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BIO Classroom

BIO Classroom

Black History Fast Facts Little Known Facts

Check out 128 little known facts in Black History.
Fact #1

As a child Muhammad Ali was refused an autograph by his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. When Ali became a prize-fighter, he vowed never to deny an autograph request, which he has honored to this day.

Fact #2

Muhammad Ali the self-proclaimed "greatest [boxer] of all time" was originally named after his father, who was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Fact #3

Allensworth is the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by African-Americans. Created by Allen Allensworth in 1908, the town was built with the intention of establishing a self-sufficient, all-black city where African-Americans could live their lives free of racial discrimination.

Fact #4

Jazz, an African–American musical form born out of the Blues, Ragtime, and marching bands originated in Louisiana during the turn of the 19th century. The word Jazz is a slang term that at one point referred to a sexual act.

Fact #5

Artist Charles Alston founded the "306 Group", a club that provided support and apprenticeship for African-American artists during the 1940s. It served as a studio space for prominent African-American artists such as poet Langston Hughes; sculptor Augusta Savage; and mixed-media artist Romare Bearden.

Fact #6

Before Wally Amos became famous for his "Famous Amos" chocolate chip cookies, he was a talent agent at the William Morris Agency, where he worked with the likes of The Supremes and Simon & Garfunkel.

Fact #7

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou's birthday on April 4th, 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for many years afterward, and sent flowers to King's widow every year until Mrs. King's death in 2006.

Fact #8

Louis Armstrong bought his first coronet at the age of 7 with money he borrowed from his employers. He taught himself to play while in a home for juvenile delinquents.

Fact #9

Musician Louis Armstrong earned the nickname "Satchmo" from his peers. The name was short for "satchelmouth", a reference to the way he puffed his cheeks when he played his trumpet.

Fact #10

After a long career as an actress and singer, Pearl Bailey earned a bachelor's in theology from Georgetown University in 1985.

Fact #11

After African-American performer Josephine Baker expatriated to France, she famously smuggled military intelligence to French allies during World War II. She did this by pinning secrets inside her dress, as well as writing them in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Fact #12

Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker is credited with helping to design the blueprints for Washington, D.C.

Fact #13

Before he was a renowned artist, Romare Bearden was also a talented baseball player. He was recruited by the Philadelphia Athletics on the pretext that he would agree to pass as white. He turned down the offer, instead choosing to work on his art.

Fact #14

Due to his acclaimed "Banana Boat" song, most people assume Harry Belafonte was born in the Caribbean; in fact, the internationally renowned entertainment icon and human rights activist was born in Harlem, New York.

Fact #15

Musician and activist Harry Belafonte originally devised the idea for "We Are the World," a single that he hoped would help raise money for famine relief in Africa. The single became the fastest selling in history, making more than $20 million worldwide.

Fact #16

Before becoming a professional musician, Chuck Berry studied to be a hairdresser.

Fact #17

Chuck Berry's famous "duck walk" dance originated in 1956, when Berry attempted to hide wrinkles in his rayon suit by shaking them out with his now-signature body movements.

Fact #18

The parents of actress Halle Berry chose their daughter's name from Halle's Department Store, a local landmark in her birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio.

Fact #19

In 1938, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt challenged the segregation rules at the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama, so she could sit next to African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, whom she referred to as "her closest friend in her age group."

Fact #20

Legendary singer James Brown performed in front of a televised audience in Boston the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Brown is often given credit for preventing riots with the performance.

Fact #21

Chester Arthur "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett was one of the most important blues singers, songwriters and musicians, influencing popular rock groups like The Beatles. Unlike many blues artists, Howlin' Wolf maintained financial success throughout his life, held a stable marriage, and avoided drugs and alcohol.

Fact #22

Female science fiction author Octavia Butler was dyslexic. Despite her disorder, she went on to win two Hugo awards and two Nebulas for her writing.

Fact #23

When neurosurgeon Ben Carson was a child, his mother required him to read two library books a week and give her written reports, even though she was barely literate. She would then take the papers and pretend to carefully review them, placing a checkmark at the top of the page showing her approval. The assignments gave Carson his eventual love of reading and learning.

Fact #24

Politician and educator Shirley Chisholm survived three assassination attempts during her campaign for the 1972 U.S. presidential election.

