28 Lesser Known Black History Facts

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The thing about black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.
— Henry Louis Gates Jr.
 

Black History Month is a specified time for the remembrance of black achievements, contributions, and horrors endured, that have historically been swept under the rug. This past and present dismissal, in regards to black achievements and contributions, is one of the main reasons that despite evidence and research, the movie Hidden Figures, that tells the true story of extraordinarily strong and intelligent black women that helped put a man on the moon, is thought of by some, to be made up, leftist propaganda.

Basically, due to the extensive history of black marginalization, and a lack of education on black contributions, millions within this country don’t believe that black people have contributed anything of value, and instead are only good for violence and degradation.

However, despite centuries of extraordinarily inhumane treatment, that to certain degrees still continues,  black-Americans (an ethnic group that only makes up around 13 percent of a country that isn’t even 6 percent of the world) have managed to create numerous things that people all over the world love, and try to imitate, especially so when it comes to music, dance, and style, such as: Jazz, Blues, Hip Hop, House, R&B, Soul, Funk, Rock n Roll, Popping, Locking, Breakdancing, and Scratching (turntables) to name a few.

From my time in elementary school, all the way through high school, the only thing I learned about black history, was that we were slaves and that we were only freed after centuries went by. Other than that, I learned that there had only been a few of us that warranted academic acknowledgement or remembrance: George Washington Carver, MLK, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Yet, black history is obviously much more expansive than these few black men and women, and the scourge that was chattel slavery. So, here is a list of black achievements, contributions, and legacies. However, instead of sticking to the accomplishments of black Americans only, I decided to include amazing black facts from around the world. This list is pretty late, but oh well; here are 28 lesser known Black History facts for every day of the month, plus a bonus. Enjoy.

 


1) Slaves used Cornrows as maps for escape routes 

A man by the name of Benkos Bioho, who is thought to have been born in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo, was enslaved and ended up in modern day Colombia, but escaped and established an African refugee village, which today is inhabited by 3,500 people, and is known as San Basillo de Palenque. He also formed a small army and intelligence network to help other slaves escape. One of the most creative and interesting ways he did so, was to have the women shape maps within their cornrows.

 

2) The story of the Muse Brothers 

In 1899, George and Willie Muse, ages nine and six at the time, would be abducted from Truevine, Virginia and sold into the circus as freak shows. The brothers were black albinos; the contrast of pale skin with overt black features, was a source of shock, awe, and entertainment for white audiences that had never seen such a thing before.

At this time in history, much like most of African-American history, blacks had little to no rights, even if slavery had been abolished a little over 30 years ago. What is true now, was true then: change in this country is a slow and arduous task that reminds one of the movement of homemade molasses. Namely, even if slavery had been abolished, George and Willie had no real right to personal dignity or even basic humanity if it meant others could be entertained.

The brothers would prove to be a very lucrative attraction for both Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show On Earth”.

George and Willie would travel across the country, and even to Canada playing the guitar and being promoted as “sheep-headed freaks”, cannibals, and “Ambassadors from Mars”. It would take nearly 30 years for their mother, Harriet Muse, to finally reunite with them in 1927, and to fight for them to be payed for their decades of work, as they had never received a cent until then.

If you would like to read the whole story, which includes words from the author who wrote the amazing book, Truevine, about their life, please click here.

 

3) “Father of Ice Cream”

Augustus Jackson, a well known confectioner from Philly, didn’t actually create the world renowned treat. However, he did invent an improved method of creating ice cream, in addition, to quite a number of ice cream flavors. Although it is unknown which ones he created, since he never applied for any patents.

 

4) The origin of coffee.

The word “Coffee” comes from Caffa, with its origins in Ethiopia, where it grows wild.

 

5) The amazing Marshall “The Black Cyclone” Taylor

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While still a teenager, Marshall W. Taylor, became a professional cyclist with seven world records to his name. He won 29 of the 49 races he entered, and in 1899 won the cycling championship. He accomplished this while fending off racist competitors who tried to jostle or push him off his bicycle, in addition to racist audiences who would throw an assortment of objects at him, including nails.

In 1902, he competed in the European Tour, due to the overwhelming racial violence and hatred in the United States, and further cemented his legacy as the fastest cyclist in the world.

