February is Black History Month, dedicated to celebrating the successes and contributions made by African-Americans.
Throughout the month, Weekend Express is sharing some important milestones and fun facts about influential black figures, inventors and barrier breakers! This week, we're talking sports and the performing arts--ahead of our exclusive performance and interview with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Did you know that…
- According to Biography.com, tap dancer Howard Sims was known as the "Sandman," because he sprinkled sand on stage to amplify his tap dance steps.
- In 1908, boxer Jacks Johnson became the first black world heavyweight champion. Muhammad Ali would follow in his footsteps decades later, becoming the first boxer to win the title three times.
- 'Gone with the Wind" actress Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar. She took home the award for best supporting actress.
- Jackie Robinson became the first black MLB player in 1947, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first baseman. In 1962, he was also the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Pianist and performer Nat King Cole was the first black entertainer to host his own show on national TV in 1956.
- Playwright Lorraine Hansberry made history in 1959 with her drama 'Raisin in the Sun.' The play became the first drama written by a black woman to make it to Broadway.
- Tennis player Arthur Ashe was the first black man to win Wimbledon in 1975.
- Actress Halle Berry was the first African-American to win 'Best Actress' at the Oscars in 2001. She won for her role in Monster's Ball.
- At the 2002 Winter Olympics, track star turned bobsledder Vonetta Flowers became the first black athlete to win a gold medal at the winter games.
- In 2003, black singers held all top 10 spots on the popular Billboard music chart for the first time in its 50 years. Beyonce's song "Baby Boy" topped the list.
Other notable facts:
- Allensworth is the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by African-Americans.
- Jazz is an African-American musical form born out of the blues, ragtime and marching bands. It originated in Louisiana during the turn of the nineteenth century. The word jazz is actually a slang term that at one point referred to a sexual act. Scandalous!
- In 1938, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt challenged the segregation rules at the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama. Part of the reason for her protest was so she could sit next to African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, whom Roosevelt referred to as "her closest friend in her age group."