Fact #25

Rap artist Chuck D has a bachelor's degree in graphic design.

Fact #26

Mayme Clayton, a Los Angeles librarian and historian, amassed an extensive and valuable collection of black Americana, which houses an estimated 3.5 million items, including a signed copy of the first book published by an African-American.

Fact #27

Before lawyer Johnnie Cochran achieved nationwide fame for his role in the O.J. Simpson trial, actor Denzel Washington interviewed Cochran as part of his research for the award-winning film Philadelphia (1993).

Fact #28

Revenue from musician Nat 'King' Cole's record sales financed a majority of Capitol Records' success during the 1950's so much so, that the distinctive Capitol Records building on in Los Angeles became known as 'the house that Nat built.'

Fact #29

The St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco uses jazz musician John Coltrane's music and philosophy as sources for religious discovery.

Fact #30

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby is also an avid musician. The jazz drummer has served as master of ceremonies for the Los Angeles Playboy Jazz Festival off and on since 1979.

Fact #31

Paul Cuffee an African-American, philanthropist, ship captain, and devout Quaker transported 38 free African-Americans to Sierra Leone, Africa in 1815 in the hopes of establishing Western Africa. He also founded the first integrated school in Massachusetts in 1797.

Fact #32

Tice Davids, a runaway slave from Kentucky, was the inspiration for the first usage of the term "Underground Railroad." Davids' owner assumed the slave had drowned when he attempted his swim across the Ohio River. He told the local paper that if Davids had escaped, he must have traveled on "an underground railroad." Davids, however, did live, giving the Underground Railroad its now-famous name.

Fact #33

At a time when universities did not typically offer financial assistance to black athletes, African-American football star Ernie Davis was offered more than 50 scholarships.

Fact #34

Musician Bo Diddly reportedly got his name from the diddley bow, an African instrument with one string.

Fact #35

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was considered the "Father of Gospel Music" for combining sacred words with secular rhythms. His most famous composition, "Take My Hand Precious Lord" was recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson and many others.

Fact #36

W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter started The Niagara Movement, a black civil rights organization which got its name from the group's first meeting location, Niagara Falls. This collective later became the N.A.A.C.P.

Fact #37

W.E.B. Du Bois died one day before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech at the 1963 March on Washington.

Fact #38

Before he wrote the acclaimed novel, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison served as cook in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Fact #39

Shortly before his mysterious disappearance in 1934, W.D. Fard founded the Nation of Islam.

Fact #40

Ella Fitzgerald had a three-octave range - a range greater than most professional Opera singers.

Fact #41

After friend and musical partner Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumor, Marvin Gaye left the music industry for two years. During this time, he tried out for the Detroit Lions football team, but didn't make the cut. Instead, he returned to the studio to record his hit single, "What's Goin' On."

Fact #42

As a young girl in Harlem, Althea Gibson was a local table tennis champion. Her skills were eventually noticed by musician Buddy Walker, who invited her to play tennis on local courts.

Fact #43

Nancy Green a former slave, was employed in 1893 to promote the Aunt Jemima brand by demonstrating the pancake mix at expositions and fairs. She was a popular attraction because of her friendly personality, great story-telling, and warmth. Green signed a lifetime contract with the pancake company and her image was used for packaging and billboards.

Fact #44

Famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix was known by close friends and family members simply as "Buster."

Fact #45

Josiah Henson fled slavery in Maryland in 1830 and founded a settlement in Ontario, Canada for fugitive slaves. His autobiography "The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself" (1849) is believed to have been Harriet Beecher Stowe's inspiration for the main character in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Fact #46

African-American Matthew A. Henson accompanied Robert E. Peary on the first successful U.S. expedition to the North Pole on April 6, 1909. In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal.

Fact #47

"Strange Fruit", the song about black lynching in the south made famous by blues singer Billie Holiday, was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx.

Fact #48

Langston Hughes' father discouraged his son from writing, agreeing to pay for his college education only if he studied engineering.

Fact #49

Jesse Jackson successfully negotiated the release of Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman, Jr., an African-American pilot who had been shot down over Syria and taken hostage in 1983.

Fact #50

The "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, co-wrote the single "We Are the World" with Motown legend Lionel Richie. The single became one of the best-selling singles of all time, with nearly 20 million copies sold and millions of dollars donated to famine relief in Africa.