 

 

6) Georgetown University Slave Trade

 In a 1838 slave sale, Georgetown university sold 272 slaves for $115,000, to help pay off university debts and keep the university from closing. Present day, the proceeds from that sale is worth around 3.3 million dollars. Brown, Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Virginia also have similar histories.

 

7) Jan Ernest Matzeliger invented the “Lasting Machine” in 1883

 Many that came before him attempted the feat but came up short: the Lasting Machine was an automated shoe making machine that swiftly attached the top of the shoe to the sole. Matzeliger’s machine was said to have been able to produce more than 10 times what human hands could create in a day. Matzeliger’s ingenious efforts would help revolutionize the shoe industry and make shoes more affordable.

 

8) Jean Francois rose to the title of grandee in Spain 

In both Spain and Portugal, the title of “grandee” granted one the highest rank of nobility. Francois an ex-slave and leader of the Haitians during the Haitian Revolution rose to this preeminent title, and according to the writings of Gen. Pamphile La Croix, in the book, La Revolution de St. Dominigue, he was a favorite of the court.

 


9 Benjamin Banneker: the multifaceted genius 

Many know that he was a gifted tobacco farmer and that he created high quality almanacs that sold well, however, Banneker was a man of many other talents and accomplishments: he was the first to disclose in his writings that a star named Sirius was actually two stars instead of one, two centuries later, his hypothesis would be confirmed, thanks to the hubble telescope; he was the first to track the 17 year locust cycle, which proved to be a very valuable asset to farmers, as they could prepare for locust attacks on their crops; Banneker created the United States first completely wooden, striking clock, which he engineered without any prior training or knowledge, his clock would keep accurate time until the day his house “mysteriously” burned up over 50 years later; within his first almanac, published in 1792, he was the first to recommend a U.S. Department of Peace, which wouldn’t be instituted until nearly 200 years later, in the form of the U.S. Institute of Peace; and finally, he was a member of the first presidential team charged with the creation of the nation’s capital.

 

10) Frederick McKinley Jones: the inventor of air coding units

Over his lifetime, Mckinley Jones would patent more than 60 inventions, with a sizable number correlating to refrigeration. He created an automatic refrigeration system, called the “Thermos King”, which allowed large trucks to transport biodegradable products without the worry of them spoiling. He later expanded the Thermos King to be usable in ships and trains. This transformed the grocery business as it allowed products to be imported or exported without the need of canning them. Thus, helping to give birth to the frozen food industry.  

 

11) St Maurice, The black celestial saint of Germany

 In Germany, the first black person to be documented as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church is none other than St. Maurice/Mauritius. He is still depicted as black to this day within Germany, although he is depicted as white in churches within France and Italy. For the full story on St. Maurice please click here.

 

12)  Virginia’s Prince Edward County closes down its whole school system to try and fight off integration

 Seems like they did't like the idea of integration very much

Seems like they did't like the idea of integration very much

In 1959, Virginia’s move to close its schools in response to integration was ruled as unconstitutional. Schools that had been closed, within a number of counties, were reopened because citizens decided that integrated schooling was a better option to no schooling at all. However, Prince Edward County thought differently. While other schools reopened its doors for children of different shades, Prince Edward County decided it was better to close its entire public school system. According to vahistorical.org, the Prince Edward Foundation created a litany of private schools to educate its white population only. These schools would be supported by tuition grants from the state and tax credits from the county. Of course, provisions were not made for the black population, creating a situation where some students lost part of, or even worse, all of their opportunity at an education for 5 years.

 

 

13) Elijah McCoy, “The Real McCoy” 

During McCoy’s career, he received nearly 60 patents for his creations. McCoy is perhaps most famous for his creation of an automatic lubricator for train engines, which virtually ended the need to periodically stop the engine, thereby saving both time and money. He is thought by many to be the reason for the phrase “The Real McCoy”, as his inventions gained such notoriety that the phrase “is it the real McCoy?” was created to distinguish his inventions from imitations.

 

14) John Burr’s lawnmower

It is likely that today’s manual lawn mowers use design elements of Burr’s lawnmower. In 1899, Burr created and patented an improved rotary blade lawnmower which possessed a rotary blade and traction wheels.

