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Fascinating Black History Facts You Didn't Learn in School

Feb 22, 2024 10:00AM ● By Gift Joe

A Black barbershop, c. 1920. Public Domain

Black American history is incredibly rich so much so you will never run out of things to learn. Every February, Black History Month, we celebrate the contributions of Black inventors, activists, and others to American history.

From notable figures who made an impact, to overlooked Black inventors, let’s explore some of the most fascinating stories from the annals of Black history you may not have been taught in school.

A Black Woman Invented The Sanitary Belt

Mary Kenner. Fair Use

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was quite the inventor at an early age. She invented numerous products we use today and reportedly has the most patents of any African American woman. But her most innovative creation was the sanitary belt, which aimed to prevent the leakage of menstrual blood on clothing. While she originally invented the sanitary belt in the 1920s, she couldn’t afford a patent. A company got word of this invention in 1957 but declined to market her product when they discovered she was Black.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou with copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird SingsPublic Domain

You must have heard about Maya Angelou, one of the most important African-American authors, orators, and civil rights activists of the 20th century. What you may not know is that in 1944, she became the first Black woman to become a cable car conductor in San Francisco.

A Black Woman Invented The Modern-Day Ironing Board

Sarah Boone. Public Domain

Did you know that the modern-day ironing board was invented by a Black woman born in 1832 to enslaved parents in North Carolina? Sarah Boone, an African American dressmaker realized that she needed a way to press the sleeves and bodices of ladies' clothes, so she applied for a patent which she received in 1892, becoming one of the first Black women to be awarded a patent.

A Black Architect Helped Design Washington, DC

A statue of Benjamin Banneker at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Source: Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

For many people, the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. was originally designed by famous White architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant and then completed by Andrew Ellicott after the former left the project in 1792.

But did you know that the nation's capital would not be the same if it wasn't for the meticulous memory and surveying work of Benjamin Banneker? The former designer who walked off the job took all the plans with him, but Banneker was able to save the project.

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9 Black Museums to Visit Across the U.S

May is Historic Preservation Month and we want to highlight museums and memorial sites and centres which highlight the good and the bad of African American history. Visit these significa... Read More » 


The First Successful Open-Heart Surgery Was Performed In 1893 By A Black Surgeon

Daniel Hale Williams. Public Domain

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams accomplished many "firsts" as a Black physician in the late 1800s. In July 1893, Dr. Williams performed the nation's first successful open-heart surgery. He is known today as “the Father of Black Surgery.”

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Dr. Daniel Hale Williams: Pioneer of Medicine

Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery in the United States and founded a hospital with an interracial staff, making him a surgical pioneer tha... Read More » 


A Black Woman Invented Home Security

 Image: Home security system patent by Marie Van Brittan Brown. Source: Google Patents

If you sleep better at night because you have a security system, you should know it was invented by a Black woman. Marie Van Brittan Brown patented the modern home security system. Enlisting the knowledge of her husband, a Black electronics technician named Albert Brown, she designed the country’s first known video home security system. 

Read also:

5 Major Historical Contributions by Black Inventors

5 Major Historical Contributions by Black Inventors

It is critical to acknowledge and appreciate Black innovators' accomplishments, not just for their historical value but also for the inspiration they bring to future generations. Read More » 


"Black Wall Street" Was A Thriving Community Of Black Businesses

A Black barbershop, c. 1920. Public Domain

In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street, was one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the United States.

Despite popular media claims, the development of successful Black communities filled with thriving Black-owned businesses was common throughout the 1900s. What the textbooks tend to leave out is that these neighborhoods and cities were destroyed physically by targeted attacks from White supremacists. 

The Youth Of Birmingham, Alabama, Led A Nonviolent Children's Crusade In 1963

Source:, All rights belong to original photographer.

In May of 1963, thousands of Black children ages 7-18, conducted peaceful protests around the city of Birmingham, Alabama to draw attention to the Civil Rights Movement. Even though they were children, they were met with anger by White Birmingham citizens, and hostility by the police, and many of them were thrown in jail.

Heroes Of The Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks  (Public Domain), Ella Baker (Wikimedia Commons), and Dorothy Height (Wikimedia Commons).

We are often taught that the Civil Rights Movement was mainly helmed by men like Rev. Martin Luther King, but history has overlooked the Black women who were also instrumental in such movements and made his legacy possible. The civil rights movement could not have happened without women like Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height, and many more.

Read also:

The women who stood with Martin Luther King Jr and sustained a movement for social change

The women who stood with Martin Luther King Jr. and sustained a movement for social change

Photographs of the march show women attended in large numbers, yet few historical accounts adequately credit women for their leadership and support. Read More » 


Hidden Figures: The Black Mathematicians Behind Nasa’s Success

 Katherine Johnson (Public Domain), Dorothy Vaughan (Public Domain), Mary Jackson (Public Domain)

The extraordinary contributions made by three brilliant Black mathematicians are often overlooked in the narrative of NASA's triumphs. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, known as the "Hidden Figures," played pivotal roles in shaping the course of space exploration and American history.

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Hidden Gems of Black History

Hidden Gems of Black History

History is replete with tales of courage, and determination of many men and women of Black origin. Read More » 


Read more from Gift Joe:
Black Female Leaders Who Are Shaping History Today

Black Female Leaders Who Are Shaping History Today

In honor of Black History Month, we’re taking a look at Black female leaders who are still breaking barriers, doing their bit, and changing society for the better. Read More » 


Black Excellence in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics STEM

Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

In the ever-evolving landscape of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Black professionals have surely earned their seat at the table. Read More » 


From Museums to Tours 11 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Philly This February

From Museums to Tours: 11 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Philly This February

As one of America’s oldest and most culturally diverse cities, there are several ways one can celebrate Black history in Philadelphia. Read More »