Fact #51

Harriet Ann Jacobs was a slave who published Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent. The book chronicles the hardships and sexual abuse she experienced as a female growing up in slavery. Jacobs fled slavery in 1835 by hiding in a crawlspace in her grandmother's attic for nearly seven years before traveling to Philadelphia by boat, and eventually to New York.

Fact #52

Rapper Jay-Z allegedly developed his stage name as a reference to New York's J/Z subway lines that have a stop in his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, neighborhood.

Fact #53

The popular FUBU clothing line stands for "For Us By Us." It was originally created by designer Daymond John, who wanted to create a company that would give back to his Queens, New York, community.

Fact #54

Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, patented a wrench in 1922.

Fact #55

After the success of Negro Digest, publisher John H. Johnson decided to create a magazine to depict the positive side of black life and black achievement. The first issue of his publication, Ebony, sold out in a matter of hours. An additional 25,000 copies had to be printed immediately to meet the demands of the public.

Fact #56

The theme song for the groundbreaking African-American sitcom Sanford and Sons was composed by music great Quincy Jones.

Fact #57

Before he became a basketball legend, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team during his sophomore year for being undersized.

Fact #58

Chaka Kahn, the "Queen of Funk Soul" is also well known for singing the theme song to public television's popular educational program, Reading Rainbow.

Fact #59

Alicia Keys was accepted into Columbia University, but decided to pursue a full-time music career instead.

Fact #60

In her early life, Coretta Scott King was as well known as a singer as she was as a civil rights activist. The young soprano won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where she met future husband, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fact #61

Martin Luther King, Jr. was stabbed by an African-American woman in 1958 while attending his book signing at Blumstein's department store in Harlem. The next year, King and his wife visited India to study Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence.

Fact #62

Lewis Howard Latimer drafted patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, while working at a patent law firm.

Fact #63

In 1967, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. became the first black man to be trained as an astronaut. Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash during flight training, and never made it into space.

Fact #64

Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis led protests against the U.S. Armed forces policies of segregation while he served in the Army during WW II.

Fact #65

Nat "Deadwood Dick" Love, a renowned and skilled cowboy, was the only African-American cowboy to write his autobiography The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as Deadwood Dick, published in 1907.

Fact #66

African-American fashion designer Ann Lowe designed the wedding dress of Jacqueline Bouvier, the bride of future president, Senator John F. Kennedy.

Fact #67

Jazz musician Alice MacLeod married John Coltrane in 1965. She appeared as a pianist in many of his later recordings.

Fact #68

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said he was punished for misbehavior in school by being forced to write copies of the Constitution. He said this later piqued his interest in politics.

Fact #69

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was a classmate of Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes during their studies at Lincoln University.

Fact #70

Buffalo Soldiers is the name given to the all-black regiments of the U.S. Army started in 1866. More than 20 Buffalo Soldiers received the highest Medal of Honor for their service—the highest number of any U.S. military unit. The oldest living Buffalo Soldier, Mark Matthews, died at the age of 111 in 2005.

Fact #71

The Loew's Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia, was selected to air the premiere of the film Gone with the Wind in 1939. All the black actors, including Academy Award-winner Hattie McDaniel, were barred from attending.

Fact #72

George Monroe and William Robinson are thought to be the first black Pony Express riders.

Fact #73

At one point, Pony Express rider George Monroe was also a stagecoach driver for President Ulysses S. Grant. He frequently navigated the president through the curving Wanona Trail in the Yosemite Valley and, as a result, Monroe Meadows in Yosemite National Park is named for him.

Fact #74

Garrett Augustus Morgan, inventor of the traffic signal, also became the first African-American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.

Fact #75

Isaac Murphy, a great thoroughbred jockey, was the first to win three Derbies and the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Clark Handicap within the same year.

Fact #76

For a time during his youth, future politician Barack Obama referred to himself as "Barry."

Fact #77

Barack Obama won Best Spoken Word Album at the Grammy Awards for the abridged audio book of his autobiography Dreams from My Father and the nonfiction work, The Audacity of Hope.

Fact #78

Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles founded the first college for black women in the United States in 1881. The school was named Spelman College after Laura Celestia Spelman Rockefeller, the wife of John D. Rockefeller, who made a sizeable donation to the school.

