25 Inspiring Facts About African American History

Posted by , Updated on November 23, 2022

What started as the Negro History Week in 1926 is now a significant annual observance known as Black History Month (or African American History Month). Held each February, the celebration is consistent reminder of the important people and events in the history of African Americans and pays tribute to the numerous generations of black people who had to struggle with adversity. From the ingenuity of brilliant inventors and scientists to the brave defiance of injustice these are 25 inspiring facts about African American history.


Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, author and journalist, is considered the father of the observance. In 1926, he announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week". This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and of Frederick Douglass (February 14.)


Frederick Douglass, an important African American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman, became a leader of the abolitionist movement after he escaped from slavery. Douglass also supported women´s suffrage and other disadvantaged minorities.


Although the initial acceptance of “Negro History Week” was slow, in the following years, the observance rapidly gained momentum, prompting the creation of black history clubs and organizations and raising awareness of the importance of African American history.


Woodson died in April 1950, which means he didn't even live to see the expansion of the Negro History Week to the Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976.


Martin Luther King Jr., an African American civil rights activist famous for his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, became only the third American whose birthday is commemorated as a federal holiday. He is also the youngest male to have won a Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Prize in October 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

25 Inspiring Facts About African American History

Bayard Rustin, an African American leader in social movements for racial justice/civil rights. However, he also fought for gay rights and openly admitted his homosexuality, for which he was often criticized even by his movement fellows. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom


Considered one of the founders of African American literature, Jupiter Hammon (1711 – 1806) was a black poet who, in 1761, became the first African American writer ever to be published. A devout Christian, Hammon was born into slavery and stayed a slave all his life. But unlike most slaves at that time, he was allowed to attend school where he learned to read and write.


In 1800, the number of African Americans exceeded 1 million. In 1900, there were almost 9 million African Americans living in the US and their current population is estimated to be about 45 million. African Americans now account for around 13% of the total US population.


Detroit, Michigan has the highest population of African Americans with about 80% of the city´s 680,000 residents. On the state level, Mississippi has the highest percentage of African Americans with 1 million out of 3 million inhabitants.

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The first black astronaut was Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., but he died before he could travel to space. The first black astronaut in space was Guion Bluford in 1983. In total, Bluford spent more than 28 days in space. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010.


Potato chips, a snack popular all over the world, is rumored to have been invented by an African American. In 1853, a chef George Crum supposedly got upset with a rude customer who sent his dish of French fries back to the kitchen, claiming they were too thick, too mushy and not salty enough. Crum, spitefully cut the potatoes as thin as he could, fried them until crispy, and threw a generous handful of salt on top. He hoped the rude customer would learn his lesson but in fact, the customer loved the crispy chips. The restaurant began to sell the chips and they soon became the most popular dish on the menu.


African Americans invented many things including the folding cabinet bed, carbon-filament light bulb, gas mask and even the blood bank. The Blood bank was invented by Charles Richard Drew, who – while studying at Columbia University – discovered a method of separating red blood cells from plasma and then storing the two components separately.


Halle Berry, an actress and former fashion model, became the first and so far the only woman of African American descent to win an Oscar for a leading role for her performance in the romantic drama Monster's Ball. Although the beginning of her professional career was very tough due to her biracial background (her father was an African-American and mother was a Caucasian), Berry became one of the highest paid and most renowned actresses in Hollywood.


Talking about popular African American Hollywood actors, Morgan Freeman is one of the most successful. The holder of Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2005 for his role in Million Dollar Baby, Morgan is famous for his strong disapproval of Black History Month. He argues that the history of the African Americans shouldn't be relegated to just one month.


Born into slavery in Missouri in 1864, George Washington Carver later became a famous African American botanist and inventor. During his lifetime, he developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. In 1941, Time magazine even dubbed him a "Black Leonardo".


Oprah Winfrey, a popular talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, is currently the only African American billionaire. Dubbed the "Queen of All Media", Winfrey is sometimes even considered the most influential woman in the world. But her childhood was anything but idyllic. Born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a single mother, she was raped at the age of nine. Remembering her hard and humble beginnings, Winfrey is now one of the most generous philanthropists in the world.


But Winfrey was far from being the first African American self-made millionaire. Madam C. J. Walker, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, is the holder of the primacy. Born in 1867 in Louisiana as the first slavery-free child of the family, she made her fortune by developing and marketing a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women.


The very first African American to achieve world championship in any sport was Marshall Taylor. In 1899, the African American cyclist won the world 1 mile (1.6 km) track cycling championship after setting numerous world records and overcoming racial discrimination.

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Currently, about 80% of the NBA players are of African American origin, which is the highest percentage of black players of any major professional sport leagues in the US, but it was not until 1947 when the first African American basketball player was drafted by the NBA. Born in 1923, Don Barksdale was not only the first African American to play in the NBA but he was also the first black player to play in the United States men's Olympic basketball team.


The same year witnessed another important event African Americans' sport history – on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the MLB. By this turning point, his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, ended racial segregation that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades.


While Halle Berry was the first African American actress to win an Oscar for a leading role, the very first Oscar awarded to an African American belongs to Hattie McDaniel for her performance in the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind. However, during the ceremony, she was required to sit at a segregated table, apart from her Gone with the Wind colleagues and she was not allowed to attend the national premier of the movie.


Known as the “First Lady of Civil Rights”, Rosa Parks, an African American civil rights activist famous for the act of refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, became the first woman and second non-U.S. government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. On December 1st, 2005, (the 50th anniversary of the event) transit authorities in many American cities symbolically left the seats behind bus drivers empty to commemorate Mrs. Parks’ act.


Despite getting the most publicity, Rosa Parks was not the first African American woman who refused to obey the racist bus law. Several women including Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith had been arrested for the same disobedient act months before Parks. Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she committed this “crime”.


It was not until 1960 when an African American ran for the presidential office for the first time. As a candidate of the Independent Afro-American Party, Clennon Washington King, a civil rights activist, came in eleventh place of twelve candidates, well behind John F. Kennedy's 34,220,984 votes. He ran for the office a few more times, which earned him the nickname "Black Don Quixote“.


In 2009, the office of the President of the United States finally housed the first African American in history. The son of an English mother and Kenyan father, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first non-white American President on January 20, 2009. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was also named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.


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