As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important to reflect on the many significant contributions that black Americans have made throughout history. While many of us may be familiar with prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, many lesser-known black history facts are equally worth celebrating.
Here are 10 such facts that shed light on the achievements and struggles of black people in America:
Matthew Henson was the first African-American to reach the North Pole alongside Robert Peary.
Matthew Henson was an explorer and adventurer who accompanied Robert Peary on seven expeditions to the Arctic between 1891 and 1909. In 1909, Henson and Peary reached the North Pole, becoming the first people to do so. While Peary received much of the credit for the achievement, Henson played a crucial role in the expedition, serving as Peary’s closest confidant and leading the way in many instances.
Robert Smalls, a slave, commandeered a Confederate ship during the Civil War and delivered it to the Union army, earning his freedom and later becoming a member of the United States Congress.
Robert Smalls was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1839. During the Civil War, he worked as a pilot for the Confederate navy, and in May 1862, he commandeered the Confederate ship CSS Planter and sailed it to the Union army. Smalls’ daring act earned him his freedom and made him a national hero. He later served in the South Carolina state legislature and in the United States Congress.
Pauli Murray was a civil rights activist who co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) and became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.
Pauli Murray was a lawyer, civil rights activist, and writer who worked tirelessly to advance the cause of justice and equality. She co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and played a key role in the fight for gender equality. In 1977, she became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.
The first licensed African-American architect was Robert R. Taylor, who graduated from MIT in 1892.
Robert R. Taylor was an architect who is best known for his work designing buildings at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was the first African-American to earn a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1892, and he went on to have a successful career as an architect and educator.
During World War II, the 761st Tank Battalion, an all-black unit, fought in Europe and became known as the “Black Panthers.” They were the first black tank unit to see combat in the war and played a significant role in the Allied victory.
The 761st Tank Battalion, an all-black unit, was activated on April 1, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. The unit, which consisted of over 700 men, was led by white officers and trained extensively in the United States before being deployed to Europe in 1944. The battalion saw combat in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany and was responsible for liberating numerous towns and cities from Nazi control. The 761st Tank Battalion was nicknamed the “Black Panthers” and earned a reputation as a highly effective fighting force, earning numerous honors and awards for their service.
The first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Alice Coachman, who won the high jump event in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.
Alice Coachman was born in Albany, Georgia, in 1923 and began competing in track and field as a teenager. She won her first national championship in the high jump in 1939 and went on to win ten consecutive national titles. In 1948, Coachman competed in the Summer Olympics in London, becoming the first black woman to represent the United States in track and field. She won a gold medal in the high jump event, setting a new Olympic record with a jump of 1.68 meters.
In the early 20th century, Lewis Latimer, a black inventor, played a key role in developing the telephone and the light bulb, working alongside Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.
Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1848 and was the son of former slaves. He began his career working as a draftsman for a Boston patent law firm before joining the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. After the war, he began working for Alexander Graham Bell, helping to develop the telephone and improve its design. Later, he worked with Thomas Edison, helping to develop the carbon filament that made the light bulb more efficient and practical. Latimer was a prolific inventor and held numerous patents for his inventions, including an improved toilet system and an early version of the air conditioner.
The first black-owned television station in the United States was WGPR-TV in Detroit, Michigan, which went on the air in 1975.
WGPR-TV, the first black-owned television station in the United States, was founded in 1975 in Detroit, Michigan. The station was the brainchild of William V. Banks, a Detroit businessman and civil rights activist. WGPR-TV was known for its community-oriented programming, featuring local news, public affairs shows, and African-American-themed entertainment. The station remained on the air until 1995 when it was sold to CBS and became a CBS affiliate.
In 1831, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion in Virginia, killing over 50 white people before being captured and executed. The rebellion is one of the most significant slave uprisings in American history.
Nat Turner was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1800. He became a preacher and believed that God had chosen him to lead a rebellion against slave owners. On August 21, 1831, Turner and a group of followers began a rebellion, killing over 50 white people before being captured and executed. The rebellion lasted only two days, but its impact was significant, leading to increased repression of black people and contributing to the growing tensions that would eventually lead to the Civil War.
The first black woman to serve as a state attorney general in the United States was Loretta Lynch, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017.
Loretta Lynch was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1959, and went on to attend Harvard Law School. She worked as a federal prosecutor in New York City and later served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In 2015, Lynch was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, becoming the first black woman to hold the position. As Attorney General, Lynch oversaw numerous high-profile cases, including the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
These ten obscure Black history facts shed light on the many contributions and accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. From trailblazing athletes and inventors to civil rights activists and political leaders, these individuals have played a significant role in shaping American history and should be celebrated and remembered.