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Black History Month Celebration Week - 4

February 25, 2021

Interesting facts:

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 friend Maya Angelou's birthday, on April 4, 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward, and sent flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years, until Coretta's death in 2006.


Louis Armstrong learned how to play the cornet while living at the Colored Waif's Home for Boys.


Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker is credited with helping to design the blueprints for Washington, D.C.


Before he was a renowned artist, Romare Bearden was also a talented baseball player. He was recruited by the Philadelphia Athletics on the pretext that he would agree to pass as white. He turned down the offer, instead choosing to work on his art.


In 1938, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt challenged the segregation rules at the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama, so she could sit next to African American educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Roosevelt would come to refer to Bethune as "her closest friend in her age group."


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.


Female science fiction author Octavia Butler was dyslexic. Despite her disorder, she went on to win Hugo and Nebula awards for her writing, as well as a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation.


When African American neurosurgeon Ben Carson was a child, his mother required him to read two library books a week and give her written reports, even though she was barely literate. She would then take the papers and pretend to carefully review them, placing a checkmark at the top of the page to show her approval. The assignments inspired Carson's eventual love of reading and learning.


Politician, educator and Brooklyn native Shirley Chisholm survived three assassination attempts during her campaign for the 1972 Democratic nomination to the U.S. presidency.


Before lawyer Johnnie Cochran achieved nationwide fame for his role in the O.J. Simpson trial, actor Denzel Washington interviewed Cochran as part of his research for the award-winning film Philadelphia (1993).


At a time when universities did not typically offer financial assistance to Black athletes, African American football star Ernie Davis was offered more than 50 scholarships.


Jesse Jackson successfully negotiated the release of Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman Jr., an African American pilot who had been shot down over Syria and taken hostage in 1983.


Before he became an NBA legend, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.


Chaka Kahn, dubbed the "Queen of Funk Soul," is also well known for singing the theme song to the public television's popular educational program Reading Rainbow.


Alicia Keys was accepted into Columbia University on a full scholarship, but decided to pursue a full-time music career instead.


In her early life, Coretta Scott King was as well known for her singing and violin playing as she was for her civil rights activism. The young soprano won a fellowship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, the city where she met future husband Martin Luther King Jr.


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.


African American fashion designer Ann Lowe designed the wedding dress of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the bride of future President John F. Kennedy.


Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that he was punished for misbehavior in school by being forced to recite the Constitution, ultimately memorizing it.


Garrett Morgan, the inventor of the three-way traffic signal, also became the first African American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.


In 1881, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles founded what would become the first college for Black women in the United States. The school was named Spelman College after Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her parents, who were abolitionists. Laura was also the wife of John D. Rockefeller, who made a significant donation to the school.


John Baxter Taylor, the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal, also held a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania.


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.


Musician Stevie Wonder recorded the cries of his newborn daughter, Aisha Morris, for his popular song, "Isn't She Lovely?"


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.


The Selma to Montgomery marches marked the peak of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Of the three marches, only the last made it all the way to the capital of Montgomery, Alabama, which paved the way for 1965's Voting Right Act. The path is now a U.S. National Historic Trail.


Before he was a blockbuster actor, Will Smith was The Fresh Prince and, along with partner Jazzy Jeff, won the first-ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance. They boycotted the awards because the category was barred from television.
 

Eatonville, Florida, the childhood home of writer and cultural anthropologist (and my all-time favorite author!) Zora Neale Hurston, is also the first town in the country to be incorporated by African-Americans.


In 1967, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. became the first African-American to be trained as an astronaut. He unfortunately died in a plane crash during flight training before he could be sent on his first space mission. Sixteen years later, Guion “Guy” Bluford carried on Lawrence’s legacy by becoming the first Black man in space.


The first successful open-heart surgery was performed in 1893 by a black surgeon named Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.


Betty Boop, the popular cartoon character introduced to the world by cartoonist Max Fleischer in 1930, was actually inspired by a real-life African American jazz singer and entertainer from Harlem named Esther Jones.

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