47 Black History Facts You Need to Know [2023 Updated]
Black History Month is a month set aside for the celebration of the culture and history of black people.
What started as a celebration of African-Americans in the United States has now evolved into a celebration of Africans and their cultural heritage in various countries all around the world.
You might have heard of some iconic names like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, and the many other civil rights activists being celebrated during this period.
But I bet there’s a lot you still do not know about black history and black history month. Which is what we’ll be sharing in this article.
Here you’ll learn facts about important figures and events that have shaped black culture through the years.
47 Facts About Black History You Never Knew
1: Dr. Carter G. Woodson is the founder of Black History Month.
Woodson who is known as the father of “Black History” came up with the idea to celebrate the Negro History Week in 1929 which set the foundation for the official adoption of February as Black History Month in 1976.
2: Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman to become a doctor in the U.S
Rebecca moved to Charleston, Massachusetts in 1852 where she worked as a nurse for eight years after which she enrolled and got admitted into the New England Female Medical College in 1860, graduating four years later with her M.D. Rebecca moved to Richmond, Virginia in 1865 after the Civil War where she provided free medical care to freed slaves and poor people.
3: Gracia Real De Santa Teresa De Mose was the first ever free black settlement in the U.S. In the year 1738, a group of freed slaves found a small town in
Florida just two miles off St Augustine. The town’s population was just above 100 persons including men and women but was later abandoned after the Seven Years’ war in 1763. The town was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1994, in honor of its first settlers.
4: Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin stood their ground against discrimination and segregation in school buses.
On 2 March 1955, a fifteen-year-old Claudette was riding the bus home when the driver ordered her to give up her seat for a white passenger who just boarded and she refused. Colvin was arrested and put in jail briefly for this act of civil disobedience. Nine months later, on 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks also refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. This sparked the Montgomery bus protests which ushered in the Civil Rights Movement that later saw the abolishment of the segregation laws in Montgomery in 1956.
5: Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead a military operation in the U.S.
Tubman led a military regiment in the raid on Combahee Ferry, freeing around 750 slaves in the year 1863.
6: The Underground Railroad Saw 100,000 slaves to freedom. Between 1810 to 1850 around 100,000 slaves escaped to the North through the underground railroad.
7: Onesimus the slave is the brains behind modern-day vaccination. During the smallpox epidemic in 1721, Onesimus who was a slave disclosed the practice of inoculation to his master Cotton Mather. The practice of inoculation has been used in Africa for centuries. Mather then shared the idea with Zabdiel Boylston who, after initially rejecting it, succeeded in inoculating 240 people.
8: Vermont became the first colony to ban slavery. On 2 July 1777, Vermont’s legislature made the bold move to abolish slavery and to provide full voting rights to black Americans.
9: At 12 years old Phillis Wheatley became the first female African-American author to be published.
Phillis was sold to the Wheatley family at age 8. She was taught how to read and write and by 12 with the help and encouragement of her master’s, she published her first poem in 1773 at only 12 years old. This brightened her fame and recognition from George Washington. She was later emancipated and got married but soon fell ill and died at the young age of 31.
10: Martin Luther King Jr Improvised his famous ‘I have a dream” speech.
The original draft of Luther’s speech did not have the “dream” part. It was edited out because of time. He had only five minutes to speak and so he didn’t think he could fit in those words in a such short amount of time. But in the spur of the moment, he changed his mind and his speech made history.
11: Lincoln University was the first Black University to grant degrees in the United States. A small public school in Pennsylvania, Lincoln university has produced several prominent graduates like Christian Fleetwood, Langston Hughes, and Thurgood Marshall.
12: Lucy Stanton, an educator, and abolitionist became the first black woman to graduate from college. She participated in a ladies’ literary program and graduated in 1850 from Oberlin College. Her first speech was centered on an appeal for anti-slavery.
