Stay Woke: 10 Black History Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know

Stay Woke: 10 Black History Facts We Bet You Didn't KnowFebruary 26, 2017

Most of the time history lessons are reduced to a handful of unforgettable moment and events. When it comes to Black history these events often consists of brave stories like the people of the Underground Railroad, Trump’s favorite Frederick Douglass or a recount of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

But Black history is so much more than that or just a month long celebration. It is American history and there are so many events and figures that have shaped our society. We are well aware that you may need to leave the classroom and do your own journey to Black excellence.

We did the leg work for you. Here are 10 little known facts Black history you need to stay woke. Happy Black History Month!

1. Claudette Colvin

Everyone knows the story of Rosa Park and the bus boycott that began in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, but there are probably a handful of people who know of the Claudette Colvin story.When she was 15-years old, Colvin, refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person— nine months before the exact same thing was done by Rosa Parks.  She was hauled off to jail by two white cops, because she did not back down when asked to surrender her constitutional rights on the bus that day.

Claudette was actually one of the first to really challenge the law. It was Claudette and three other woman—Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith who served as plaintiffs in the legal action that challenged Montgomery’s segregated public transportation system.

It was their case Browder v. Gayle that a district court and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court would use to triumphantly strike down segregation on buses.

2. Phyllis Wheatley

Most folks know or should know that Maya Angelou was the first African American woman to have written a best selling non-fiction piece of work, but what many aren’t aware of is that Phillis Wheatley was the first slave, as well as the first African American female author.Wheatley, who was a servant published her first poem in the mid 1700s at only 12-years old.  She had been kidnapped and transported from West Africa aboard a slave ship in 1761 to America, and became the servant of John Wheatley and his wife. Young Phillis learned to speak english, and read the bible with remarkable fluency.

The Wheatleys inspired Phyllis to become highly educated, and she studied Theology, Latin, the Greek Classics, and English.  In 1767 she published her firm poem, and published an entire book of poetry, Poems on Various Subject six years after.

After being emancipated Wheatley promoted her book all over and became internationally known when she traveled to London, and was highly acknowledged by some rather highly distinguished social and political figures, that included the likes of President George Washington.

3. Bayard Rustin

It’s a sure bet that everyone knows who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is, since he’s basically the most well-known and renowned figure of the civil rights movement. However, many people may not know who the man is in the photo above standing to the left of Dr. King is.That man is civil rights, socialism, non-violence, and gay rights leader Bayard Rustin. He was  thrown in jail constantly throughout his life because he took part in social disturbances and was openly gay. Rustin was also an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a critical role in introducing  him to the teachings of Ghandi, and was a significant piece in the organization of the legendary March on Washington.


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4. Henrietta Lacks

Everyone should know that George Washington Carver made quite a few agricultural advances as well as used the peanut to produce over 100 products that could be used for human consumption. Henrietta Lacks was also responsible for scientific advances in the world.When Henrietta, a tobacco farmer from Virginia got ovarian cancer a doctor at John Hopkins took a piece of her tumor without even asking or telling her. He sent it to scientists down the hall who’d been trying to grow tissues in culture for decades without any success until Henriettas’.

Till this day nobody still can figure out why her cells never died. Her cells are knows as the HeLa cells, which were vital in developing the vaccine for polio, and was used in scientific breakthrough such as gene mapping, cloning, and in vitro fertilization.

5. Madame C.J. Walker

The entire world knows who Oprah Winfrey is, and how she built an amazing empire that made her the first Black woman to become a billionaire. The entire world should also know Madame C.J. Walker is. C.J Walker—a Black woman—is the first female ever to become a millionaire.  That’s right Madame C.J. was self-made. After losing her hair from a scalp ailment, she developed and sold her own line of black hair care products in 1905.By the time she passed away she had a big hand in creating the role of the 20th Century, self-made American businesswoman. From her tenacity and perseverance she was able to position herself as a pioneer of not only the modern black hair-care industry but the entire cosmetics community.

6. The Destruction Of Black Wall Street

Many people have heard about the Watts Riot, which broke out in 1965  where the city of Watts, California was totally ransacked and burned by rioters over the course of  several days. What a lot of people may not have heard of was the Tulsa Race Riot.In 1921 the prosperous city once called “Black Wall Street”  in Oklahoma was totally burned to the ground after a racial disturbance and retaliation. A black man was accused by a young white female of attempted sexual assault, and well as per the norm back then the white people acted like the police and sent a mob after him.

During the riot over 300 black people died and more than 9,000 ended up homeless and unfortunately the city was never able to regain the status that it once had.

7. Vaccines Introduced To America By A Slave

Did you know that we have immunizations and vaccinations in the United States because of black man named Onesimus?  In 1721 in Boston during the epidemic of smallpox, a black slave named Onesimus told his his master about the old practice of inoculation he learned about as a child in Africa.He explained to his master that he knew a way to make people immune to the virus. He told him to present smallpox to the people that were not infected with cells from a person that’s already infected with it, and then injecting that mix into a healthy individual.

A physician ultimately tested out the procedure, and records showed that only 2 percent of the people that did have the procedure done died in comparison to he 15 percent of people that was not inoculated and had contracted smallpox.

Onesimus actually received acknowledgement for the idea, and his traditional practices were used during the Revolutionary War to vaccinate American soldiers.

8. Back In The Day 1in 4 Cowboys Were Black

During the 19th century after the Civil War ended, the Wild Wild West drew in many black men, because after being freed from slavery many headed west in search of a better life since there was a high demand for skilled laborers.What many don’t know is that at least a quarter of the legendary cowboys in the west that were living rather dangerous lives facing rattlesnakes, adverse weather conditions, and outlaws all while sleeping under the stars driving cattle herds to market were actually Black men. How many Western films highlight that?

9. Dorothy Dandridge

You’d have to be living under a rock if you didn’t know that Halle Berry’s role in the movie Monster’s Ball won her an Academy Award, making her the first African American to win one for Best Actress.Halle’s award was made possible only after actress Dorothy Dandridge became the first Black woman to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her lead role in Carmen Jones.

10. Hattie McDaniel

Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald were the first African Americans to win the Grammy Awards, which is a known fact by some. What is not known by hardly anyone is that actress Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar for her role in Gone With The Wind. It was amazing for her to be honored, but isn’t it ironic that because she was Black she wasn’t even able to attend the premier of the movie she starred in?

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