Black History Month has been feted in some form or another for the past 91 years. The annual observance of the history and achievements of black people in the United States typically includes celebrations of such figures as Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., poet Langston Hughes, author and speaker Maya Angelou and inventor George Washington Carver, but did you know the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. was a black woman? Or that the inspiration for the Lone Ranger was an escaped slave? Here are 11 things to help upgrade your knowledge of Black History Month.
11. COLEMAN FLY GIRL
Bessie Coleman was the first black female to hold a pilot’s license. Robert Abbott, one of the first black millionaires, paid for Coleman’s flight education. She died in a plane crash in 1926, at the age of 34.
10. IT’S AMERICAN HISTORY
Actor Morgan Freeman criticized Black History Month during a 60 Minutes interview in 2005, saying “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
9. MADAM’S BOOKOO BUCKS
America’s first self-made female millionaire was a black woman named Madam C.J. Walker, who manufactured hair care products. She died in 1919, with an estimated net worth of what would today be about $8 million.
8. NEIGHBORHOOD BLACKOUT
The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma was dubbed “Black Wall Street” because most of the buildings and businesses were black-owned. The neighborhood burned to the ground during the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921.
7. HI HO SILVER AND ALL THAT BASS
According to PBS.org, one in five cowboys were black, and the real “Lone Ranger” was a slave named Bass Reeves who escaped to the west during the Civil War and eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal.
6. 1ST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Ohio’s Kent State University in 1970.
5. MARCHING, MARCHING MAN
MLK didn’t organize the famous March on Washington — that was done by a man named Bayard Rustin, an important figure in the Civil Rights movement that historians speculate is less well-known than MLK or Malcolm X because he was openly gay.
4. MLK IT FOR ALL IT’S WORTH
Martin Luther King Jr. improvised the now-legendary parts of his “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963, after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson – who was nearby onstage — reportedly prompted him to “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”
3. HOW SHALL I SAY THIS?
Every U.S. President since 1976 has declared February to be official Black History Month. Donald “I have the best words” Trump proclaimed it “National African American History Month.”
2. ABE AND FRED
February was chosen because it’s the birth month of two important figures in black history — Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14).
1. ROOT OF THE MATTER
The roots of Black History Month go back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson sponsored national Negro History Week. Woodson was the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, after W.E.B. DuBois.