Happy Throwback Thursday, friends! As February draws to a close, so marks the official end of Black History Month. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning more about the people throughout history who have left their mark on the world. Remember: Black history is American history. But as for the official celebration meant to uplift those great men and women whose ideas and work made remarkable advances in music, medicine, sports, art, entertainment, science, farming, engineering, space exploration, architecture, and more, let’s take today to look at some little-known facts about some of these remarkable leaders:
As a child, Muhammad Ali was refused an autograph by his boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson. When Ali became a prizefighter, he vowed to never to deny an autograph request, which he honored throughout his career.
Before Wally Amos became famous for his “Famous Amos” chocolate chip cookies, he was a talent agent at the William Morris Agency, where he worked with the likes of The Supremes and Simon & Garfunkel.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – which happened to be his friend Maya Angelou’s birthday. Because of this tragedy, Ms. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward, and instead marked the day by sending flowers to Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years, until Mrs. King’s death in 2006.
Louis Armstrong learned how to play the cornet while living at the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. He earned the nickname “Satchmo” which was a shortened version of the moniker “satchel mouth.”
After a long career as an actress and singer, Pearl Bailey earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Georgetown University in 1985.
After African American performer Josephine Baker expatriated to France, she famously smuggled military intelligence to French allies during World War II. She did this by pinning secrets inside her dress, as well as hiding them in her sheet music.
Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker is credited with helping to design the blueprints for Washington, D.C.
Before becoming a professional musician, Chuck Berry studied to be a hairdresser. His famous “duck walk” dance originated in 1956 when he attempted to hide wrinkles in his trousers by shaking them out with his now-signature body movements.
Legendary singer James Brown performed in front of a televised audience in Boston the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Brown is often given credit for preventing further riots with the performance.
Politician, educator and Brooklyn native Shirley Chisholm survived three assassination attempts during her campaign for the 1972 Democratic nomination to the U.S. presidency.
Tice Davids, a runaway slave from Kentucky, may have been the inspiration for the first usage of the term “Underground Railroad,” though the origins of the term are shrouded in mystery. According to reports, after Davids swam across the Ohio River, his “owner” was unable to find him. He allegedly told the local paper that if Davids had escaped, he must have traveled on “an underground railroad.” Davids is thought to have made his way to Ripley, Ohio.
Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion, patented a wrench in 1922.
Before he became an NBA legend, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed by a woman in 1958 while attending a book signing at Blumstein’s department store in Harlem, New York. The following year, King and his wife visited India to meet Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophies of nonviolence greatly influenced King’s work.
In 1967, chemist and scholar Robert H. Lawrence Jr. became the first black man to be trained as an astronaut. Sadly, he died in a jet crash during flight training and never made it into space.
Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis helped to end segregation in the U.S. armed forces while serving in the Army during World War II.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that he was punished for misbehavior in school by being forced to recite the Constitution, ultimately memorizing it. His classmates included jazz vocalist Cab Calloway, Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, and future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah during their studies at Lincoln University.
Speaking of Thurgood Marshall’s classmate Langston Hughes – as well as his legal career, John Mercer Langston was the first Black man to become a lawyer when he passed the bar in Ohio in 1854. When he was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855 Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America. By the way, John Mercer Langston was also the great-uncle of Langston Hughes, famed poet of the Harlem Renaissance.
Garrett Morgan, the inventor of the three-way traffic signal, also became the first African American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.
In addition to her career in Washington, D.C., Condoleezza Rice is an accomplished pianist who has accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma, played with soul singer Aretha Franklin and performed for Queen Elizabeth II. She also entered the University of Denver at the age of 15 and earned her Ph.D. by age 26.
At the very peak of his fame, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard concluded that his music was the Devil’s work and subsequently became a traveling preacher, focusing on gospel tunes. When the Beatles revived several of his songs in 1964, Little Richard returned to the rock stage.
Olympic medal-winning athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith made headlines around the world by raising their black-gloved fists at the 1968 award ceremony. Both athletes wore black socks and no shoes on the podium to represent black poverty in America.
Cathay Williams was the first and only known female Buffalo Soldier. Williams was born into slavery and worked for the Union army during the Civil War. She posed as a man and enlisted as William Cathay in the 38th infantry in 1866, and was given a medical discharge in 1868.
Renowned African American architect Paul R. Williams mastered the art of rendering drawings upside-down so that his clients would see the drawings right side up. Williams’s style became associated with California glamour, and he joined the American Institute of Architects in 1923. However, because he worked during the height of segregation, most of the homes he designed had deeds that barred blacks from buying them!
Madam C.J. Walker was the first U.S. woman to become a self-made millionaire! Madam C.J. Walker was born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana and became wealthy after inventing a line of African American hair care products. She established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories and was well known for her philanthropy.
George Washington Carver developed over 300 derivative products from peanuts including: milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils, and cosmetics.
In 1926, Carter Godwin Woodson established Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month. The month of February was chosen in honor of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born in that month.