The month of February marks the start of Black History Month, an annual celebration of the achievements made by African Americans and a time for recognizing their role in U.S. history.
Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.
The Black History Month 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States.
To celebrate this expansive and growing history, here are five little known black history facts.
- Before there was Rosa Parks, there was 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.
- Martin Luther King Jr. improvised the most iconic part of his “I Have a Dream Speech”
- On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, roughly 250,000 Americans united at the Lincoln Memorial for the final speech of the March on Washington. As Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the podium, he eventually pushed his notes aside and transformed his speech into a sermon.
- One in four cowboys was Black, despite the stories told in popular books and movies
- In the 19th century, the Wild West drew enslaved Blacks with the hope of freedom and wages. When the Civil War ended, freedmen came West with the hope of a better. These African Americans made up at least a quarter of the legendary cowboys who lived dangerous lives facing weather, rattlesnakes, and outlaws while they slept under the stars driving cattle herds to market.
- The first licensed African American Female pilot was named Bessie Coleman
- Born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892, Bessie Coleman grew up in a world of harsh poverty, discrimination and segregation. She moved to Chicago at 23 to seek her fortune but found few opportunities. Wild tales of flying exploits from returning WWI soldiers first inspired her to explore aviation, but she faced a double stigma in that dream being both African American and a woman.
- Esther Jones was the real Betty Boop
- The iconic cartoon character Betty Boop was inspired by a Black jazz singer in Harlem. Introduced by cartoonist Max Fleischer in 1930, Betty Boop is best known for her revealing dress, curvaceous figure, and signature vocals “Boop Oop A Doop!” While there has been controversy over the years, the inspiration has been traced back to Esther Jones who was known as “Baby Esther” and performed regularly in the Cotton Club during the 1920s.