All eyes are on black history for the month of February each year. The contribution of prominent black men and women throughout our history is so much bigger than one month can properly celebrate. While most reports only hit the highlights of who’s who and what’s what in black history, this will, hopefully, present a few facts and details you may not know.
While exploring these lesser-known contributions to history, perhaps you’ll find inspiration for buying black history gifts for the people on your shopping list.
Do you like the fact that cold transport allows chilled and frozen foods to be transported long distances? You have Frederick Jones to thank for that. Jones invented the first successful truck refrigeration system for transporting cold and frozen items, like ice cream. His method of mobile refrigeration that was far more effective than former approaches involving ice and salt and allowed food to be transported further distances. His invention for mobile cooling was instrumental in transporting blood and preserving medicine during World War II.
Jones went on to cofound the Thermo King Corporation with Joseph Numero, which had annual sales of more than $1 billion in 1997 when the company was sold. During his career, Jones received more than 60 patents – most of which were related to refrigeration technologies, though a few dealt with topics such as x-ray, sound and engine technology.
He was also the first African American to be elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. After his death, Jones was awarded the National Medal of Technology. He was the first black inventor to receive this type of honor.
While almost everyone knows the inspiring story of Jackie Robinson and his contributions to baseball history, you may not know the other, largely untold, story in the Robinson household – that of Matthew Robinson. Matthew, or “Mack,” was Jackie’s older brother who won a silver medal in 1936 for the 200-meter dash.
While the accomplishment of winning a silver medal is in its own right an impressive accomplishment, something few athletes in any field are able to achieve in a lifetime, his victory was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Jesse Owens was the one who took first place in the event, beating Mack by 0.4 seconds.
Brushing your hair is something most women take for granted every day. If it wasn’t for Lyda Newman, an African American woman and inventor, you might have a different method of grooming your hair each day. Newman didn’t invent the hairbrush. Instead, she made big improvements in the hairbrush features, including the use of synthetic bristles rather than using animal hair.
One way to recognize Newman’s contribution is through your gift-giving. When buying black gifts online, consider gifts that celebrate black history as well as the person you’re buying for, whether it’s a personalized hair brush, cosmetic bag or something you choose especially for the person on your shopping list.
Receiving its Commonwealth of Pennsylvania charter in 1854, Lincoln University became the first higher education institution founded for African Americans. Since then, it has paved the way for more than 100 other black colleges.
While first a private institution, Lincoln University became a public in 1972. Notable alumni include Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. While the majority of students attending Lincoln University are African Americans, its enrollment is open to all.
Condoleezza Rice is another great example of the available opportunities for black men and women to make and shape history. In 2001, she became the first black woman to serve as National Security Advisor, serving in that capacity and appointed by President George W. Bush.
She went on to become the first black female Secretary of State – also with George W. Bush as President. Rice is not only breaking barriers as a black woman, but as a woman in general. In 2012, she and Darla Moore — a South Carolina business leader — became the first two women to be accepted as members of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Condoleezza Rice continues to serve her country today, now as an educator and as an exceptional role model to all.
Does your daughter dream of being President one day? Once upon a time, so did Shirley Chisholm, who was the first female — as well as the first black woman — to throw her hat into the ring for a run as President representing a major political party in the U.S.
Chisholmmade her decision to run for the presidential office in 1972 representing the Democratic Party. That’s 36 years before President Barack Obama was sworn into office as the first black U.S. President and 44 years before Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to receive her party’s nomination for the office of President.
These weren’t the only ways Chisholm made history, though. She was also the first African American congresswoman — the first of only 35 African American women elected to congress to date. She was also the first black woman to serve on the Rules Committee and the second woman in general. She was a fierce advocate for all women.
Your daughter could very well become the first female President. It’s one of the remaining milestones to make for our society.
In 1866, Congress adopted legislation establishing six African American army units. Two of the units were cavalry units and four were infantry units. The men of the 10th cavalry division served on the Western frontier engaging in combat with hostile Native Americans, catching horse thieves, protecting stagecoaches, wagon trains and delivering U.S. mail.
These men became known as Buffalo Soldiers, though there are conflicting stories as to why this name was bestowed upon them. Over time, the title was extended to soldiers in the 9th cavalry as well – all of whom were known for their fierceness in battle. It wasn’t until 1948 that President Harry Truman signed an executive order effectively ending racial segregation in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. The remaining all-black units were subsequently disbanded during the first half of the 1950s.
Have you ever thought of being a cowboy? Many children play games pretending to be part of the Wild West. Bill Pickett is one of the few African American icons of the Wild West.
He performed throughout Texas as a young cowboy and later around the world, as part of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Here, he introduced the world to the sport of “bulldogging,” which then involved jumping from a horse directly onto the head of a running steer and being thrown from the bull after sinking teeth in the animal’s nostrils. Today, of course, cowboys wrestle a steer to the ground by grabbing hold of its neck, without biting the nostrils.
