Black History Month Facts

While February is Black History Month, the exploration of black history should not be isolated to a single month. Black history is American history, and understanding the perspective and information contained in these important chapters of American history are lessons that provide us a way forward by examining our past.

There are stories left to tell about the history of black America. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The tendency to ignore the Negro's contribution to American life and strip him of his personhood is as old as the earliest history books and as contemporary as the morning's newspaper." It is important to find those stories and tell those truths.

  1. The earliest recorded protest against American slavery was led by the Quakers in 1688.
  2. The month-long celebration of Black History began in 1976. February was chosen as the month to coincide with the celebration to align with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
  3. The NAACP was formed in 1909, spurred by growing racial violence in the early 20th century – particularly by 1908 race riots in Springfield, Illinois.
  4. Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested nine months prior to Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat to white bus passengers, helping to inspire the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and resulting Civil Rights movement.
  5. John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer, passing the Ohio bar in 1854.
  6. The first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate was Hiram Revels, who represented the state of Mississippi from February 1870 until March 1871.
  7. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He served the court from 1967 to 1991.
  8. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives, representing New York beginning in 1968 before becoming the first female major party candidate to campaign for President of the United states when she ran as a Democratic Party candidate in 1972.
  9. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States.
  10. In 2020, Kamala Harris became the first woman of African or Asian descent to be elected as vice president.
  11. Inoculation – the action of introducing a virus into the body to produce or increase immunity to a particular disease – was brought to America by Onesimus, a Massachusetts slave.
  12. Known as America's first African American man of science, Bejamin Banneker was born in 1731 and taught himself both astronomy and math. He successfully predicted a solar eclipse and published his own almanac.
  13. At age 12, Phillis Weatley became the first female African American author published in 1770.
  14. Madam C.J. Walker was an African American entrepreneur who became America's first female self-made millionaire through the creation of the Madam C.J. Walker Company, specializing in beauty and haircare products for African American women. 
  15. George Washington Carver was a prolific inventor at the turn of the 20th century, developing 300 derivative products from peanuts among them cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils and cosmetics.
  16. A member of the first successful expedition to the north pole in 1909, Matthew Henson made seven separate voyages to the Arctic.
  17. Bettie Boop, first appearing in 1930, was modeled after Harlem jazz singer Esther Jones.
  18. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American performer to win an Academy Award in 1940 for her portrayal of a loyal slave governess in Gone with the Wind. Despite her award-winning performance, she wasn't allowed to attend Gone With The Wind's national premiere.
  19. Winning the World Heavyweight Champion boxing title in 1908, Jack Johnson became the first African American man to wear the belt. He held it for seven years.
  20. The first Black soccer player at the international level was Andrew Watson, who not only played for Scotland in a Cup series against England and Wales, but captained the side. Watson's career lasted over 20 years before his retirement in 1892.
  21. In 1908, John Baxter Taylor became the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal, earning gold in the 1600-meter medley relay.
  22. Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 5, 1947.
  23. Pitcher Satchel Paige was the first black player inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
  24. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, approximately 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the Americas during the Transatlantic slave trade. As many as two million died en route.
  25. Interracial marriage was banned in the United States in 1664 and continued to be banned for three hundred years until it was overturned in 1967.
  26. The first historically black college and university was established in Pennslvania in 1837. In 1930, fed by a surge of Jewish academics emigrating from Germany and Austria, the number of HBCUs grew to 78.
  27. One in four cowboys was black. It's believed that the real “Lone Ranger” was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves.
  28. Allensworth, California was the first all-black township established in the United States. Founded in 1908, Allensworth was meant to be a refuge for African Americans, away from the oppression of society in the early 20th century and wholly self-reliant.
  29. The first licensed African American Female pilot was named Bessie Coleman, awarded her international pilot's license in 1921.
  30. During World War II, the all-black, all-female 6888th Battalion delivered more than 17 million letters to American troops serving across England.
  31. The black population of the United States has grown from 4.8 million in 1870 to 43.8 million black residents in 2018.