Black history is American history. Everyone should learn it and not only be relegated to the 28 (or 29) days in February. There are some little-known but very important black history facts that help to illustrate the beautiful, brilliant and indisputably useful contributions African Americans have made to the United States and the world.
HISTORY OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Celebrating the important people, events and achievements related to people of African diaspora is not new. Back in 1926, historian and author, Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week”.
In conjunction with his work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Woodson chose the second week of February for this annual observance as it coincided with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).
Woodson understood the innate need for African Americans to know their own varied and colorful history beyond the centuries of forced servitude. He also knew people who were not of African descent needed to know how much stronger and better the country is because of the efforts of many African Americans. Woodson wrote:
According to Wikipedia – “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition, and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, he is a great factor in our civilization.”
12 LITTLE KNOWN BLACK HISTORY FACTS THAT SHOULDN’T BE LITTLE KNOWN
Even though the United States has been observing Black History Month since 1970, there are still so many little-known Black history facts to be shared. From Thurgood Marshall to Barak Obama, from the Underground Railroad to the Great Migration, from Montgomery, Alabama to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the contributions of African Americans to the United States are many.
To help you understand more about the history of African Americans and their contributions, we’ve put together this list of 12 little-known Black history facts. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it may be able to give you an idea of the depth and breadth of achievement, courage, and resilience African Americans have demonstrated for centuries.
THERE WAS A BLACK WALL STREET IN TULSA
Tulsa, Oklahoma was the home of one of the most affluent African American communities in the early 1900’s. The area was dubbed Black Wall Street because it was filled with African American doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, even though Jim Crow was still the law of the land.
With 15,000 residents, 600 black-owned businesses were thriving, but they also drew a dangerous amount of envy from area Whites. On June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street was destroyed by bombs and fire, killing nearly 300 people. The neighborhood never recovered.
THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN RAN FOR PRESIDENT IN 1972 AND WAS ALMOST ASSASSINATED THREE TIMES
Shirley Chisholm has the honor of being the first Black person to do a lot of things. She was the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She was the first Black woman member of the Congressional Rules Committee. She even was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus. She was also the first Black woman to run for president.
She garnered 10 percent of the vote at the Democratic National Convention in 1972, though she failed to win the nomination. She was forced to survive three assassination attempts during this presidential run.
Some say her bid laid the groundwork for future presidential bids by women.
AFRICAN AMERICANS CREATED BRIDGE
One of the few things that survived the Middle Passage during slavery were the card games. Though most of their culture, songs and language were stripped from them, slave owners often allowed slaves to play the card game because it helped their counting skills.
The card games evolved and the games of Bid Whist, Bridge, and Spades were born.
THE FIRST SELF-MADE FEMALE MILLIONAIRE WAS A BLACK WOMAN
Madame C.J. Walker developed her hair care business out of her own needs as well as those around her. She spent her life traveling the country to introduce proper hair care to African American women as well as to sell her own products.
She opened a facility to manufacture and develop many of the hair care products that are used today.
HATTIE MCDANIEL WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO WIN AN OSCAR BUT SHE COULDN’T ATTEND THE PREMIER
Gone with the Wind was a hit movie in 1939, thanks in part to the acting skills of Hattie McDaniel. She was rewarded with an Academy Award that year for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African American to win the coveted prize.
She was also the first African American nominated for an Oscar. However, when the movie premiered in Atlanta at a star-studded gala, she, nor any of the Black actors in the film, were allowed to attend because of Georgia’s strict segregation laws. She did go to the Hollywood premiere.
THE FIRST BOOK OF POETRY WAS PUBLISHED BY AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN IN 1773
Captured and sold into slavery as just a girl, Phillis Wheatley rose above her station to become the first published African American female author.
Despite living most of her life as a slave, she learned to read and write and studied the classic works. She was recognized as a gifted writer and published her first poem when she was only 12 years old.
AN AFRICAN AMERICAN HELPED MAKE A GAMING SYSTEM LINE X-BOX POSSIBLE
Jerry Lawson was a Black man and an engineer during the 1970’s, a time when there were very few people who looked like him in that field. Despite not graduating from college, his creativity and technology skills helped him invent the interchangeable video game cartridge.
