Surprising bits of African-American trivia

The book The book "Threads of Time, the Fabric of History," by Rosemary E. Reed Miller, features designer Ann Lowe on its cover. Lowe's notable creations include the wedding dress for Jacqueline Kennedy in 1953. Photo Credit: Handout

advertisement | advertise on newsday

As Black History Month draws to a close, take a trip back in time and brush up on some African-American-related trivia. You might be surprised to learn that:

 

Before Wally Amos, at right, became famous for his Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies -- and later for Uncle Wally's Muffin Co., whose corporate headquarters was in Yaphank -- he was the first black talent agent at the William Morris Agency, where he worked with The Supremes and Simon & Garfunkel.

 

Poet and playwright Langston Hughes' father discouraged his son from writing, agreeing to pay for his college education only if he studied engineering. Hughes, whose first name is James, claimed poet Walt Whitman -- who was born in West Hills and taught school on Long Island-- as one of his primary influences.

 

Rapper Jay-Z reportedly developed his stage name as a reference to the J and Z subway lines that stop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up.

Baseball legend Jackie Robinson had an older brother, Matthew, who won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics. He lost to Jesse Owens, who won the gold.

 

Althea Gibson, who in 1957 became the first black woman to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament, was a local table-tennis champion growing up in Harlem. She was also the first black member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

 

Before lawyer Johnny Cochran achieved fame representing O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington interviewed him as part of his research for the film "Philadelphia," which scored Oscars for best actor and best original song in 1994.

 

Actress Halle Berry's parents named her after Halle's Department Store, a local landmark in her birthplace of Cleveland.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou's birthday -- April 4, 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward, and sent flowers to Coretta Scott King every year until the widow's death in 2006.

After his friend and musical partner Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumor in 1970, singer Marvin Gaye left the music industry for two years. In the interim, he tried out for the Detroit Lions football team. When he didn't make the cut, he returned to the studio to record the hit single "What's Goin' On."

 

Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, in 1908, patented a wrench in 1922.

Fashion designer Ann Lowe designed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's 1953 wedding dress and all the bridesmaids, flower girls and mother-of-the-bride dresses. She also designed the flower-strewn dress that Olivia de Havilland wore in 1946 when she won her best-actress Oscar for the film "To Each His Own."

 

The theme song for the '70s groundbreaking sitcom "Sanford and Son" was composed by music great Quincy Jones.

 

Garrett Augustus Morgan, inventor of a traffic signal patented in 1923, was also the first African-American to own a car in Cleveland. General Electric, a leading manufacturer of traffic signals, purchased Morgan's patent.

 

Guitarist and singer Chuck Berry's famous "duck walk" dance originated in 1956, when Berry attempted to hide wrinkles in his rayon suit by shaking them out with his now-signature body movements.

 

Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles founded Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary in Atlanta, the first college for black women in the United States, in 1881. It was renamed Spelman College in 1924 after Laura Celestia Spelman Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller, who made a sizable donation to the school.

Musician and activist Harry Belafonte devised the idea for "We Are the World," a single that he hoped would help raise money for famine relief in Africa. The 1985 song -- co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie -- became the fastest-selling pop single in history and made more than $20 million worldwide.

Sources: biography.com; "Threads of Time, the Fabric of History: Profiles of African American Dressmakers and Designers From 1850 to the Present"; Huffington Post

Get the scoop on events, nightlife, day trips, family fun and things to do on Long Island.

Comments

Newsday.com now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

You also may be interested in: