26 Black History Facts You May Not Have Learned In School

McKenzie Jean-Philippe
·5-min read

From Redbook

From the hidden figures that made an impact, essential Black inventors, change-making civil rights leaders, award-winning authors, and show-stopping 21st century women, Black history is rich in America. Resources like BlackPast.org, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Library of Congress are great ways to expand on your knowledge as well as learn little-known Black history facts to further your understanding of 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.

Literature

Photo credit: Culture Club - Getty Images
Photo credit: Culture Club - Getty Images
  1. 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.

  2. "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.

  3. 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.

Important figures

  1. 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.

  2. Anthony Benezet, a white Quaker, abolitionist, and educator, is credited with creating the first public school for African American children in the early 1770s.

  3. 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

Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. In 1981, Broadcast journalist Bryant Gumbel became the first Black person to host a network morning show when he joined NBC's Today Show.

  5. 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.

Inventors

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. Agricultural scientist George Carver was responsible for creating over 500 new products made from peanuts and sweet potatoes, including cooking oils, paint, and soap.

Sports

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
  1. 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.

  2. Founded in 1984, The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the only touring African American rodeo in the world.

  3. 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.

  4. In 2012, at the London Olympics, Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win the Individual All-Around title.

  5. In 1996, Sheryl Swoopes became the first player to sign with the WNBA, with the league debuting a year later.

Society and Life

  1. First published in 1936, “Negro Motorist Green Book” was a comprehensive guide for Black travelers about locations across America—and eventually overseas—that were either Black-owned or didn't engage in segregationist practices. The guide was printed for 30 years. It stopped publication in 1966, two years after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

  2. The oldest Black female Greek-letter organization, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA), was founded at Howard University in 1908. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Alpha), the first Black male Greek-letter organization, was founded in 1906 at Cornell University.

  3. It's estimated that around 100,000 enslaved people escaped to the North via the Underground Railroad from 1810 to 1850.

  4. In July 1777, Vermont became the first colony to ban slavery.

  5. In 1738, a group of newly freed men and women founded the town Gracia Real De Santa Teresa De Mose, Florida. Just two miles away from St. Augustine, it's considered to be the first-ever free Black settlement in the U.S., but was abandoned following the Seven Years' War in 1763.

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