While most of us know some basics of African American history — the mid-Atlantic slave trade, abolition, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights era — there are some often-overlooked facts that escape most history books, so it’s highly unlikely that you learned about them in class. Here are a few little-known Black history facts:
- One-quarter of cowboys in the Wild West were Black — and many historians believe the “Lone Ranger” was inspired by Bass Reeves, an African American man who escaped slavery and eventually became a deputy U.S. Marshal.
- Esther Jones, also known by her stage name “Baby Esther” at the Cotton Club in Harlem, was a flapper who has been named as the inspiration for the “Betty Boop” cartoon character.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington was mostly improvised. Singer Mahalia Jackson, who was standing on stage near Dr. King, reportedly told him to “tell ‘em about the dream.”
- An enslaved man named Onesimus introduced inoculation to the American colonies. He asserted that the practice had been done for centuries in Africa, but colonists considered it dangerous. Onesimus convinced them, helping to mitigate the 1721 smallpox outbreak in Boston.
- Before there was Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin. On March 2, 1955, at age 15, she refused to move to the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks’ protest. Arrested and thrown in jail, she was one of four women who challenged the segregation law in court.
For even more, check out an expanded list of Black History facts at PBS.org.