 

15) Capoeira: the ingenious fighting style of Afro-Brasilian slaves

 Capoeira is a world renown Brasilian martial art that incorporates dance and acrobatics into its base form. It was created centuries ago by Afro-Brasilian slaves of Angolan origin as a means of self-defense. To keep the slave owners from noticing that they were in fact training in martial arts, the fighting style was hidden within the appearance of a simple dance. To see video clips of Capoeira in action, please click on the video below.

 

16) The US Capitol and White House were built by both free and enslaved blacks

 Yes, what former First Lady, Michelle Obama said, which got her into a whole lot of hot water with certain segments of our country was completely true, and just because some people would rather spend their life denying facts, doesn't matter. The sky is blue, my skin is brown, and slaves helped build the white house, it is what it is. If you’d like more information on the subject you may read here and here.

 


17) Richard Spikes created the improved automatic gear shift

Richard Spikes received patents for many inventions or improvements upon already existing inventions, these include: the automatic car washer, automobile directional signals, automatic safety brake, automatic shoe shine chair, and a beer keg tap which Milwaukee Brewing Company purchased. However, he is most famous for his patent of a much improved automatic gear shift, in 1932.

 

18)  The rise of patents among black Americans

The addition of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the constitution brought about obvious improvements to the lives of African-Americans. Yet, there is one benefit that all too often goes unrecognized: these amendments gave blacks the right to patent their inventions. Before this, receiving a patent as a black American in the United States was extremely difficult for some, and impossible for many others. As a result of the amendments, the number of patents for inventions filed by blacks dramatically increased, as innovators and creatives from a variety of different backgrounds sought recognition for their intelligence, talent, and outstanding ingenuity in the face of horrible conditions.

 

19) The invention of “Shotgun Homes” 

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The “Shotgun house” was a black invention that was found most extensively within the American South in black neighborhoods. It was named as such for its long and narrow layout, in addition, the theory was that you could shoot a shotgun through the front door and the bullets would fly out the back door. They were brought to the United States in the 18th and 19th century by Haitians. Many of them settled within New Orleans and brought along the African architectural style.

 

20) Inoculation was introduced to America by a slave 

Africans introduced their centuries old practice as a cure for smallpox. The virus was running rampant in 1721, and a slave by the name of Onesimus taught Cotton Mather, a Puritan cleric, about the method. By introducing the infected material to someone without the virus, it was possible to stimulate the production of antibodies to ward against the contraction of the virus. Opposition to the method, of course, arose domestically and abroad in Europe, however, over time opposition lessened and inoculation would even be used on soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Therefore, Onesimus introduced the African medical technique to the United States.

 

21)  At least 1 in 4 cowboys were black and the Lone Ranger is thought by some to have been inspired by a black man named Bass Reeves. 

There were numerous black cowboys of renown that achieved amazing feats, such as: Mary Fields, Charlie Willis, John “The Texas Kid” Hayes, Cherokee Bill, Bob Lemmons, Nat Love, and Bass Reeves. Bass was born a slave but escaped west during the Civil War. Over time he became a Deputy U.S. Marshall who was a highly talented marksman, possessed a Native American partner, and rode a silver horse, sound familiar?

Historians estimate that at least 1 in 4 cowboys were black, and while there wasn’t as much segregation in frontier towns, racial inequities still followed, as black cowboys were still expected to do rougher jobs and greater quantities of work. In addition, it is widely believed that the term “cowboy” was first used as a derogatory term by which to refer to black “cowhands”

 

22) Garrett Morgan invented the “safety hood” (gas mask)

Morgan only possessed a 6th grade education, however, he would prove himself to be a brilliant man, anyway. He found work in a textile factory and learned how the machines worked through observation, which landed him a position as the only black attendant. His responsibilities included fixing or improving mechanical problems. In 1914, Morgan would create a protective hood that enabled firefighters or other rescue workers to enter smoky or toxic environments without having to inhale dangerous contaminants. However, understanding that many within white America, especially within the south, would refuse to buy his products if they knew he was black, he posed as a Native American named “Big Chief Mason” and hired white salesmen to promote the invention. The decision proved to be the correct choice, as sales of his gas mask were quite high, with the visual ruse, anyway. Over time, it was discovered that an African-American had invented the mask and his sales came to a screeching halt. However, Morgan’s mask would inevitably save hundreds of soldiers who wore it during WW1.

