February 7, 2021

Black History Month honors the contributions and achievements of Black Americans and others in the African Diaspora. While some of our Heroes, Sheroes and events are well-known, there are some “lesser-known Black History facts we may not have been aware of.  Throughout the month of February, we will be sharing some of  these lesser know “Black History Facts” on this platform to inform and inspire you.

Negro History Week: The celebration of Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson,  a noted African American historian, scholar, educator and publisher. It became a month-long celebration in 1976.

First Black US Lawyer:  John Mercer Langston was the first Black man to become a lawyer when he passed the bar in Ohio in 1854.  He was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855 making him one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in the USA. John Mercer Langston was also the great-uncle of Harlem Renaissance poet, playwright and activist, Langston Hughes.

NAACP: Was founded February 1909 by a group of prominent White and Black activists including W.E.B Dubois partially in response to the ongoing violence against African Americans around the country. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began in New York and some early members of the organization,  included suffragists, journalists, labor reformers, and other intellectuals who were involved in the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group started in 1905.

Maya Angelou’s Birthday:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou’s birthday, on April 4, 1968.  Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward, and sent flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King for more than 30 years, until Coretta's death in 2006.

Josephine Baker:  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 hiding them in her sheet music.

Shirley Chisholm:  Politician, educator and Brooklyn native Shirley Chisholm survived three assassination attempts on her life during her campaign for the 1972 Democratic nomination to the U.S. presidency.

Benjamin Banneker: He was born the son of ex-slaves in Baltimore, MD .  He was a self-educated astronomer, mathematician, writer and compiler of almanacs, who helped survey and designed the US Capitol, of Washington DC.

Claudette Colvin:  Most people think of Rosa Parks as the first person to refuse to give up their seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. There were actually several women who came before her; one of whom was Claudette Colvin.  The fifteen-year-old schoolgirl refused to move to the back of the bus on March 2, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks’ stand that launched the Montgomery bus boycott.   Arrested and thrown in jail, she was one of four women who challenged the segregation law in court in  Browder v. Gayle.  This case successfully overturned bus segregation laws in the state of Alabama.  So, why has Claudette’s story been largely forgotten? At the time, the NAACP and other Black organizations felt Rosa Parks made a better icon for the movement than a teenager. As an adult with the right look, Rosa Parks was also the secretary of the NAACP, and was both well-known and respected – people would associate her with the middle class and that would attract support for the cause.

Black Lone Ranger:   One in four cowboys was Black despite what we have read in popular books and saw in movies.  In the 19th century, the Wild West attracted many enslaved Blacks with the hope of freedom and wages.  It’s believed that the real “Lone Ranger” was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves.  Reeves had been born a slave but escaped West during the Civil War where he lived in what was then known as Indian Territory. He eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, and rode a silver horse. His story was not unique however.  When the Civil War ended, freedmen went West with the hope of a better life where the demand for skilled labor was high.

Founding of Chicago:  Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (1745?-1818) was a Black man from Haiti who is credited with founding the city of Chicago.  His father was a Frenchman in Haiti and his mother was an enslaved African person. It's not clear how he arrived in New Orleans from Haiti, but once he did, he traveled from there to what is now modern-day Peoria, Illinois. Although he was not the first to pass through the area, he was the first to establish a permanent settlement, where he lived for at least 20 years. He set up a trading post on the Chicago River, where it meets Lake Michigan, and became a wealthy man with a reputation as a man of good character and "sound business acumen."


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