Prior to this, games were hard-wired into the gaming console and could not be changed. This invention single-handedly changed the video game industry and made the video game systems we have today possible.
IN 1992 MAE C. JEMISON BECAME THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN IN SPACE
It took until 1992 for the first African American woman to be sent to space. Mae C. Jemison was more than just an astronaut though. She was also a medical doctor and an accomplished dancer.
Always interested in and inspired by science and space, Jemison applied to be in the NASA astronaut corps and was selected. When she went into space she brought West African artifacts symbolizing the idea that space belongs to all nations. She also brought an Alvin Ailey Dance Company poster, having danced with the troupe for a time.
Jemison was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and succeeded despite the obstacles her race and gender created. She is currently a professor-at-large at Cornell University and the founder of a company that develops technology for daily use.
JOSEPHINE BAKER SMUGGLED MILITARY SECRETS TO FRENCH OFFICERS DURING WWII
The famed African-American singer expatriated to France after refusing to continue dealing with racism in the United States. During WWII, she decided to risk her life by helping her adopted country and the rest of the Allied countries by working with the French resistance.
She smuggled intelligence to French allies by hiding them in her sheet music and pinning them to the inside of her dresses.
Although she is famous for her amazing vocals and onstage performances, she also returned to the US to fight racism and segregation in the 1950’s and 60’s during the Civil Rights Movement.
ALL BLACK ARMY REGIMENTS FOUGHT FOR THE US EVEN BEFORE SLAVERY ENDED
The term Buffalo Soldiers was given to the all-black regiments in the United States Army as early as 1866. Native Americans coined this term. Though they often received the worst assignments and were given second-class, discriminatory treatment, they had a lower desertion rate compared to white soldiers.
More than 20 of these “Buffalo Soldiers’ were awarded the coveted Medal of Honor for their service. In 2005, the oldest living Buffalo Soldier, Sergeant Mark Matthews, died at the age of 111. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
DID YOU KNOW…an African-American invented the three-way traffic signal?
We can thank Garrett Morgan for our safe roads today. He was a Black man who was granted a patent in 1923 for a traffic control device which included a third warning signal (“yellow”).
Prior devices simply had stop and go signals. He invented this device after witnessing a serious accident at an intersection near his home. He later sold the rights to this device to General Electric for the reported amount of $40,000. He also became the first African American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.
THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WON AN OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL IN 1908
John Baxter Taylor, the son of former slaves, was on the gold medal winning 4×400 meters relay at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London and was the first African American man to win an Olympic medal.
He may have won another medal, but he protested the disqualification of a fellow University of Pennsylvania athlete and refused to run a secondary final in the 400 meters category. He also graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in veterinary medicine. He died months after winning the Olympic medals from typhoid fever at the age of 26.
AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY FAQ
Who is considered the most influential African American in history?
Martin Luther King, Jr. is considered the most influential African American in United States history. His work toward the non-violent resistance to achieve equal rights for African Americans earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
What is the most crucial event in African American history?
The most crucial event in African American history is the addition of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th Amendment was Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, abolishing slavery in the United States.
What are some popular African-American history movies?
Some popular African-American history movies include Hidden Figures, Selma, 13th, 12 Years a Slave, and Marshall, to name a few.
LEARN MORE ABOUT AMAZING BLACK AMERICANS:
- Take one of the African-American History Tours at Oakland Cemetery.
- Visit an African-American Heritage Center in Sautee-Nachoochee (Helen).
- Enjoy the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro.
- Stop at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
- Head north to the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
- Fall in love with the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta.
- Learn the Secrets Of The Gullah/Geechee On St. Simons Island.
- Learn about the History of Savannah from the African American perspective.
- See the heart-wrenching statue of James Meredith on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford.
- Visit the home of Joseph Rainey in Georgetown; he was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Learn about the Underground Railroad at the Tubman Museum in Macon
- Take in all you can about Civil Rights in Selma.
- Tour the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.
- Learn more about Horace King (one of the Editors’s favorite personalities!) in Albany – and beyond!
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