5 Ways Minorities Were Screwed Out Of The History Books
It may be hard to tell, based on the even-keeled post-racial atmosphere that pervades our society today, but America used to have a problem with discrimination.
It wasn't until the early-to-mid-20th century that people looked around and realized that, hey, the cast of characters in your standard U.S. History text just-so-happened to be whiter than a musical comedy written by Garrison Keillor. Understandably this bias led to a bunch of legitimately impressive people of color getting totally screwed out of their rightful place in the annals of Stuff We Wrote Down. People like ...
The First Guy To Reach The North Pole Got Trumped By A White Egomaniac
In 1909, Robert Peary made the front page of basically every paper in America for being the first man ever to reach the North Pole. It was an important accomplishment, both because it represented man's earnest attempt to reckon with his own inevitable mortality by dominating the Natural World as a stand-in for conquering Death itself, and because it was really cold and nobody had planted a flag there yet.
"We peed on it, too."
You want to know who didn't get top billing? Peary's black partner, Matthew Henson, who had been acting as his expedition aide since 1887. He was essentially the Murtaugh to Peary's Riggs -- that is, if Lethal Weapon featured two hours of Danny Glover doing actual detective work while Mel Gibson stood around with his dick in his hands.
Henson was an esteemed hunter and sled-driver who (unlike Peary) spoke the Inuit language and could communicate with their guides. He also did pretty much all the work, given that Peary was essentially an invalid due to losing eight toes to frostbite on a previous expedition. Henson was the de-facto leader of the expedition and pretty much the only reason they reached the North Pole at all. Meanwhile, Peary's role was best described as "cargo."
If cargo banged 14-year-old natives.
In fact, Matthew Henson was so good that he ended up beating Peary's insatiable lust to be the first man on the North Pole by accident: It was Henson who arrived on the Pole a good 45 minutes before Peary.
Unfortunately, Peary was the kind of guy even his biographers describe as "the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration." His plan was to leave Henson behind before he reached the actual Pole proper, so he could get sole credit, and he wasn't mightily happy when Henson accidentally foiled the plot. Luckily (for him), Peary had a major ace in the hole: Henson was a black guy in an age when just inviting a black person to dine at the White House was enough to make the entire country lose its collective shit, so there was no goddamn way Henson would end up sharing a rostrum with Peary -- a fact that Peary exploited to great effect by hogging roughly all the glory available on the Northern hemisphere.
He wore white tie 24/7.
For his role in finding the Pole, Peary received an Admiral's rank in the U.S. Navy, was awarded the Hubbard Medal, got invited to the White House, and lived the rest of his life on an 8,000-dollar-a-year pension. This is all on top of making the front page of every major newspaper and becoming a household name like Lewis & Clark. Henson, on the other hand, would receive little recognition among the general public until he was awarded a posthumous Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic society in freaking 2000.
He died an obscure Customs clerk on a 2,000-dollar-a-year pension. His niece once got disciplined at school for claiming that her uncle helped discover the North Pole.
The Inventor Of The First Tractor Got Zuckerberged By Slavery
Ah, Cyrus McCormick! History and/or engineering buffs may recognize him as the man who patented the Mechanical Reaper in 1834. This metal-as-fuck sounding hell-vehicle was unfortunately just the first tractor, but the invention made him pretty famous anyway (considering it's a big reason we haven't all starved by now) and earned him the sweet nickname of "The Father of Modern Agriculture". Also, a buttload of money.
He did not spend it on razors.
Which is pretty fine, considering that his inventor partner, Jo Anderson, saw precisely zilch of all that fame and cash. By admission of the ex-curator of McCormick Farm, Anderson had as much to do with the development of the reaper as McCormick. His input and effort were vital to the development of the mechanical reaper (if you don't start a metal band by that name, we will), but he got absolutely no credit for his contributions.
Try not to fall out of your chair, now, but this was because he was black. And a slave.
A non-mechanical reaper.
That's not to say McCormick necessarily actively stole credit from Anderson. The two of them grew up together and some accounts indicate they were more like brothers than a master and a slave, and McCormick's offspring showered Anderson with praise in their writing. Anderson was eventually freed before the Civil War but found life as a free black man difficult in Virginia. He was supported by the McCormicks until his death. He died a bachelor on a small swath of McCormick-owned property. Meanwhile, by 1924 the McCormick family were listed as the 10th wealthiest family in United States, edging out the freaking Guggenheims.
