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17 Unforgettable Black History Facts They Should've Taught In School

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted."

We asked the BuzzFeed Community to share some black history facts that they found to be surprising. Here's what we learned.

1. A black woman invented the sanitary belt.

2. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks's cancer cells led to major discoveries in medical research.

3. Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

4. The first successful open-heart surgery was performed in 1893 by a black surgeon named Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

5. John Rock was the first African American Supreme Court lawyer.

6. Thelonious Monk was one of the greatest jazz composers and a strong leader in the jazz revolution.

7. Betty Boop was based on a black woman.

8. Musa I of Mali is considered the richest man in history.

9. Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were the women behind the NASA space race.

10. A black transgender woman named Marsha P. Johnson helped lead the Stonewall uprising.

11. Bayard Rustin was an openly gay civil rights activist.

12. Henry Box Brown escaped to freedom at the age of 33.

13. Ida B. Wells led a movement against lynchings in the 1890s through her informative essays and brave activism.

14. The Harlem Hellfighters spent 191 days in the trenches during World War I, more than any other American unit.

15. In 1921, "Black Wall Street" was a thriving community of black businesses.

16. The youth of Birmingham, Alabama, led a nonviolent Children's Crusade in 1963.

17. And finally, Martin Luther King Jr. was not the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Do you know of any other black history facts you wish everyone else knew? Tell us in the comments below!


Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner invented the sanitary belt. An earlier version of this post said that she invented the sanitary pad.