African American History Facts: Black History Month began in 1970. National recognition came in six years. The month-long commemoration allows Americans to reflect on the triumphs and difficulties of African Americans. We still celebrate Black Americans who’ve already succeeded, overcome, and made a mark over 50 years later. History can’t be celebrated in one month. Join us as we recognize African American history-makers with these interesting facts.

African American History Facts

1. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Was The First Black Doctor in the US

Rebecca Crumpler was a nurse in Charlestown, Massachusetts, for eight years. Lack of nursing colleges meant she needed no formal training. She didn’t mind hard work. She graduated with her M.D. from New England Female Medical College in 1864. Dr. Crumpler travelled to Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War and provide medical care for freed slaves. When she moved to Massachusetts, she founded a clinic for women and children. She served poor people despite their inability to pay.

2. “Rapper’s Delight” Was The First Hit Rap Record

African American History Facts: Billboard labelled Sylvia Robinson “Hip-First Hop’s Godmother,” but she never gets credit for developing rap. Robinson produced “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. This turned street music into an economically viable art form. The song was the first rap track to dominate radio as well as the charts, reaching #36 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and selling over a million copies.

3. A Slave Brought Immunizations To America

With the current introduction of Covid and the existence of immunizations that are turning the tide, we should thank the people who brought this league season practice to the U.S. Boston was hit by smallpox in 1721. Onesimus, an enslaved man, cured a highly contagious illness during one time of less medical advances. Cotton Mather bought Onesimus in 1706. Mather distrusted Onesimus but recognized his intelligence. Onesimus told Mather about inoculations, a centuries-old African tradition. Dr. Zabdiel Boylston inoculated 240 patients against opposition from Mather.

4. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Was Created in 1958

Alvin Ailey, a dancer, director, choreography, and activist, founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. He also founded the Ailey School, which showed the humanity of the African experience through dance. Ailey’s hopeful choreography broadened awareness of Black existence in America through ballet, jazz, modern dance, and theatre. Ailey received the Medal Of Freedom posthumously for bringing dance to neglected communities.

5. LGBTQ Activist Bayard Rustin Coordinated the Civil Rights Movement

Bayard Rustin, born in 1912, advised Martin Luther King Jr. During a 1948 journey to India, he taught King nonviolent civil resistance tactics. Rustin organized the March on Washington. Due to his sexuality, Rustin was kept out from the spotlight and used as a change agent in non-public positions. In the 1980s, Rustin shifted his concentration to LGBT rights campaigning. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2013. Gavin Newsom pardoned Rustin’s 1953 imprisonment for homosexuality in 2020.

6. Phillis Wheatley was 12 When She Wrote Her First Book

Phyllis Wheatley’s early life is shockingly unknown. She was sold to the Cartwright family in Boston when she was 7 or 8. They taught her to speak and read and pushed her to create poems when they saw her aptitude. Phyllis authored the first African American poetry book in 1773 when she was 12. George Washington complimented her work. Her work was popular throughout the colonies. Wheatley’s relatives liberated her when her poems were published. Unfortunately, her writing fame couldn’t support her family. She died at 31.

African American History Facts

7. The Most Famous Segment Of “I Have A Dream” was Improvised

One very interesting fact indeed! King’s speech originally included “dream” wording, but it was cut. He barely had 5 minutes to speak and didn’t think he’d have time. The phrase “I have a dream” was left out of his news release. King was unhappy to see barely 25,000 protesters at the protest that morning. By the Lincoln Memorial, the crowd had grown. Maybe that’s why King changed his speech. King’s improv created history.

8. Hattie McDaniel, the First Black Oscar Winner, Couldn’t Make Gone With The Wind’s Premiere

Despite bigotry and tiny parts, Hattie McDaniel made it in Hollywood. She paved the path for many black women, yet she faced challenges. She received Best Supporting Actress for “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind (1939).

Atlanta hosted the movie’s premiere. She couldn’t attend because of Georgia’s Jim Crow laws. Hattie starred in almost 300 films and became the first Oscar winner to feature on a postage stamp. Despite her success, her role choices were often questioned. The NAACP started Hollywood’s roles for African Americans as servants or humorously sluggish and dim-witted characters. Hattie was attacked for taking minor roles than her white peers. Hattie nonetheless had a successful career.

