July 22, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Offbeat History: Lesser Known Facts About the United States’ Past

3 min read

Lesser Known Facts About the United States’ Past

One of the great things about the United States is its cultural diversity. Unfortunately, textbooks often stop short of telling the whole story of relating anecdotes and historical accounts that help us truly understand other cultures.

The following are some interesting facts that you may not find in history books. They may help you understand more about the cultural richness of the U.S. and understand, in general, more about its history.

Native American history

While many people have a basic grasp of Native American history, some contributions or historic events are often overlooked, such as the following facts.

One notable event in the civil rights movement of the late 1960’s was the prolonged occupation of Alcatraz Island. The island’s penitentiary closed in 1963, and years later, a group of young Native Americans occupied the island for nearly two years, as a way to call attention to the plight of native populations and repeated forced removal from their homelands. The island has since become a protected national park.

Known for its stewardship of the land, The Chickasaw tribe of south-central Oklahoma excelled at horsemanship – so much so that the tribe developed its own horse, a predecessor to the modern-day quarter horse. The Chickasaw horse was known for speed and endurance – important qualities when traveling the open territory in and around Oklahoma. The Chickasaw people have continued to thrive, building a community that takes care of its residents through medical and educational outreach programs, and by creating businesses that employ thousands of people.

Black history

Some stories from history show how much a person meant to others. Author and activist Maya Angelou became close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Her birthday is April 4 – the same day King was assassinated in 1968. After that point Angelou refused to celebrate her birthday until Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, died in 2006.

Perhaps one of the least known facts about African American history in the United States is that Allentown, Calif., was the first and only town founded, governed and financed by African Americans. In 1908, Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth–a former slave–established the town in north central California. While the town was initially a home to former slaves, a declining water table eventually made farming there impossible, and residents left for other locations. But today, a park in the area is named for the town founder.

General American history

Unless you grew up in Lamar County, Miss., you probably didn’t know that it was once used as an atomic testing site in the 1960’s. Before detonating a bomb beneath the Tatum Salt Dome, the government paid residents to evacuate – $10 per adult and $5 per child. Some residents returned home to find the blast had caused significant damage.

Ever wonder where the American figure Uncle Sam comes from? During the War of 1812, Uncle Sam was the name given to a man who brought meat to the soldiers. Despite how well-known he is today, he wasn’t adopted as a national symbol until 1961.

You might think you’ve heard it all, but America’s history is more rich and dynamic than can be fully covered in even the most extensive educational programs. Learning about American history from a cultural perspective can enrich your view of the country as it is today, while also appreciating the diversity that America was founded on. Now that you’ve brushed up on some of these little-known facts, impress your friends with your newfound knowledge to spread the word.

6 thoughts on “Offbeat History: Lesser Known Facts About the United States’ Past

  1. Wow, this is a fantastic post. I didn’t know that Alcatraz had been occupied by Native Americans. I also agree that there are many things that are overlooked in the textbooks. I distinctly remember never even going over the First Barbary War which is the first military conflict after the United States was formed. A lot gets lost between pages, and that’s some of the most interesting stuff!

  2. I guess I’m showing my age here… the Alcatraz occupation was “living history” for me and as a radical activist I supported it.

    As for horses in Native America, I saw an exhibit at NYC’s Native American history museum that said horses once lived in the Americas, became extinct, and then were re-introduced by the Spanish after Columbus “discovered” the New World.

    And, as far as Allentown is concerned, it may have been the first all black town in California, but loses to Eatonville, Florida:


    What is, and isn’t, in history books has a lot to do with the typical role of history in society as jingoistic propaganda, not history as the “whole story.” So Japanese children get one version of WW2 and American children get another. Neither version is the whole story.

  3. here’s one:

    the 13th amendment to the us constitution? which one? there have been three…
    * the original ratified in 1814 that vanished from the history books about the 1860’s,
    * the Corwin Amendment supported and endorsed by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural which would have made it ILLEGAL to interfere with or ban Slavery, passed in BOTH houses of congress but never ratifed fully by the States,
    * and the current one which banned slavery.

    Bonus: the 14th amendment was never legally and constitutionally ratified. it was ‘proclaimed as ratified’ by Executive Order, NOT by the President, but by Sec. of State Seward.
    enjoy the day.

  4. As spencercourt points out, more or less, history is written by the winners. I grew up the mountains of North Carolina, maybe 30 miles from the Cherokee Indian reservation (referred to as the “Eastern Band”, in other words, those who escaped the Trail of Tears). Two of my friends are mixed-race Cherokee, and you get a very different picture of history when listening to them. We got maybe a little more awareness of Native Americans than most, but not much. Great post! I loved the info about Maya Angelou’s birthday.

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