13 Lesser Known Historical Events You Weren’t Taught in School
History is full of remarkable, terrible, and unusual events that have paved the way for the future. Notable moments include the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, World War I and World War II, the rise of the Roman Empire, the first man in space, and the Civil Rights movement. These significant moments in time are well known by most, but there are many other lesser known historical events that are just important.
These are not often taught in school and the only way to find out about them is if someone tells you or you stumble upon them while trawling the internet. So we thought we would bring some of these hidden historical moments into the spotlight so you can learn more about them. Worst case scenario is you have some new trivia knowledge for your next quiz night down at the pub.
So read on and discover more about human history with these astounding but lesser known historical events that helped shape the world today.
13 Lesser Known Historical Events You Weren’t Taught in School
1. The Massacre of Kalavrita
History is full of tragedies and evil events, such as the massacre of Kalavrita. In December 1943, the Nazi party was preparing to capture those fighting for the Resistance in the Greek town of Kalavrita. Things didn’t go to plan and 76 German soldiers were captured by the townsfolk and murdered.
Angered and embarrassed, General Karl von Le Suire ordered his men to carry out severe retribution on the people of Kalavrita. On the morning of December 13, 1943, all the men in the town, including young boys and the elderly, were rounded up and marched to a field, and gunned down. 438 males were killed, with 16 surviving only because they were covered by the bodies of the dead. The women and children were locked in a church that was set on fire, although many managed to escape through a back entrance.
All up 693 civilians were murdered and the town of Kalavrita was destroyed, with 28 nearby towns and communities also burned to the ground. A memorial has been erected in the field where the men and boys were massacred to remember the tragedy. Sadly this is just one of many similar incidents that occurred during World War II, showing the futility of war.
2. Claudette Colvin Was the First To Refuse Giving Up Her Bus Seat
Everyone knows about Rosa Parks refusing to move from her bus seat on December 1, 1955. It sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and was a driving force for change. But did you know Parks wasn’t actually the first African American to do this? That accolade goes to 15-year-old Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat for a white woman. This happened on March 22, 1955, some nine months before the Parks incident was reported.
Colvin was arrested but would eventually have her charges overturned. Most believed Colvin’s story was overlooked because she was unmarried and pregnant at the time the incident occurred. The Civil Rights movement’s leaders didn’t want to be associated with that type of controversy. Her story is one that is very important and needs to be celebrated more during Black History Month.
3. The U.S. Mint Stopped Minting
The Great Depression hit the United States hard. People lost not only their fortunes but their jobs and homes. Millions of people were impacted by the stock market crash on Wall Street, New York, in 1929. Even the U.S. Mint wasn’t immune to the crash, with CoinWeek reporting that several coins were put out of circulation between 1931 and 1933.
The Mint was so full of coins that no silver dollars were minted between 1929 and 1933, no half dollars minted between 1930 and 1932, and no Buffalo nickels or Mercury dimes between 1932 and 1933. Around 277 million pennies were produced in 1929 when the crash happened, with only 24 million minted three years later in 1931, showing just how badly the crash affected the economy.
4. Soldiers Who Died at Waterloo Were Turned Into Fertilizer
A study by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Tony Pollard hypothesizes that soldiers who died during the 1815 Battle of Waterloo were turned into fertilizer. The famous battle was a major defeat for Napoleon Bonaparte and resulted in the deaths of 25,000 French soldiers and 23,000 Allied fighters (British, Dutch, Belgian, and German army units).
Despite all the bodies, several mass graves were devoid of skeletons when investigated, with three newspapers in the 1820s publishing articles about bodies of dead soldiers being used as fertilizer. As bones are high in phosphorous and calcium, both elements that help plants grow, it is more than likely the dead were put to good use.
5. The Dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron fist for 17 years. After the United States helped him overthrow then-president Salvador Allende in September 1973, Pinochet took charge and let his newfound power corrupt him. A violent man who would let nothing stop him from achieving his goals, Pinochet had anyone who opposed him killed, including journalists, political opponents, and celebrities. He was believed to have used the National Stadium as a secret torture chamber where he would have people taken to get information out of them in the most unpleasant ways.
It wasn’t until 1998 while visiting London that authorities made a move on Pinochet and arrested him for human rights violations. He would eventually be extradited back to Chile where he ended up living his final years under house arrest. At the time of his death, there were over 300 charges brought against him to do with human rights violations, tax evasion, and corruption accusations, with Pinochet, reported to have amassed a $28 million fortune during his life.
6. Native American Code Breakers
African American and Native American soldiers were often overlooked during the two major wars, but both played important roles in the Allied victories. There were 26 tribes involved during World War I and World War II who used their own languages to send messages between troops on the battlefield. As the Germans had no idea what was being said, the Allied forces could discuss plans without the fear of their conversations being transcribed.