9. Josephine Baker Was A French WWII Spy

Josephine Baker fled the U.S. in 1937 owing to overt prejudice. She lost her U.S. citizenship after marrying Jean Lion and moving to Paris. In 1940, when the Nazis occupied Paris, Baker became an Allied spy. Baker hid communications for Allied spies in her clothing and music while touring Europe. She utilises her social status to spy at embassy activities and balls.

10. One Couple Overturned the Interracial Marriage Ban in 1967

Mildred and Richard Loving married in California. State officials warned them against marrying since Richard was white and Mildred wasn’t. Mildred was arrested at home. Robert Kennedy referred the pair to the ACLU after her release. The ACLU seized the chance to eliminate anti-miscegenation laws. Loving v Virginia was heard by the Supreme Court, which ruled interracial marriage laws unconstitutional. It was a major triumph for multiple races, and the Lovings are credited for it. Alabama removed its latest interracial marriage ban in 2000. The Lovings were depicted in a 2016 movie, Loving, starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

11. Martin Luther King Jr. was Slain on Maya Angelou’s 40th Birthday

During the Civil Rights movement, MLK Jr. and Maya Angelou became friends. Two important voices in the Civil Rights Movement, their paths intersected when Angelou has been the coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and King gave the group a visit. In one of her memoirs, she recalled MLK being shorter & younger than she imagined but also noted that he was personable and constantly cracking jokes. When King died on Angelou’s birthday, the writer was crushed. She stopped celebrating her birthday after his death and sent flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, until she died in 2006.

12. Claudette Colvin Died Nine Months Before Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in 1955. Parks’ action triggered the Montgomery bus boycott and Civil Rights Movement. She wasn’t the first African-American in Montgomery to protest injustice. Claudette Colvin, 15, was going home on a municipal bus on March 2, 1955. Claudette had to give up her seat when a white passenger boarded. She declined.

According to Newsweek, “Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman pushed on my shoulders. I sat transfixed.” Colvin was jailed for disobedience. The NAACP and other civil rights groups explored mobilizing around Colvin’s case before focusing on Rosa Parks’ demonstration nine months later. Colvin was one of four plaintiffs in the 1956 Browder v. Gayle case, which deemed Montgomery and Alabama segregation laws illegal.

13. Anna Murray was the First Black Episcopal Priest

This spirited woman was a longtime acquaintance of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Murray’s legal expertise was crucial to the Civil Rights movement, but her work has faded. She worked with Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks and was appointed by President Kennedy to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in the 1960s, where she focused on “Jane Crow”: how discrimination against Black people affected Black women, and how sexism and racism combined to affect Black women.

In 1985, cancer killed Murray. Murray’s work has been brought back to light through different efforts, including declaring her childhood home a National Historic Landmark and a blockbuster dual biography of Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Firebrand and the First Lady.

14. Matthew Henson was on the First Successful North Pole Expedition and Conducted Seven Arctic Trips

Matthew Henson and Robert Peary reached the North Pole in 1909. It was not easy. All of their previous attempts had failed, including one in which six expedition members perished of malnutrition. Henson and Peary explored the arctic for 20 years after reaching it in 1909. In the early 1900s, Peary was praised for his North Pole expedition while Henson was ignored.

Henson’s memoir A Negro Explorer on the North Pole was released in 1912. It helped highlight his contribution, but he was essentially forgotten. In 1937, he was invited to join the New York Explorer’s Club. Henson was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal in 2000.

African American History Facts

15. Madam C.J. Walker was America’s First Self-Made Millionaire

African American History Facts: Madam Walker came to power after being born to freed slaves on a Louisiana cotton farm in 1867. She created the Madam C.J. Walker Company. Her Indianapolis, Indiana-based company made beauty and haircare products for black women. Walker’s altruism and advocacy complemented her business skills. She helped found a YMCA in Indianapolis’ black community and donated to Tuskegee.

After coming to New York, she joined the NAACP, donated to its anti-lynching fund, and commissioned the first Black architect in the city to create Villa Lewaro, her mansion on the Hudson where W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington met to discuss social issues affecting African Americans. By the time she died in 1919, she was among America’s most successful entrepreneurs of all time.

As you can see from these amazing African American history facts, there is so much we still need to learn and know about African American history!