13: The ‘Loving’ couple helped to end the ban on interracial marriage in the U.S
In 1967 Mildred and Richard Loving got married, which was against the laws of the state of Virginia. Immediately after their marriage, Mildred was arrested and put in jail for a short while because she was Black. Upon her release, the matter was referred to the American Civil Liberties Union. With the help of the ACLU, the Loving’s v Virginia case passed through local, state, and the supreme court where the ban on interracial marriage was lifted marking the end of all laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the U.S
14: The first and only known female buffalo soldier was a black slave by the name of Cathay William. Born into slavery, Cathay also worked for the Union army during the civil war. She enlisted as a man in the 37th infantry in 1886 and was later discharged in 1968 due to medical reasons.
15: Anna Murray was the first Black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Anna was a close friend of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. She also worked closely with Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall and was appointed by President Kennedy to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in the 1960s.
16: Garret Morgan is known for his inventions.
He invented the version of the traffic light with the yellow caution signal which he patented in 1922. He also received a patent in 1912 for his Breathing Machine, one of the earliest versions of a gas mask. He was also the first Black man to own a car in Cleveland Ohio.
17: In 1908 Lieutenant Allen Allensworth founded Allensworth” the first all-black Californian township. The town was built to create a self-sufficient and safe place where African Americans can live their lives free of racial discrimination.
18: Alexander Miles invented automatic elevator doors.
Before his invention, people had to manually close and open the doors of both the elevator and shaft every time. Miles came up with a flexible belt that was attached to the elevator cage which allowed the elevator door to open and close automatically. He received a patent for his invention in 1887 and 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
19: Matthew Henson made a significant contribution to the first successful expedition to the North pole. After many failed attempts and losing six members due to starvation. Henson and Robert Peary arrived at the true North Pole on April 8, 1909. Henson and Peary later went on seven separate voyages to the Arctic in the space of two decades.
20: In February 1945, a Black, all-female unit in the military known as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was established. The 6888th battalion was created out of the need for efficient mail delivery, especially to soldiers in war zones. Led by Major Charity Edna, these women worked long shifts, seven days a week in a war zone facing injuries and near-death experiences.
21: Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner created the first sanitary belt in the 1920s. The sanitary belt was adjustable and had a moisture-proof napkin pocket to help hold pads in place and prevent leakage. She later got a patent for her invention in 1957.
22: Dr. Mayme Clark Founded the Western States Black Research Center, now known as the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. The museum contains millions of films, books, artifacts, documents, and art pieces made by Black people.
23: Madam C.J Walker was the first female self-made millionaire.
Madam Walker, although born a slave, took up entrepreneurship and created the Madam C.J Walker Company, where she manufactured cosmetics and hair care products for African American women. She was also a philanthropist and activist, donating funds to the Tuskegee institute and NAACP.
24: Josephine Baker worked as a French spy during WWII.
Miss Baker was a famous performer in the show biz. She left the United States due to racism attacks in 1937 and moved to France where she married a French man by the name of Jean Lion and renounced her U.S citizenship. During WWII, she willingly became a spy for the French Allies and would hide messages in her music sheets and costumes. She would also eavesdrop on conversations at various events and balls whenever she traveled across Europe to perform.
25: Octavia E. Butler was the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship award. Octavia was also dyslexic as a child which made her shy away from other kids. She spent most of her time in the library and at the age of 23 had picked an interest in writing. Seventeen years later, she published her first book ‘Patternmaster’. The first of many series and she went ahead to win countless awards during her 40-year-long career.
26: Benjamin Banneker was called America’s ‘First Known African American Man of Science’. Benjamin, although born a free man, had very little formal education in his childhood. He however taught himself maths and astronomy and with his ability to calculate the positions of celestial objects at regular intervals, he began to publish almanacs from 1792 to 1797. His almanacs included tide tables, astronomical calculations, weather predictions, and writing in medicine, literature, and politics.
