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15 Lesser-Known Black History Facts
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15 Lesser-Known Black History Facts

One Minute Takeaway

  • Harvard-educated historian and author, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is credited with creating Black History Month.
  • Black History Month started as “Negro History Week” which was celebrated during the week of Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays (February 12th and 14th).
  • In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared February to be Black History Month.

Honoring Black History Month in the workplace helps build community and connection though education. And although creating inclusive organizations isn’t achieved in one month, February is a good time for company leaders to dig deeper to understand diversity, equity and employee wellbeing.

Black history happens every day and there are always new endeavors to celebrate. There’s also some Black History Month trivia that’s lesser known to the population at large. Check out this brief rundown of how Black History Month started and some possible new-to-you facts on various topics that could inspire you to expand your learning beyond Black History Month.

Who Started Black History Month?

Harvard-educated historian and author, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is credited with creating Black History Month. He was inspired after attending a 50th anniversary celebration of the 13th Amendment where various exhibits portrayed events in African American culture. With a mission to amplify Black people’s contributions and achievements, Woodson went on to create what is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). In 1926, Woodson and ASALH declared the second week of February—which aligned with Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays—to be “Negro History Week.”

During the next 50 years, communities, schools and organizations started participating in the week-long recognition of African American trials and successes. As public interest grew, particularly during the 1960s civil rights movement, the celebration expanded from a week to a month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared February to be “Black History Month,” and congress passed a law in 1986 solidifying it as such.

Black History Month Trivia

  1. William Tucker, son of indentured servants from Great Britain, was the first recorded African child to be born in the colonies in 1624.
  2. Vermont was the first colony to ban slavery in 1777.
  3. In the 1770s, a Quaker named Anthony Benezet created the first school for African American children.
  4. Between 1810-1850, an estimated 100,000 slaves used the Underground Railroad to escape to the North.
  5. William Wells Brown’s novel, Clotel; or The President’s Daughter, is the first written by an African American to be published in 1853.
  6. Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind in 1940. Sidney Poitier was the first Black man to win, 24 years later, for his leading role in Lilies of the Field.
  7. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College as the first Black woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.
  8. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson had an older brother, Matthew “Mack” Robinson, who broke the Olympic record in 1936 in the 200-meter dash. However, he took home the silver medal because he finished behind Jesse Owens.
  9. Before becoming a professional musician, Chuck Berry studied to become a hairdresser and has a degree in cosmetology.
  10. Nat King Cole was the first African American to host a TV show when The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC in 1956.
  11. In 1973, Stevie Wonder was the first Black artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year for Innervisions.
  12. Founded in 1984, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo celebrates Black cowboys and cowgirls and is the only touring African American rodeo in the world.
  13. The theme song to public television’s popular children’s program, Reading Rainbow, is sung by Chaka Kahn.
  14. The oldest living Buffalo Soldier, Sergeant Mark Matthews, died at the age of 111 in 2005 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
  15. Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win the Individual All Around in the 2012 London Olympics.

For more free resources and tools that promote DE&I best practices in the workplace, visit Perspectives+. It’s Paycor’s online knowledge library designed to help our partner network drive change, empower colleagues, and foster new leaders.