Skip To Content

    18 Black History Facts You May Not Know

    Maybe you just haven't had time to learn them. February is the shortest month, after all.

    1. It's a sure bet you know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    But maybe you're not aware of Bayard Rustin, a civil rights leader who was jailed repeatedly for his association with social disturbances and his open homosexuality.

    2. You probably know that Maya Angelou was the first African American woman to write a non-fiction best seller.

    But perhaps you don't know that Phillis Wheatley was the first published African American female author. She was a servant who published her first poem at the age of 12 in the mid 1700s.

    3. Surely you know that Halle Berry was the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball.

    But it's possible you don't know that Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American woman nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her lead role in Carmen Jones.

    4. If you're really smart, you already knew that George Washington Carver made several agricultural advances and used the peanut to create over 100 new products.

    Another African American responsible for scientific advances you may not have learned about is Henrietta Lacks.

    5. Okay, so you know Aretha Franklin and her iconic, powerhouse voice.

    What you may not know is that she was not only the first African American woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was the first woman. Period.

    6. Everyone knows that Oprah has built an amazing empire.

    But not many people know about Madam C.J. Walker. She was the first self-made female millionaire.

    7. It's possible you know that Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught astronomer credited as the first African American scientist.

    8. You're super smart, right? Right. So you know that W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

    But did you know Ben Carson was the first surgeon to separate twins conjoined at the head?

    9. There's a good chance you know that Thurgood Marshall was the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.

    But did you know that before that he played a pivotal role in the Brown v Board of Education case?

    10. You might know that Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie were the first African Americans to win GRAMMY Awards.

    They each won in the same year, 1959.

    But did you know that Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, was not allowed to attend the national premier of Gone With The Wind, the film featuring her winning performance, because she was black?

    11. You're aware that these civil rights figures were assassinated because of what they stood for and the work they did.

    Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and many others died fighting for equality.

    But did you know about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. that claimed the lives of four young girls?

    12. Most likely you're aware of Nat King Cole and his unparalleled voice. But did you also know that he was the first African American to reach #1 on the Billboard charts?

    Cole was also the first African American to host his own television show.

    13. You know all about how Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955.

    Someone you may not have heard of is Claudette Colvin. As a school girl she refused to give up her seat on the bus and was taken to jail nine months before Rosa Parks.

    14. Surely you learned about Sojourner Truth. She escaped from slavery in 1826 and became an abolitionist and women's rights activist.

    You might not know Professor Angela Davis.

    15. Lena Horne was a pretty popular star, so there is a chance you know her pretty well.

    But Josephine Baker is a gorgeous African American performer you may not have heard.

    16. Maybe you know about the riot that broke out in Watts, Calif. in 1965.

    One you may not have heard of is the Tulsa Race Riot. In 1921, an entire city was burned to the ground due to a racial disturbance and retaliation.

    17. You've heard of Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player.

    But before the Williams sisters, Arthur Ashe was the first African American male to win both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

    18. If you've been doing your homework, you know that Guion Stewart "Guy" Bluford, Jr. was the first African American NASA astronaut to launch into space.

    You should also know that in 1992 Mae C. Jemison became the first African American woman in space.

    These figures and events — along with so many others — shaped not just African American history, but everyone's history. Take the time to learn a few more facts this year. Happy Black History Month!