27: Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected into Congress in 1968
Chisholm was a resilient lady and after four years representing the 12th congressional district, she announced her intentions to run for president. She survived three assassination attempts on her life for this reason.
28: Ralph Bunche was the first African American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. A diplomat and political scientist, Bunche started working with the United Nations in 1944 and together with Eleanor Roosevelt, created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He won a Nobel prize for his peaceful work in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1940s.
29: George Carver, an agricultural scientist.
He developed 300 products from peanuts including flour, milk, soap, medicinal oils, ink, and cosmetics. He also converted sweet potatoes into 118 different products including flour, ink, postage stamp glue, and vinegar.
30: Mark Dean, Computer Scientist, and Engineer. He co-invented IBM’s original personal computer and the PC color monitor. He also co-created the technology that allows monitors, keyboards, disk drives, and printers to be plugged directly into computers.
31: John Mercer Langston was the first Black man admitted to an Ohio bar.
John Mercer’s dream was to become a lawyer and he studied under local abolitionist lawyers after he was denied admission into law school. He was then called to the bar in 1854 and went ahead to become the first Black man elected into the U.S. House of Representatives, in Virginia.
32: John Baxter Taylor was the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal. Taylor competed in the 400-meter relay final and 1600-medley relay in the 1908 Olympics. He ran the third leg of the 1600-meter relay, which got him a gold medal. Sadly, he died a few months later due to typhoid fever complications.
33: Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win an All-Around Title at the London Olympics in 2012.
34: The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo founded in 1984 was the only touring African American rodeo in the world.
35: Wilma Rudolph became the first African American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympics on the 7th of September 1960. She also broke the record and became the fastest woman in the world.
36: Sheryl Swoopes was the first player signed by the WNBA in the year 1996.
37: On the 4th of April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. His death coincided with Maya Angelou’s 40th birthday and in honor of him, Maya stopped celebrating her birthday instead each year for 30 years, she sent flowers to Luther’s widow, Coretta Scot King, until she died in 2006.
38: Hiram Rhodes Revels was the First African American to be elected into the U.S. Senate. Where he represented Mississippi from 1871 to 1871.
39: George Edwin Taylor was the first African American to run for president in 1904 under the National Negro Liberty Party.
40: Lucy Stanton was the first Black woman to earn a four-year college degree. After graduating from Oberlin College in literary studies in 1850.
41: Robert Johnson founded a cable station called Black Entertainment Television which he sold in 2001 making him the first African American billionaire.
42: Ida B. Well’s anti-lynching pamphlets helped shape journalism.
Well’s pamphlets contained gruesome details of lynching attacks in the United States and how whites used this as a means to punish Black people who threatened their superiority. She was skilled in investigative journalism and her pamphlets helped shed light on the horrors of lynching, paving a way for other journalists who began to write detailed and vividly described stories about evil practices around the country.
43: Anne Lowe was a black fashion designer who designed the silk ivory wedding dress for Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of President John F. Kennedy.
44: Hattie McDaniel
McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar in 1940 for her supporting role as “Mammy” in “Gone With The Wind” but she was not allowed to attend the national premier of the movie in Atlanta because of Georgia’s Jim Crow Laws. Despite the racial challenges she experienced in the movie industry, she went on to star in 300 films, and in 2006, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
45: Sidney Poitier also made history as the first Black man to win an Oscar for his leading role in “Lilies of the field” 24 years after Hattie McDaniel won her first Oscar.
46: Sylvia Robinson, a single and music producer was popularly referred to as ‘Hip-hop’s first Godmother’. She co-owned the first hip-hop label (Sugar Hill Records) with her husband and produced the first commercially successful rap record- “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang.
47: The National Museum of African Americans Museum (NMAAM) was opened in 2021 and is the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy of different music genres developed by African Americans.
From entrepreneurs, inventors, and civil rights activists to Olympians and politicians, you can see the various historical figures who have left their imprint in the scrolls of Black History. Which of these facts do you find most interesting? Let us know in the comments.