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Happy Black History Month! This is the 14th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).

The focus of today’s blog is Maria P. Williams, the first Black woman to write, produce, and star in her own film in 1923.

This is her story.

Activism in Kansas City

According to, Born and raised in Missouri, Maria P. Williams became a schoolteacher in Kansas City. She began her career in activism by traveling around lecturing. Then, she became the editor-in-chief for a local Kansas City newspaper called the “New Era” for a short time. This led to her editing and publishing a newspaper called the “Women’s Voice” which covered a wide variety of topics. In 1916, she wrote and published a short pamphlet on her life and activist views called “My Work and Public Sentiment”.

Film Career

After marrying Jesse L. Williams, a local businessman who owned quite a few businesses in Kansas City, Williams became the assistant manager of the movie theater her husband owned. While working there, Williams wrote, produced, and starred in a mystery drama film called The Flames of Wrath. Because of this, she is considered the first Black woman to produce a film. In order to distribute the film, she and her husband created The Western Film Producing Company and Booking Exchange.

Mysterious Death

After her first husband died, Williams remarried. At the very beginning of 1932, an unknown person called her to get her to come help with the unknown person’s sick brother. Later, police found her shot to death on the side of the road several miles from her home. To this day, the murder is unsolved. Read more about Maria P. Williams here or here.

Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.