Truth is, black history is really just everyone’s history. No one thinks about color when it comes to crucial inventions that have significantly impacted world progress such as the cotton gin, the stoplight, the bicycle, air conditioning and cell phones. These are all inventions created by African Americans, but the significance isn’t the race of the inventor; it’s the value that each idea contributed to our society.
Historically, many African Americans and their contributions have been left out of history books and have unfortunately gone unrecognized. Here are 10 little-known facts about historical events and the contributions of African Americans.
Black Cowboys Were on the Frontier
Did you know that of the estimated 35,000 cowboys who worked ranches and rode trails on the American West frontier, 5,000–9,000 or more were black? They participated in the drives northward and could hold any ranching position except that of trail boss.
Astronaut and Trailblazer
Did you know that in 1967, Robert Lawrence Jr. became the first African American to be trained as an astronaut? Unfortunately he died in a plane crash during flight training before he could be sent on his first space mission. Sixteen years later, Guion Bluford carried on Lawrence’s legacy by becoming the first African American in space.
The First Chicago Resident
Did you know that Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a black man living in the 1700s, is considered by historians to be the first permanent resident of Chicago? He is recorded as living in Chicago in early 1790, but is believed to have settled there earlier. Today, the city boasts a school, a museum, a harbor, a park and a bridge named in his honor.
More Than a Peanut Connoisseur
Did you know that George Washington Carver is responsible for inventing 118 products made with sweet potatoes? He also created 75 products with pecans. Carver is better known as the inventor of peanut butter and 300 peanut products. A well-respected college professor and botanist, he also worked with three U.S. presidents.
Serious Presidential Candidate
Did you know that Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress and the first black major-party presidential candidate? Well before President Barack Obama became a politician, this Democratic candidate survived three assassination attempts during her 1972 campaign.
Inventor of Dry Cleaning
Did you know that Thomas L. Jennings, the inventor credited for inventing the dry cleaning process, was also the first African American to hold a U.S. patent? The patent was issued in 1821. Jennings, who was a free man living in New York City, is also credited for his work as an early abolitionist and for his leadership in the NAACP.
The Exodusters Settled in Kansas
Did you know that the Exodusters are credited for integrating the West? Exodusters is the nickname for the group of blacks who fled the South and settled in Kansas for freedom and jobs. This group of brave former slaves is rarely mentioned compared to those in the Great Migration to the North and the Northeast. But the Exodusters actually fled the South earlier – between 1879 and 1880. This migration brought more than 30,000 blacks to the state by the late 1800s.
Ended Segregation in the Army
Did you know that Joe Louis is more than a heavyweight boxing champion? He is credited for helping to end segregation in the U.S. armed forces while serving in the Army during World War II. He fought a charity bout that raised $47,000 for the Naval Relief Society in 1942, and he volunteered to enlist in the military the next day. After completing his training in an all-black unit, he served in a Special Services Division until 1945.
The Holder of 61 Patents
Did you know that Frederick Jones invented the ticket dispensing machine in 1943? This invention revolutionized the transportation and entertainment industries. This Ohio inventor is credited for 61 patents, including the portable X-ray machine, the portable refrigeration unit and the two-cycle gasoline engine.
States That Led the Way for Abolition
Did you know that Vermont was the first U.S. territory to abolish slavery in 1777? Vermont, the 14th state, didn’t actually become a state until 1791, so Pennsylvania, the second to become a state, is credited as the first state to abolish slavery in 1780.
There are so many interesting things we can learn about the contributions of African Americans to our society and the world. We can all learn more and share more about these and other important contributions every day – and not just in February. In the spirit of Black History Month, do you have any facts to share with other Zing readers?
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