This year, instead of reviewing my trusty black history time line, which can be culturally significant, but let’s face it, a little boring to my kids, I went trolling for fun facts that every kid (Ok, especially my own two) could appreciate. And boy, what did I find! I wished I learned some of this stuff when I was in school. Here are my 12 kid-tested and kid-friendly facts for Black History Month. I hope all moms find this list useful and as a starting point to discuss the many other contributions made by African Americans.
1. The Real McCoy: Summertime fun in the sprinkler
The next time you’re running through the sprinkler, remember that it was invented by Elijah McCoy (1843-1929). Ever heard the expression “the real McCoy”? It comes from another invention by McCoy that allowed trains and other machines to be lubricated while running. When many imitations showed up, people insisted on the real McCoy.
2. Peanut Butter
Love Peanut Butter? Peanut Butter was invented by a Black man, George Washington Carver (1864-1943), who discovered 400 uses for peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and pecans. In the process, he transformed lunchtime sandwiches forever. Yum!
3. Red light, green light.
The next time you’re waiting at a red light, tell the kiddies it was invented by Garrett Morgan (1877-1963). Morgan’s other invention, the gas mask, also saves lives. Many soldiers survived the First World War thanks to the gas mask, which prevented deadly mustard gas from entering their lungs.
4. A lifesaving discovery
While researching blood transfusions, Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) realized that blood, like other liquids, could be preserved. His method, now known as blood banking, revolutionized medicine and changed the way doctors work in remote areas or during times of war. Dr. Drew went on to form the Red Cross Blood Bank.
5. Black History inside your TV. And maybe your grandma.
There’s a lot of Black history inside your television. Otis Boykin (1920-1982) created over 28 different electronic devices, including electrical resistors that are used in home computers, television sets, radios, and guided missiles. He also invented the pacemaker.
6. The World-Famous Super Soaker
Sure, he’s an aerospace engineer, but Lonnie G. Johnson (born 1949) is best known for creating the world-famous Super Soaker water gun, which has earned more than $200 million in sales. Perhaps you’ve contributed to that number every summer. When he’s not adding to summertime fun, Johnson spends most of his time inventing mechanical and electrical systems for NASA rockets, and has earned more than 40 patents for his work.
7. Music, please
Kids love music. What better way to teach Black history than by introducing some of the great African-American music legends? Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1900-1971) was one of the most influential artists of all time. He transformed jazz into an art form, and his trumpet style is still imitated today. His two international hits, “Hello Dolly” and “What a Wonderful World,” are still often heard today.
8. Jackie Robinson
Tell your baseball buffs about Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), the first Black player in Major League Baseball. Robinson didn’t have it easy, often getting bottles and insults hurled his way, but he became Rookie of the Year, and in his second season, League MVP. I just read my children the book, Promises to Keep, How Jackie Robinson Changed America, written by his daughter, Sharon Robinson.
9. Take it to the moon.
John Christian was working as an Air Force, Materials Research, Engineer, when he invented and patented new lubricants, used in high flying aircraft and NASA space missions. The lubricants worked well under a wider temperature range than previous products, from minus 50 to 600 degrees. They were used in the helicopter fuel lines, astronaut’s back-pack life support systems, and in the four-wheel drive of the “moon-buggy.”
10. A woman named Moses
A woman called Moses? You bet. Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) was born a slave but later escaped to Philadelphia, only to return to Maryland to rescue her family. But she didn’t stop there. She earned the name Moses because she risked her life traveling at night helping hundreds of Southern slaves escape to the north and Canada through a network of safe people and safe houses called the Underground Railroad.
11. From mischievous kid to the Supreme Court
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) is a must-know figure in Black history. He was the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. But as a kid, he was mischievous, and was once forced to write copies of the Constitution as punishment for his misbehavior. He later said that punishment piqued his interest in the Constitution (are you thinking what I’m thinking???). As a young adult, he applied to his hometown law school at the University of Maryland, but was denied entrance because of being Black. He later sued the school and won. And before he became a judge, he was a successful attorney who, most famously, won the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which ended school segregation.
12. The Rockettes should thank him.
Black inventor, David Crosthwait holds 39 patents for heating systems and temperature regulating devices. He is most well known for creating the heating system for New York City’s famous Radio City Music Hall. Kick it up for that!
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