In this case, the active screwer-over was none other than the government. Problem number 6,851 with slavery was that under U.S. intellectual property laws, anything invented by a slave couldn't be patented by said slave, because a slave had no rights. It couldn't be patented by his master, either, because he hadn't invented it. So the moment a slave was officially acknowledged as playing a significant role in an invention, the master lost all rights to it and so did the slave. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the end result of that particular piece of legislation: Anderson became one of the who-knows-how-many African-American inventors whose names were just left off patent applications, as their white masters cleaned up the house on the backs of their ideas.
The Black Victims Of The Colfax Massacre Were Considered Too Unimportant To Write Down
Life in the reconstruction-era, still-racist-as-fuck South was no cake-walk for free black people, but at least there were elections: One terrified man, one vote. The Louisiana gubernatorial election of 1872 was a clusterfuck even by the era's standards. The Republican candidate narrowly eked out a victory over his Democratic rival, but the Democrats refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the elected governor.
The governor ordered the mostly black State Militia, led by a Union army vet named William Ward, to Colfax courthouse, the seat of power in the county. Soon, an armed posse turned up with the intention of lynching Ward, who wasn't having any of that shit: The 14-asshole-strong lynch mob turned tail and ran when they realized they were thoroughly outgunned. Then, another mob randomly murdered an innocent black dude in front of his wife and child. In response, even more black people started converging at the courthouse.
Ward realized the growing tensions and knew that he needed reinforcements. He and a few others left for New Orleans to get backup. Soon after he left, a large mob of white supremacists (estimates range between 100-300 men), complete with a cannon, descended on Colfax courthouse. The battle was bloody and one-sided enough to qualify as a massacre. Soon, the State Militia troops were forced to retreat into the courthouse. The white mob responded by setting the building on fire, then shooting the Militiamen as they tried to escape from the flames.
But at least carpetbag misrule was at an end at last.
When Ward finally came back with reinforcements, the dust had already settled. Though plenty of arrests were made, only three white men were ever convicted of the massacre, and each sentence was promptly overturned by the Supreme Court.
Three white men died that day -- we know that. No one knows the final death toll of black people, because the bodies were dumped in an anonymous mass grave.
Seriously -- we have no idea. Which specific black men died in the massacre simply wasn't written down, or remembered. The generally agreed upon death toll is somewhere around 60-80. There's a small on-site monument that says as many as 150 were killed, but some historians are leery because they think the white men who erected it were exaggerating -- bragging about how many blacks they murdered. The rest of the world could hardly call them liars, though, due to their own utter indifference.
Black Jockeys And Trainers Were Responsible For All Of Racing
Horse racing may be considered the sport of blue-blooded types that willingly wear ascots and insane hats today, but it's a precursor of all racing -- Compare the Kentucky Derby with NASCAR, and they're both mostly just pretense for folks in goofy clothing to get hammered in the middle of the day while watching a series of speedy left turns. And, like NASCAR, the sport is also whiter than an albino doing coke in a blizzard.
Colonel Sanders was recently turned away from the Derby for dressing "too ethnic."
Which is kind of strange, considering that the roots of racing are deeply entrenched in black culture. In the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 out of 15 jockeys were black. 15 out of the first 28 Derby winners were black. This came to be because of (everybody together now) slavery: Before the Civil War, Southern slaves were the cogs that made horse-owning tick. They would tend the stables, train the horses, groom them, and ride them. They did this for centuries, and they got really fucking good at it.
So, when freedom marched in town swinging its 13th Amendment-liberated dick, all these unpaid jockeys and horse trainers suddenly had the jump on a bona fide career. They turned out to be successful, and extremely good. So good, in fact, that they're still pretty much the best jockeys we've ever known. A guy named Isaac Murphy was the first person to win the Kentucky Derby three separate times, and his career win-percentage remains unmatched to this day. He jockeyed harder than any other son of a bitch on record, and turned that talent into earnings that were $400,000 a year in today's money. And for that level of accomplishment, he ... died in a pauper's grave, and no one's ever even heard of him? Wait, what the hell happened?