Fact #79

Legendary baseball player Satchel Paige would travel as many as 30,000 miles a year to pitch as a free agent. When baseball season was over in the U.S., he would travel to the Dominican Republic and Mexico to pitch during the winter.

Fact #80

Bill Pickett (1871 - 1932) a renowned cowboy and rodeo performer was named to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971 and honored by the U.S. Postal service in a series of stamps as one of the twenty "Legends of the West"

Fact #81

Since 1997, actor Sidney Poitier has been deeply involved in politics as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.

Fact #82

In addition to her career in Washington D.C., Condoleezza Rice is an accomplished pianist who has accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma, played with soul singer Aretha Franklin, and performed for Queen Elizabeth II.

Fact #83

A serious student, Condoleezza Rice entered college at the age of 15, and was an assistant professor at Stanford by age 26.

Fact #84

At the very peak of his fame, rock 'n' roll pioneer Little Richard concluded that his music was the Devil's work, and became a traveling Evangelical preacher instead. When the Beatles revived several of his songs in 1964, Little Richard returned to the stage.

Fact #85

Actor, singer, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson was once considered for a U.S. vice presidential spot on Henry A. Wallace's 1948 Progressive Party ticket.

Fact #86

An heirloom tomato variety, originating in Russia, is named after actor, athlete and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.

Fact #87

Performer Paul Robeson was conversant in more than 20 languages.

Fact #88

African-American baseball legend Jackie Robinson had an older brother, Matthew, who won a silver medal in the 200-yard dash in the 1936 Olympics. He came in second to Jesse Owens.

Fact #89

Before Branch Rickey offered future hall-of-famer Jackie Robinson the contract that integrated professional baseball, he personally tested Robinson's calm reactions to the racial slurs and insults he knew the player would have to endure.

Fact #90

After retiring from baseball, hall-of-famer Jackie Robinson helped establish the African-American owned and controlled Freedom Bank.

Fact #91

In the early 1940s in Fort Hood, Texas, future baseball legend Jackie Robinson refused to give up his seat and move to the back of a bus when ordered to by the driver. His excellent reputation, combined with the united efforts of friends, the N.A.A.C.P., and various black newspapers, helped save him from serious consequences.

Fact #92

Before becoming a professional baseball player, Jackie Robinson played football for the Honolulu Bears.

Fact #93

Ray Charles Robinson (1930 – 2004) a musical genius and pioneer in blending gospel and the blues shortened his name to just Ray Charles to prevent confusion with the great boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Ray Charles began going blind at an early age and was completely blind by the time he was 7 years old, but has never relied upon a cane, or a guide dog. He was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986.

Fact #94

Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's birth name was actually Walker Smith, Jr.

Fact #95

Reverend Al Sharpton preached his first sermon at the age of four, and toured with world-famous gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

Fact #96

Run of Run-D.M.C. is the brother of hip-hop promoter Russell Simmons.

Fact #97

Upon her death in 2003, singer Nina Simone's ashes were spread across the continent of Africa, per her last request.

Fact #98

African-American tap dancer Howard Sims, was known as the "Sandman" because he often sprinkled sand on stage to amplify his tap dance steps.

Fact #99

Mamie Smith was the first African-American artist to make a blues record. The album, which brought blues into the mainstream, sold a million copies in less than a year.

Fact #100

Olympic medal winning athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith, made headlines around the world by raising their black-gloved fists at the 1968 medal award ceremony. Both athletes wore black socks and no shoes on the podium to represent black poverty in America.

Fact #101

Walker Smith Jr. (1921 – 1989) became known as Sugar Ray Robinson when he borrowed his friend Ray Robinson's Amateur Athletic Union card and became the Golden Glove Lightweight champion in 1940 under the borrowed name.

Fact #102

The "sweet as sugar" boxing style of athlete Walker Smith, Jr. earned him the nickname "Sugar" Ray Robinson. Considered the greatest boxer of all time, Robinson held the world welterweight title from 1946 to 1951 and was middleweight champion five times between 1951 and 1960 - the first boxer in history to win a divisional world championship five times.

Fact #103

In 1930, Valaida Snow captivated audiences with her professional singing and jazz trumpet playing. Her abilities earned her the name "Little Louis", in reference to the style of trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

Fact #104

John Baxter Taylor, the first African-American to win an Olympic Gold Medal, also held a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in veterinary medicine.

