Though her cells were taken without her consent, they were responsible for what scientists know as HeLa cells, or the first immortal cell line. This was critical in medical research and the creation of vaccines for polio, advances in cloning, vitro fertilization, and much more.
5. Okay, so you know Aretha Franklin and her iconic, powerhouse voice.
What you may not know is that she was not only the first African American woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was the first woman. Period.
6. Everyone knows that Oprah has built an amazing empire.
But not many people know about Madam C.J. Walker. She was the first self-made female millionaire.
She built her wealth when she invented and distributed a line of hair care products in the early 1900s.
7. It’s possible you know that Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught astronomer credited as the first African American scientist.
But do you realize what a feat it was to be a free, a farm owner and scientist in the 1700s? On top of all of this, Banneker was also appointed by President George Washington to the District of Columbia Commission. His talent for creating almanacs allowed him to lay out plans and designs for the city.
8. You’re super smart, right? Right. So you know that W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
He graduated in 1895 and went on to co-found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
But did you know Ben Carson was the first surgeon to separate twins conjoined at the head?
9. There’s a good chance you know that Thurgood Marshall was the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.
But did you know that Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, was not allowed to attend the national premier of Gone With The Wind, the film featuring her winning performance, because she was black?
11. You’re aware that these civil rights figures were assassinated because of what they stood for and the work they did.
Someone you may not have heard of is Claudette Colvin. As a school girl she refused to give up her seat on the bus and was taken to jail nine months before Rosa Parks.
Sadly, due mostly to the fact that she was an unwed mother, Colvin did not receive the massive public support that Parks did.
14. Surely you learned about Sojourner Truth. She escaped from slavery in 1826 and became an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
You might not know Professor Angela Davis.
In the early 1970s, she was once placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and then incarcerated due to her social activism and political affiliations. Supporters rallied for Davis, launching the “Free Angela Davis” campaign, and the charges were acquitted.
15. Lena Horne was a pretty popular star, so there is a chance you know her pretty well.
Horne was a beautiful and talented actress. She became very involved with the civil rights movement and refused to take roles that negatively stereotyped or belittled African American women.
But Josephine Baker is a gorgeous African American performer you may not have heard.
Aside from her comedic and sensual stage shows, Baker is known for her brave actions during World War II when she smuggled secret information for the French Resistance on her sheet music.
16. Maybe you know about the African American rebellion in Watts, Calif. in 1965.
Rioters ransacked and burned the city over a span of several days, making the Watts Riot the most costly disturbance of its day.
One you may not have heard of is the Tulsa Race Riot. In 1921, an entire city was burned to the ground due to a racial disturbance and retaliation.
It is estimated that more than 300 people were killed overnight during the riot. The thriving city that was once called “Black Wall Street” has never regained its status.
17. You’ve heard of Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player.
You probably also know that he was the first African American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
But before the Williams sisters, Arthur Ashe was the first African American male to win both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
He is still the only African American male to do so. On top of his abilities on the tennis court, Ashe was a civil rights activist and a prominent figure in the fight against AIDS.
18. If you’ve been doing your homework, you know that Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. was the first African American NASA astronaut to launch into space.