Columns / Discourse / February 23, 2011

Did You Know: Black History Month

Black History Month is once again upon us, and with it come some fun historical facts about famous African-Americans.

1. Wally Amos, the “Famous Amos” cookie creator, was a talent agent before he became famous for his cookies at William Morris Agency. He worked with the likes of The Supremes and Simon and Garfunkel. Who would’ve thought?

2. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady from 1933-1945, challenged the segregation rules at the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama in 1938. She wanted to sit next to African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, whom she considered “her closest friend in her age group.”

3. This is one fact that I never would have guessed. The famous Bill Cosby, actor and comedian, is also an avid musician. He is a jazz drummer and since 1979 has sometimes served as master of ceremonies for the Los Angeles Playboy Jazz Festival.

4. Nancy Green, a former slave, was employed in 1893 by the Aunt Jemima brand to promote it by demonstrating the pancake mix at expositions and fairs. She had a friendly personality, great story-telling and a warmth that made her a popular attraction. She then signed a lifetime contract with the pancake company, and her image was used for packaging and billboards. Go Nancy Green!

5. Everyone’s heard about the “Underground Railroad,” but not everyone knows where the term came from. Well, I’m here to educate you! Tice Davids, a runaway slave from Kentucky, was the inspiration for the term. When Davids disappeared, his owner assumed he had drowned in an attempt to swim across the Ohio River. The owner told the local paper that if Davids had escaped, he must have traveled on “an underground railroad.” Neat, huh? Davids did live, however, and the name of the Underground Railroad stuck.

6. Here’s a fun fact about the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan. Before he became a legend, the Illinois-born man was cut from his high school basketball team during his sophomore year for being undersized. They sure missed out on his skills that year, didn’t they?

7. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on his friend Maya Angelou’s birthday, April 4, 1968. In response, she stopped celebrating her birthday for many years afterward. She instead sent flowers to King’s widow every year until Mrs. King died in 2006.

8. During the 1940s, artist Charles Alston founded the “306 Group,” which was a club that provided support and apprenticeship for African-American artists. Poet Langston Hughes, sculptor Augusta Savage and mixed-media artist Romare Bearden used this studio space to freely practice their art.

9. For those blues fans out there, here’s a fact for you. Chester Arthur “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett was one of the most important blues singers, songwriters, and musicians. His work influenced popular rock groups like The Beatles. Howlin’ Wolf was able to maintain financial success throughout his life, held a stable marriage and avoided drugs and alcohol, unlike many of his fellow blues artists. These people do exist!

10. For the last, who knew that the word “jazz” was a slang term that, at one point, referred to a sexual act. Its meaning changed, thankfully, when the musical form was born out of the blues, ragtime and marching bands originating in Louisiana during the turn of the 19th century. By who? African-Americans, of course!

That’s a little bit of black history for you in commemoration of this month, all from If you want to look up more facts yourself, just hop onto the site. There’s tons!

Emily Park

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