Pickett also became the first cowboy movie star of African American descent. He died at the age of 62 after being kicked in the head by a horse and suffering a multi-day coma.
Hiram Rhodes Revels
The first African American to hold office as a United States Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels represented the state of Mississippi from 1869-1871. After his term in the Senate ended, he was appointed the first president of what is now Alcorn State University, a historically black college in Mississippi, where he remained until 1873 when he took a leave of absence to serve as an interim Secretary of State for the state of Mississippi.
He subsequently lost his appointment as president of Alcorn State University after campaigning against the reelection of Adelbert Ames as governor in 1874, and was then reinstated in 1876. He remained in his position at Alcorn until 1882, when he chose to retire.
Not all great achievements by black Americans were accomplished in the fields of science or in politics. Hattie McDaniel made history on the Silver Screen by becoming the first African American — male or female — to win the coveted Oscar presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
She won her Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as “Mammy” in the film “Gone with the Wind,” which was also her film debut. She became widely known for playing sassy, spirited characters in film and on the radio.
It would be impossible to discuss black history in the U.S. with discussing Muhammad Ali. He was one of the most influential and widely recognized athletes in all U.S. sports. Over the course of a 21-year career as a professional boxer, heavyweight Champion Ali will go down as one of the greatest of all times.
He was as widely known for his prowess in the ring as he was for his philanthropy outside the ring. He gave to a wide range of causes that offer assistance for children as well as those involved in Parkinson’s disease research and assistance, including the Muhammad Ali Center.
One interesting fact about Muhammad Ali is his vow to never deny an autograph request. According to Biography, this came about as a result of being denied an autograph by childhood idol, Sugar Ray Robinson. This is a vow Ali kept throughout his career, signing autographs for all who asked.
Never shy about “tooting his own horn,” it really wasn’t necessary for him to do so. Ali won all the following:
- An Olympic gold medal
- Three heavyweight titles
- 56 fights
Even after the advancement of his Parkinson’s disease made it impossible for him to continue fighting in the ring, Ali took his fight to the world serving as a humanitarian and goodwill ambassador. He passed away in 2016.
Madam C. J. Walker
One of the first women of African American descent to become a self-made millionaire, Sarah Breedlove, known as Madam C. J. Walker, made her fortune by creating and selling hair care products designed especially for black women. She became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of her time.
In addition to her business prowess, Walker was known for her generosity – including making one of the largest donations by an African American in 1913 to aid in the construction of a YMCA in Indianapolis.
She was particularly involved in organizations focused on improving the lives of African Americans, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Conference on Lynching and other giving that included providing homes for the elderly and offering educational scholarships.
Upon her death, she left one-third of her fortune to her daughter and the remaining two-thirds to various charities.
Janie L. Mines
Born in Aiken, South Carolina, Janie L. Mines would become the first African American woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. She was part of the first class of women admitted into the Naval Academy, receiving her appointment in 1976 along with 80 other women. She was the only African American woman in the program. Not only did she graduate with a degree in Engineering, but she also proved to be a leader in other areas at the Academy including as a fencer, a drill instructor, and a regimental adjutant.
After completing her military service, Mines returned to school to earn her MBA from the Alfred P. Sloan School of Business Management at MIT before going on to hold management positions at various organizations, including:
- Pepsi-Frito Lay
- Procter & Gamble
- Hershey Foods
- Bank of America
- Springs Industries
She eventually went on to form Common Cents Business Solutions, Inc. in South Carolina. Her philanthropic ventures include the foundation of Boyz to Men Club, Inc., which offers assistance to adolescent boys in Fort Mills, South Carolina.
Are you looking for positive modern role models for your daughters to follow? Gwen Ifill is just such a person. She lived her life with dedication and integrity and made great achievements in her field. She wasn’t a scientist or politician — she was an American Peabody Award-winning journalist who was often called upon to interview scientists and politicians. She was also an author and television newscaster.
Ifill cut her teeth on print journalism for meda that included:
- The Baltimore Evening Sun
- The New York Times
- The Washington Post
Ifill reached pinnacles in her career in television journalism as part of the first all-female anchor team — PBS Newshour, which she co-anchored with Judy Woodruff — and later as the first black woman to moderate a presidential debate, this one between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The Importance of Black History
These men and women have all played vital roles in the history of America, as they have all made important contributions to the landscape of a nation and the people who call that nation home.
Many of them are as known for their philanthropic giving and fundraising as they are for their admirable accomplishments. Encourage your children to follow their examples by pursuing greatness in all they do whether it is sports, performing arts, journalism, politics or raising families of their own someday. With fine examples like these to emulate, it should make the task a little easier.
If you’re interested in creating a black fundraiser to help youth accomplish their own immense possibilities, consider working with African American Expressions. We’re a black-owned gift company that features inspiring and uplifting African American greeting cards, stationery, drinkware, apparel and more. Check out our black products today.