Black history is also American history. Countless achievements and advancements in America wouldn't be possible without the contribution of African Americans. During Black History Month, we hear of historical giants like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. They deserve all the praise they get, but I'm highlighting some lesser known facts and figures.
Since my above look was inspired by the Black Panthers, let's start there.
1. Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan is widely known for her big hair and bigger voice. Before we knew her as a singer, she was a member of the Black Panthers. Yvette Stevens adopted the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi when she joined the Black Panthers at age 16. During her time with the Panthers, she sold papers and started a free breakfast program for children.
2. Claudette Colvin
We all know Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, but many people don't know 15 year old Claudette Colvin did it first. Claudette was studying Black leaders in school and was inspired by their determination. When told to give up her seat, Claudette said, “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up." Claudette also served as a plaintiff in the case Browder v. Gayle, which helped end the practice of segregation on Montgomery public buses.
While we're on the topic of seats, journalist Ida B. Wells refused to give her railcar seat to a white man in 1884. She bit the conductor's hand when he tried to force her to move. After being put off the train, she sued the railroad and won. The decision was later overturned.
3. Esther Jones
Although Helen Kane tried to take credit, Betty Boop was created in the image of black jazz singer, Esther Jones. In the 1920's, Esther performed at the Cotton Club with her signature "baby style" and “boop-boop-a-doop" scats. With her curvy figure and doll like face, Betty Boop became a cultural icon. When Helen Kane tried to sue Fleischer Studios for using her persona, the studio claimed Kane herself stole from Esther Jones. After sharing Esther Jones' performance, which predated Helen, Fleischer Studios won the case and Esther was credited as the original.
4. Cathy Williams
Cathy Williams took on the name William Cathay and posed as a male to become the only female buffalo soldier. She performed typical tasks such as working garrison duty and guarding railroads. Unaware that she was a black woman, soldiers described Cathy as "tall and powerfully built". After 2 years of service, a post surgeon discovered Cathy was a woman and she was discharged.
Were you surprised by any of these stories? If you know any cool black history stories, share in the comments!