 

23) Rice cultivation accomplished and taught by black slaves 

Just like tobacco, the cultivation of rice in southern states (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc) was a serious cash crop. The cultivation of rice required both back breaking labor and high agricultural skill and knowledge, which were skills that few Englishmen had. Slaves from West and Central Africa were thus highly sought after, and there’s a sizable amount of evidence that indicates slaves taught their owners how to cultivate rice, since rice is very hard to grow in a climate like Great Britain's.

 

24) Most of the African slaves that came to North, Central, and South America were from West Africa

 Most of the Africans that came to the Western Hemisphere by the Atlantic slave trade came from West African areas such as: Senegambia (modern day countries, Senegal and Gambia), Windward Coast (modern day, Ivory Coast), Gold Coast (modern day, Ghana) Biafra (modern day, Nigeria and Gabon) Nonetheless, slaves were also shipped from other parts of the African continent, as around 40 percent of slaves shipped to South Carolina between 1730 and 1807, were Angolan from southern Africa.

 


25) Of the 12.5  million slaves that were shipped to the New World, less than 400,000 arrived in the US

The Transatlantic slave trade lasted over 400 years with a couple million Africans never even reaching the Americas because they died during the most treacherous part: the Middle Passage. The majority of slaves (around 5 million) ended up in Brasil. Only around 390,000 slaves ever ended up in the United States.

 

26) Drapetomania: the Negro disease that causes the desire to flee slavery

Yes, you read that correctly. This was thought to be an actual disease by southern doctor, Samuel Cartwright, of the University of Louisiana. He believed that the mental sickness, “Drapetomania”, explained the fact that hundreds or more of black Americans would flee southern plantations. In his mind, they had to be truly ill, after all, there’s no way that chattel slavery could just be so abominable and inhumane that black people felt the need to escape. It just couldn’t be.

 

27) The Buffalo Soldiers

After the Civil War ended, segments of black American men who had served in the Union Army began to serve on the western frontier. The Buffalo soldiers proved themselves exemplary in both courage and discipline, as in nearly 30 years they would serve in close to 200 major and minor encounters, along with possessing the lowest desertion and court martial rates in the U.S. Army. A number of them even received medals of honor. Among their many duties: they protected white settlers from natives and bandits, captured horse thieves, protected stagecoaches, and wagon trains, in addition, to dealing with overt discrimination, treacherous terrain, deficient supplies, and racist populations that they routinely protected despite the disgusting treatment.

No one really knows how the name came around, yet, there exists a few leads. First, was that according to a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, one of the mighty tribes they faced, bestowed the name upon the men out of respect for their toughness. The second theory, is that one of the native tribes named them so, because they thought that the dark, curly, black hair of the soldiers reminded them of that of a Buffalo. Either one is quite plausible, and either one is still a sign of respect. Whichever was true, the black soldiers took pride in the name that was given unto them.

 

28) The Harlem Hellfighters 

The Harlem Hellfighters were an all-black unit, the 369th Infantry, that got their name “hellfighters” from the Germans for their courage, strength, and bravery, and the Harlem part came from the majority of them considering Harlem their home. They were among the first American forces to arrive in Europe during WW1, as they were sent to France and first reached the front lines in 1918.

The Hellfighters were famous for never ceding even an inch of ground, and also for seeing more combat than any other American unit: they fought for 6 months on the front line. All of the soldiers within the regiment received the French Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded to soldiers from Allied countries for bravery in combat. They returned home as one of the most decorated units in the U.S. Army, and were welcomed home with a parade in New York City. (They were denied this honor before they left for war) However, the appreciation certainly didn’t last long. Months later, the Red Summer of 1919 began, and with it, some of the most violent anti-black race riots this country has ever seen. Some of the beaten, brutalized, and murdered were even veterans that had served.

 

-Bonus-

29) Whites assisted the Underground Railroad

Even though anti-black racism was, and still is, rampant in many corners of the world, there have always been some that have possessed high levels of human empathy, that wouldn’t allow them to merely sit by and watch blatant brutality and discrimination without doing anything. As such, there existed whites that greatly assisted blacks on the underground railroad. In example, Thomas Garrett transformed his home in Delaware into one of the most famous stations on the underground railroad, and Alexander Ross made routine trips through the south, rescuing slaves from cities like Selma, Nashville, and Richmond. Or Levi Coffin, an American Quaker, who was born in North Carolina and was a man of wealth and standing. These, he used to assist over a thousand slaves to safety and freedom.