Black History Month Facts: There are many hidden figures in Black history, vital Black inventors, change-making civil rights leaders, award-winning authors, and show-stopping 21st century women. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, BlackPast.org, and the Library of Congress are great resources for expanding your knowledge as well as learning little-known Black history facts to better understand African American culture. We’ve gathered a few choice bits of trivia, spanning various topics that will inspire you to take your research beyond Black History Month.
In the United States, Black History Month is a month-long celebration of the contributions made by Black Americans to our country. What do you know about Black History Month? Here are some Black History Month facts you might not know. The reason Black History Month shouldn’t just be a single month is because of this.
Amazing and Stunning Black History Month Facts
- Phillis Wheatley was the first African American to publish a book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. Born in Gambia and sold to the Wheatley family in Boston when she was 7 years old, Wheatley was emancipated shortly after her book was released.
- “Bars Fight,” written by poet and activist Lucy Terry in 1746, was the first known poem written by a Black American. Terry was enslaved in Rhode Island as a toddler, but became free at age 26 after marrying a free Black man.
- Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, was the first novel published by an African American, in 1853. It was written by abolitionist and lecturer William Wells Brown.
- William Tucker was the first known Black person to be born in the 13 colonies. He was born in Jamestown, Virginia in 1624. According to BlackPast.org, his parents were indentured servants and part of the first group of Africans brought to colonial soil by Great Britain.
- Anthony Benezet, a white Quaker, abolitionist, and educator, is credited with creating the first public school for African American children in the early 1770s.
- After graduating from Oberlin College in 1850 with a literary degree, Lucy Stanton became the first Black woman in America to earn a four-year college degree.
Music and Television
- Dubbed “Hip-Hop’s First Godmother” by Billboard, singer and music producer Sylvia Robinson produced the first-ever commercially successful rap record: “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang. And along with her husband, she co-owned the first hip-hop label, Sugar Hill Records.
- Renowned singer and jazz pianist, Nat King Cole, was the first Black American to host a TV show: NBC’s The Nat King Cole Show.
- Stevie Wonder is not only the first Black artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year for 1973’s Innervisions, but the first and only musician to win Album Of The Year with three consecutive studio albums.
- In 1981, Broadcast journalist Bryant Gumbel became the first Black person to host a network morning show when he joined NBC’s Today Show.
- In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind. 24 years later, Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win an Oscar for his leading role in Lilies of the Field.
- Hairdresser Christina M. Jenkins is credited with inventing the weave. Also known as a sew-in, the Louisiana native (who eventually relocated to Ohio) earned a patent for her creation in 1952—though it was overturned in 1965, according to Stylist.
- Computer scientist Lisa Gelobter assisted with the 1995 creation of Shockwave, essential technology that led to the development of web animation. (So we have her to thank for GIFs).
- Agricultural scientist George Carver was responsible for creating over 500 new products made from peanuts and sweet potatoes, including cooking oils, paint, and soap.
- In 1908, after winning the 4 x 400 meter relay, John Taylor became the first African American to win gold in the Olympics. And in 1948, Alice Coachman became the first Black woman in the world to win an Olympic gold medal while competing in the high jump.
- Founded in 1984, The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the only touring African American rodeo in the world.
- In 1920, Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall became the first Black athletes to play in the NFL. Pollard was also the league’s first Black coach.
- In 2012, at the London Olympics, Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win the Individual All-Around title.
- In 1996, Sheryl Swoopes became the first player to sign with the WNBA, with the league debuting a year later.
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Black History Month
The United States has observed Black History Month in February as a month-long celebration honoring the contributions made by Black Americans in our country. How well do you know this annual event? Here are some Black History Month facts even history buffs may have missed. This is why Black History Month shouldn’t just be a single month.
The man with the plan
Historian Carter G. Woodson, the creator of what we presently know as Black History Month, worked passionately to establish the event in an effort to provide an education on the origins, struggles, and achievements of African-Americans in United States history. Originally, it existed as seven days of commemoration, first established in 1926 and called “Negro History Week.” Woodson penned more than a dozen books, including 1933’s Mis-Education of the Negro. Learn the truth about some historical figures you’ve been picturing all wrong.
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It’s been nationally recognized since 1976
Despite its forerunner, Negro History Week, originating all the way back in 1926, Black History Month as we know it today didn’t become nationally recognized until the 1970s. Black students and educators at Kent State first celebrated Black History Month in January and February of 1970. Other educational institutions started following suit, and for the United States’ bicentennial, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, as has every president since. Learn about some Black inventors you didn’t study in history class.
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This year marks an anniversary
On February 12, 2021, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will celebrate its 112th birthday. The date of February 12, 1909, was chosen for the NAACP’s inception because it also marked the 100th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, and coincided with abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’s birthday (February 14). It’s America’s oldest civil rights organization, as well as its largest. This is why Black History Month is more important than ever.
Black men had a strong presence in the Wild West
You’d be hard-pressed to find much diversity in old-time Western films; however, according to Smithsonian Magazine, one in four cowboys was Black. In fact, it’s believed that the fictional character of The Lone Ranger was based on was Bass Reeves. Reeves was born into slavery but he fled westward during the Civil War. In time, Reeves became a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Find out some more legendary figures you never knew were inspired by real historical people.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination coincided with an icon’s birthday
It was on Maya Angelou’s birthday, April 4, 1968, that her friend, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. After this heinous act, Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday. However, she sent flowers to King’s wife Coretta Scott King on that date until Mrs. King passed in 2006. Check out these 14 rarely seen photos of Dr. King.
Betty Boop was inspired by a Black jazz singer
She may have been drawn as an old Hollywood pinup girl, but cartoon Betty Boop was actually based on Esther Jones, a Harlem-based jazz singer. Jones was known for her use of “boops” in her singing as well as what was called a child-like scat, similar to that of her illustrated counterpart. Find out more examples of whitewashing you never thought about.
The practice of vaccination in America has fascinating roots
Cotton Mather was told by an enslaved person named Onesimus, brought to the Massachusetts colony, how inoculations were practiced in Africa for centuries to prevent sickness. When smallpox became a severe issue in Boston in 1721, Matthew presented this information to Dr. Zabdiel Boylston. A large number of people opposed Boylston’s vaccination, yet he inoculated 240 people. Find out what history lessons your teacher lied to you about.