitan Mama

    Cosmopolitan Mama

    Generations before Angelina Jolie adopted her rainbow tribe, there was Josephine Baker.

  • Tiger Mom

    Tiger Mom

    Until you’ve been jailed for trying to get your children into a better school, as Kelley Williams-Bolar has, you don’t deserve the title.

  • Single Lady

    Single Lady

    The late-1960s TV series Julia, about a Vietnam War widow, was originally supposed to be called Mama’s Man. Depictions of black-women-led households have gone downhill ever since.

  • No Doubt

    No Doubt

    In playing a mom willing to look the other way at impropriety toward her son, Viola Davis did the impossible in Doubt: She stole the scene from Meryl Streep cold.

  • The Crusader

    The Crusader

    Marian Wright Edelman won’t rest until all children have opportunities.

  • Earth Mama

    Earth Mama

    Erykah Badu has three children by three different hip-hop all-star fathers. This musician defies convention and lives her art.

  • First Grandmother

    First Grandmother

    Marian Robinson ventures out in D.C. She does her own laundry. When strangers ask if she’s President Obama’s mother-in-law, she just denies it. Love.

  • Mom-in-Chief


    Michelle Obama can do the Dougie, too. Enough said.