Fact #105

African-American Olympic figure skating medalist Debi Thomas, studied engineering at Stanford University and later became an orthopedic surgeon.

Fact #106

In addition to being a millionaire entrepreneur, Madame C.J. Walker was also a civil rights activist. In 1917 she was part of a delegation that met with President Woodrow Wilson to convince him to make lynching a federal crime.

Fact #107

Muddy Waters (1913 – 1983) is considered the "Father of Chicago Blues" with his infusion of the electric guitar into the Delta country blues. Muddy Waters was influential to some of the most popular rock bands, such as the Rolling Stones, who named themselves after his popular 1950 song &dlquo;Rollin’ Stone".

Fact #108

Rapper Kanye West's father was Ray West, a former Black Panther who was one of the first black photojournalists at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Fact #109

The mother of rapper and producer Kanye West was a Professor of English before retiring to serve as her son's manager.

Fact #110

Phillis Wheatley was the first published African-American poet with her 1774 collection, Poems on Various Subjects. In order to prove she was the author, she had to submit her work to examination by a group of Boston intellectuals, and defend her literary ability in court.

Fact #111

Before Forest Whitaker was a film star, he was accepted to the Music Conservatory at the University of Southern California (USC) to study opera as a tenor.

Fact #112

Jesse Ernest Wilkins Jr. (1923 – ), a physicist, mathematician and an engineer, earned a PhD. in mathematics at age 19 from the University of Chicago in 1942.

Fact #113

The "Dee" in actor Billy Dee Williams' name is short for his middle name, "December."

Fact #114

Cathay Williams (1842 – ) was the first and only known female Buffalo Soldier. She was born into slavery and worked for the Union army during the Civil War. She posed as a man and enlisted as Williams Cathay in the 38th infantry in 1866. She was given a medical discharge in 1868.

Fact #115

NFL player John Williams competed in two Super Bowls before he quit the league to become a dentist.

Fact #116

Renowned African-American architect Paul Williams mastered the art of rendering drawings upside-down so that his clients, who may have been uncomfortable sitting next to a black person, would see the drawings right side up.

Fact #117

Because he worked during the height of segregation, most of the homes African-American architect Paul Williams designed were built on land whose deeds barred blacks from being able to purchase them.

Fact #118

Musician Stevie Wonder recorded the cries of his newborn daughter, Aisha Morris, for his popular song, "Isn't She Lovely?"

Fact #119

Black History Month originated in 1926 by Carter Godwin Woodson as Negro History Week. The month of February was chosen in honor of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born in that month.

Fact #120

Lewis and Clark were accompanied by York, a black slave, when they made their 1804 expedition from Missouri to Oregon. York’s presence aided in their interactions with the Native Americans they encountered.

Fact #121

The first major black super-hero, the Black Panther, made his debut in Fantastic Four No. 52 in July of 1966.

Fact #122

The Selma to Montgomery marches marked the peak of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Of the three marches, only the last made it all the way to Montgomery, Alabama. The path is now a U.S. National Historic Trail.

Fact #123

The first university owned and operated by African-Americans is Wilberforce College, in Wilberforce, Ohio. The school names notable graduates such as James H. McGee, the first African-American mayor of Dayton, Ohio, and African-American conductor William Grant Still.

Fact #124

Since its creation, the popular FUBU clothing line has won two Congressional Awards, two NAACP Awards, the Pratt Institute Award, the Christopher Wallace Award, the Online Hip-Hop Award and a Citation of Honor from the Queens Borough President.

Fact #125

The banjo originated in Africa and up until the 1800s was considered an instrument only played by blacks.

Fact #126

According to the American Community Survey, in 2005 there were 2.4 million black military veterans in the United States -the highest of any minority group.

Fact #127

In the mid 1800s Philadelphia was known as "The Black Capital of Anti–Slavery," because of the strong abolitionist presence there and such groups as The Philadelphia Female Anti–Slavery Society, The Philadelphia Young Men’s Anti–Slavery Society and The Philadelphia Anti–Slavery Society.

Fact #128

Buffalo Soldiers is a name respectfully given to the African–American cavalries during the 1800s by the Native American Kiowa tribe. These soldiers received second class treatment and were often given the worst military assignments, but had the lowest desertion rate compared to their white counterparts.

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