African American Figures Whose Empowering Achievements Often Go Unnoticed

By Brianna Bush

“Black history is American history,” And this month we are celebrating those who have paved the way for racial equality in different realms of society. But Black History Month isn’t just about famously known African American figures. Let’s not forget about the pioneers whose significance in American culture often goes unnoticed. 

Below, you will find 26 black history facts you may not have learned in school according to Mckenzie Jean-Philippe, editorial assistant at 

  1. Phillis Wheatly published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773 to become the first African American to publish a poetry book. According to the Poetry Foundation, she was one of the best-known poets of American in the pre-19th century.
  2. Lucy Terry’s “Bars Fight.” which was written in 1746, was the first known poem written by an African American. 
  3. William Wells Brown’s Clotel: or, The President’s Daughter, became the first novel published by an African American in 1853.  
  4. William Tucker was the first acclaimed African American to be born in the 13 colonies. 
  5. Anthony Benezet is attributed for creating the first public school for African American youth in the early 1770s.
  6. Lucy Stanton is the first African American woman to earn a four-year college degree after completing her studies in literature at Oberlin College in 1850. 
  7. Sylvia Robinson produced the first widely acclaimed rap record called “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang. 
  8. Alongside her husband, Sylvia Robinson co-owned the first hip-hop label called Sugar Hill Records. 
  9. Nat King Cole hosted NBC’s The Nat King Cole show to become the first African American to host a TV show. 
  10. Stevie Wonder is the first and only musician to win a Grammy Award for Album Of The Year with three studio albums in a row. 
  11. Bryant Gumbel, hosted NBC’s Today Show in 1981 to become the first African American to host a network morning show.
  12. Christina M. Jenkins, who was a hairdresser is attributed for inventing the weave in 1951, which is the process of sewing in synthetic extension onto cornrow as stated by Black Then.
  13. Lisa Gelobter, who was a computer scientist, who helped with the creation of Shockwave in 1995. 
  14. George Carver, who was an agricultural scientist, created over 500 new products from peanuts and sweet potatoes.
  15. John Taylor became the first African American to win a gold medal at the 1908 Olympics when he competed in the 4×400 meter relay.  
  16. Alica Coachman became the first Black woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics in 1948 when she competed in the high jump. 
  17. The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, which was founded in 1984 is the only touring African American rodeo in the world. 
  18. Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall became the first African American athletes to play in the National Football League in 1920. 
  19. Gabby Douglas became the first African American gymnast to win the Individual All-Around title at the 2012 London Olympics. 
  20. Sheryl Swoopes became the first player to sign with the Women’s National Basketball Association.
  21. “Negro Motorist Green Book, ” a handbook for African American travelers about places across America, which was published in 1936, was Black-owned/ did not follow segregationist practices. 
  22.  Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA), the oldest African American female Greek-letter organization was founded at Howard University in 1908. 
  23.  Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Alpha), the first African American male Greek-letter organization, was founded at Cornell University in 1906. 
  24. Around 100,000 enslaved people traveled north by the Underground Railroad from 1810 to 1850. 
  25. Vermont became the first colony to ban slavery in 1777. 
  26. Gracia Real De Santa Teresa De Mose, Florida, founded by a group of newly freed men and women, is attributed as the first free Black settlement in The United States. 

The men and women who have paved the way for the leaders of today are still just a few of the many pioneers who have made today a brighter day for all of us. Let’s take these facts and become inspired to create more history, starting in our own backyard at The University of Tampa, so we can continue to knock down barriers.

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