There’s even a Hollywood movie made about these amazing patriots. The John Woo-directed Windtalkers stars Nicolas Cage and highlights the bravery of these men along with the racism they dealt with on a daily basis.
7. Abraham Lincoln Was a World Class Wrestler
As well as being arguably the greatest president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln was also an accomplished wrestler. The Great Emancipator might have looked skinny on first appearance, but he had great core strength honed by years of working on his father’s farm. Plus his six foot-four-inch frame meant he often towered over his opponents.
Several publications state Lincoln won 299 out of 300 wrestling matches in 12 years, with his lone defeat coming against Hank Thompson. He was humble in defeat and agreed the better man won. Lincoln ended his wrestling career when he began his tilt for the presidency.
8. The 1871 Chinese Massacre in Los Angeles
Tensions between white Americans and Asian Americans exploded in 1871 after the death of Officer Robert Thompson during a police shootout. Word spread that the Asian community was responsible, so 500 men stormed Chinatown in Los Angeles on October 24, 1871.
The riot they incited resulted in the men stealing $1.5 million in money and goods and the deaths of 20 Asian men. Chinatown was burned to the ground but not one person was arrested for the crimes, with the local newspapers claiming the Chinese got what they deserved.
9. Rome’s Richest Man Died Choking on Gold
It’s unlikely Marcus Licinius Crassus ever thought his life would come to an end choking on gold courtesy of his enemies. Amassing a fortune through real estate, Crassus was the man behind Julius Ceaser, bankrolling his political career and playing puppetmaster in the shadows. Teaming with his rival turned friend Pompey the Great, the three took control of the Roman Empire and became known as the First Triumvirate.
All three men were driven by their egos, with Crassus jealous of the military records of his two partners. Wanting to prove himself a master strategist, Crassus led his army into Parthia, intent on claiming the country for himself. Although outnumbering his enemy, Crassus’ poor battle plans meant his forces were quickly defeated. It’s believed he died on the battlefield, but rumors persist he was captured and forced to swallow molten gold, symbolizing his obsession with wealth and power.
10. Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis
History is full of horrible events that beg belief, such as the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis. In 1932, black men in Macon County, Alabama, were invited to be part of a study treating “bad blood.” The research being conducted didn’t actually have anything to do with bad blood and was about recording the effects of syphilis on around 400 men. While they were given free medical and mental care, the men were never informed that they had syphilis.
The study went from 1932 to 1972, during which time around 100 patients died as a result of having syphilis. Even though penicillin was readily available and could be used to treat the illness, those involved in the experiment were told not to treat the men. A major violation of ethical standards, when word got out about what occurred, sweeping reforms were made to the way medical research was conducted, with former president Bill Clinton apologizing to those involved in the study in a 1997 speech.
11. The Armenian Genocide
Around 1.2 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. After several military losses in the late 1800s and a growing religious spat (Armenians were Christian and the Turkish Muslim), the Ottoman Empire began to worry about the Armenian people wanting their freedom and independence.
So in 1914 the Ottoman invaded lands occupied by Armenians and killed thousands. This only got worse in 1915 when the Empire rounded up hundreds of Armenians in political positions and those with influence and sent them on a death march with over 1 million other Armenians.
They were forced to walk to Syria without water or food. Those who survived were put in concentration camps before another series of murders was carried out in 1916. This continued after the war and through the Turkish War of Independence, with the Armenian population virtually wiped out. Turkey still claims it did nothing wrong, although 33 countries recognize what happened as genocide, with the few remaining Armenian people now scattered across the world without an official home.
12. Tuskegee Airmen Fight in World War II
It wasn’t until the second World War that black men and women were allowed to fight in Army, Navy, and Airforce. Given permission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, black soldiers began training at the Tuskegee Army Air Fields. Once ready for battle they found themselves fighting in Europe and Africa as the 332d Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).
Despite their heroic efforts, the men were subjected to racial abuse throughout their time in the military by fellow soldiers, officers, and the general public.
13. The Assassination of Fred Hampton
A leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, Fred Hampton was seen as a threat by the FBI. Hampton’s radical form of activism was attracting more and more disenfranchised young black men, and to put a stop to this, the FBI, in conjunction with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Chicago Police Department, raided Hampton’s apartment on December 4, 1969.
Hampton was shot dead at close range while he slept next to his pregnant girlfriend while several other Black Panther members were seriously wounded. The authorities claimed Hampton and his men started the incident, but it was found that of the hundred shots fired, only one came from the Black Panthers – a shotgun that discharged after Mark Clark was killed answering the door.
It took several court cases and many years before justice came about and the shooting was defined as an assassination, although those involved were never charged. Hampton was just 21 at the time and many in the community believe if he had lived, Chicago would be in a much better place.
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