"A bunch of horseshit, that's what."
At the time, horse racing was the most popular sport in America, and the success of black jockeys posed a big ol' existential threat to white jockeys' understanding of how the world worked. They were supposed to be the genetically superior ones, and now these guys who were barely removed from mindless slavery were whipping their asses left and right. So the white jockeys practiced and honed their craft for weeks and months, and finally returned to the track to honorably compete on even terms, having finally accepted that the color of your skin has nothing to do with your talent and the hard work you're willing to put in.
Ha, of course not! They totally started systematically marginalizing, blacklisting and even murdering their competition, until there were no black jockeys left in the sport. Suddenly, black dudes who thought they were racing horses found themselves in the middle of Death Race 2000: White jockeys would gang up on them on the track, whip them in the middle of a race, and employ a strategy called "boxing in" which was not an euphemism: They literally punched black jockeys off their horses so they would get trampled, possibly to death. Then, the white folks went to the horse-owners and insinuated in no uncertain terms that this would keep happening to every black jockey they hired, and where's the profit in that?
"No you can't broadcast it live. FOX hasn't been invented yet."
As these incidents piled up, eventually all of these really talented black guys couldn't get work. They either lost their wealth and were completely forgotten, or took their talents to Europe and Tsarist Russia. American horse racing went on to become one of the premier white-boy sports in history.
A Slave Saved Boston From Smallpox
Smallpox was the viral sensation of the 18th century: Like Brendan Fraser, it routinely came back despite nobody wanting it or understanding why. Boston was hit particularly hard by the disease, and doctors were scrambling to find a cure. When viruses proved resistant to the era's treatments, there seemed to be little left to do but pray. Enter reverend Cotton Mather, of the Salem Witch Trials fame. Fortunately, before he started clubbing the whole town to death with his copy of Malleus Maleficarum, he remembered something he'd been told by a slave his congregation had bought for him.
Other than, "Get them to buy you a better wig."
The slave was called Onesimus. Mather had taught him to read and write, and was on reasonably friendly enough terms with the dude. By 1721, Onesimus had already bought (most of) his freedom, but had given Mather something even more valuable: A little piece of information called how to deal with the freaking smallpox.
Onesimus taught Cotton that in Africa, the locals had discovered an effective prevention: They would purposefully infect people with a weaker form of the disease Onesimus called "juice of smallpox," so the body could learn to fight against the full-strength form. This process is now known as inoculation, and eventually went on to become Edward Jenner's smallpox vaccine. It was wildly successful: When Mather tested the method out that year, only 2 percent of the 300 or so Bostonians he inoculated against smallpox died, while 14 percent of the un-inoculated who caught the disease succumbed to it.
20 percent of survivors then died of Boston Chill, but they valued the extra time he'd given them.
Mather always gave Onesimus full credit for introducing inoculation to Boston. Unfortunately, that proved to be a dual problem in the era's atmosphere, where disease was basically considered God's will and doctors were still arguing about whether it was possible for black people to know anything. Thus, Mather's declaration that one of these pesky black dudes -- an uneducated slave, for that matter -- basically just saved the whole town also threatened to overthrow centuries of racially-biased science. Unsurprisingly, out came the pitchforks.
Physician William Douglass argued that inoculation superstition and folklore that would only spread the disease. Mather was attacked for his "negroish like thinking." He was literally attacked by a guy who lobbed a bomb through his window, complete with a note that said: "COTTON MATHER, You Dog, Dam You; I'l inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you." Tragically, the story doesn't say how the assassin presumed Mather would have read the note had the bomb actually exploded.
When has "No one will read this" ever stopped a troll?
Through it all, Cotton Mather continued to push for inoculation. However, keeping Onesimus in the history books that were trying to erase his name even as they were written proved too difficult, and eventually, the whole thing got attributed to Mather. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia entry on the slave who saved Boston consists of a whopping 30 words. Luckily, history books can be revised: Recent years have seen Onesimus getting slightly more recognition by the general public. He was recently voted on the list of 100 best Bostonians, and actually scored higher on the list than Mather.
For more people picked never for the annals of time, check out 5 Important People Who Were Screwed Out Of History Books and 23 Amazing People Who Were Screwed Out Of History Books.
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