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These Eye-Opening Black History Facts Should Be Celebrated All Year Round

Country Living logo Country Living 2/1/2022 Corinne Sullivan

February may be Black History Month, but really, the contributions and legacy of Black Americans should be celebrated all year round. From supporting Black-owned brands to reading quotes from notable Black figures, there are tons of ways to celebrate Black history and culture that go way beyond the shortest month of the year. Part of Black History Month is also educating yourself, and if you want to brush up on the parts of African American history that you might not have learned in school, then these Black History facts are here to help.

From inventors to novelists to Olympians, countless Black historical figures have left their mark on American history over the years, and their stories are too often overlooked and unsung. It doesn't help that everything from Jim Crow segregation laws to race riots to acts of police brutality have attempted to keep Black Americans from thriving, which only makes the achievements of these Black trailblazers even more impressive. In honor of Black History Month, here are some important facts you probably didn't learn in school (and if you're looking for other ways to celebrate this month, be sure to check out some Black history movies and Black history books).


Ethel Waters © Bettmann Ethel Waters


Dr. Mae Jemison © Lachlan Cunningham Dr. Mae Jemison

  • Though he was born enslaved during the Civil War, George Washington Carver later studied botany as the first Black student at Iowa State University and was responsible for creating over 300 products using the peanut, including dyes, plastics and gasoline.
  • After becoming the very first African American and the first woman to graduate with a master's degree from the University of Hawaii, Alice Ball went on to invent the first successful treatment for Hansen’s disease (otherwise known as leprosy) in 1916. It wasn't until years after her tragic death at the young age of 24 that Ball even got proper credit for her work.
  • In 1956, Gladys West was hired as a mathematician by the U.S. Naval Proving Ground, and it was there that she invented an accurate model of the Earth, which was then used as the foundation for the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • After graduating from college at the age of 18, Katherine Johnson began working in aeronautics, and following the formation of NASA, she performed the calculations that sent astronauts into orbit and eventually to the moon in 1969.
  • In 1987, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program, and just over five years later in 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African American woman in space.


Jackie Robinson © Hulton Archive Jackie Robinson


Thurgood Marshall © Bettmann Thurgood Marshall

  • African Americans held their first large-scale convention in Philadelphia in 1830, and the gathering (which marked the start of the National Negro Conventions Movement) led to the formation of the American Society of Free Persons of Color. Bishop Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was made president of the society, and he worked to coordinate civil rights efforts locally.
  • The final convention movement in 1864—presided over by Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass—led to the founding of the National Equal Rights League, an organization that pushed for full political rights for Black Americans as compensation for military service in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
  • In 1870, the Mississippi state legislature sent Hiram Revels to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction, making him the first African American senator. Though Revels's term in the Senate only lasted a year, he became an outspoken opponent of racial segregation and broke new ground for African Americans in Congress.
  • After working several years as a civil rights lawyer, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court. He was officially nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, and he served as a justice until 1991.
  • In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to win a seat in Congress. Four years later, she became the first Black candidate for a major-party nomination for President of the United States.

Arts and Literature

Gordon Parks © Al Pereira Gordon Parks

  • Back in 1859, Harriet Wilson published the autobiographical novel Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, making her the first African American author to publish a novel. The novel was later lost for over 100 years until it was reprinted with a critical essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in 1983.
  • Known as the first African American professional photographer, Gordon Parks was hired by Life magazine as their first Black staff photographer in 1948 after publishing a photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader. He remained at the magazine for two decades, where he took photos of everyone from Muhammad Ali to Malcolm X.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her book Annie Allen, which chronicles the evolution of a young Black girl into womanhood through poetry.
  • In addition to designing one of the most famous wedding dresses in history (the gown worn by Jacqueline Bouvier when she married John F. Kennedy in 1953), Ann Lowe created a number of designs for high-society women, earning a reputation as the first renowned African American fashion designer. Today her work is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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