Black History Month: Famous Firsts By African-Americans

African-American Firsts: Government

  • Local elected official: John Mercer Langston, 1855, town clerk of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.
  • State elected official: Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1836, the Vermont legislature.
  • Mayor of major city: Carl Stokes, Cleveland, Ohio, 1967–1971. The first black woman to serve as a mayor of a major U.S. city was Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, Washington, DC, 1991–1995.
  • Governor (appointed): P.B.S. Pinchback served as governor of Louisiana from Dec. 9, 1872–Jan. 13, 1873, during impeachment proceedings against the elected governor.
  • Governor (elected): L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia, 1990–1994. The only other elected black governor has been Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, 2007–
  • U.S. Representative: Joseph Rainey became a Congressman from South Carolina in 1870 and was reelected four more times. The first black female U.S. Representative was Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman from New York, 1969–1983.
  • U.S. Senator: Hiram Revels became Senator from Mississippi from Feb. 25, 1870, to March 4, 1871, during Reconstruction. Edward Brooke became the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction, 1966–1979. Carol Mosely Braun became the first black woman Senator serving from 1992–1998 for the state of Illinois. (There have only been a total of five black senators in U.S. history: the remaining two are Blanche K. Bruce [1875–1881] and Barack Obama (2005–2008).
  • U.S. cabinet member: Robert C. Weaver, 1966–1968, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Lyndon Johnson; the first black female cabinet minister wasPatricia Harris, 1977, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jimmy Carter.
  • U.S. Secretary of State: Gen. Colin Powell, 2001–2004. The first black female Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice, 2005–2009.
  • Major Party Nominee for President: Sen. Barack Obama, 2008. The Democratic Party selected him as its presidential nominee.
  • U.S. President: Sen. Barack Obama. Obama defeated Sen. John McCain in the general election on November 4, 2008, and was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009.

African-American Firsts: Science and Medicine

  • First patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, 1821, for a dry-cleaning process. Sarah E. Goode, 1885, became the first African-American woman to receive a patent, for a bed that folded up into a cabinet.
  • M.D. degree: James McCune Smith, 1837, University of Glasgow; Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. She graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.
  • Inventor of the blood bank: Dr. Charles Drew, 1940.
  • Heart surgery pioneer: Daniel Hale Williams, 1893.
  • First astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967, was the first black astronaut, but he died in a plane crash during a training flight and never made it into space. Guion Bluford, 1983, became the first black astronaut to travel in space; Mae Jemison, 1992, became the first black female astronaut. Frederick D. Gregory, 1998, was the first African-American shuttle commander.

African-American Firsts: Scholarship

  • College graduate (B.A.): Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1823, Middlebury College; first black woman to receive a B.A. degree: Mary Jane Patterson, 1862, Oberlin College.
  • Ph.D.: Edward A. Bouchet, 1876, received a Ph.D. from Yale University. In 1921, three individuals became the first U.S. black women to earn Ph.D.s: Georgiana Simpson, University of Chicago; Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, University of Pennsylvania; and Eva Beatrice Dykes, Radcliffe College.
  • Rhodes Scholar: Alain L. Locke, 1907.
  • College president: Daniel A. Payne, 1856, Wilberforce University, Ohio.
  • Ivy League president: Ruth Simmons, 2001, Brown UniversityAfrican-American Firsts: Literature
  • Novelist: Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859).
  • Poet: Lucy Terry, 1746, “Bar’s Fight.” It is her only surviving poem.
  • Poet (published): Phillis Wheatley, 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Considered the founder of African-American literature.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner in Drama: Charles Gordone, 1970, for his play No Place To Be Somebody.
  • Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Toni Morrison, 1993.
  • Poet Laureate: Robert Hayden, 1976–1978; first black woman Poet Laureate: Rita Dove, 1993–1995.

African-American Firsts: Music and Dance

African-American Firsts: Film

  • First Oscar: Hattie McDaniel, 1940, supporting actress, Gone with the Wind.
  • Oscar, Best Actor/Actress: Sidney Poitier, 1963, Lilies of the FieldHalle Berry, 2001, Monster’s Ball.
  • Oscar, Best Actress Nominee: Dorothy Dandridge, 1954, Carmen Jones.
  • Film director: Oscar Micheaux, 1919, wrote, directed, and produced The Homesteader, a feature film.
  • Hollywood director: Gordon Parks directed and wrote The Learning Tree for Warner Brothers in 1969.

Other African-American Firsts

  • Licensed Pilot: Bessie Coleman, 1921.
  • Millionaire: Madame C. J. Walker.
  • Billionaire: Robert Johnson, 2001, owner of Black Entertainment Television; Oprah Winfrey, 2003.
  • Portrayal on a postage stamp: Booker T. Washington, 1940 (and also 1956).
  • Miss America: Vanessa Williams, 1984, representing New York. When controversial photos surfaced and Williams resigned, Suzette Charles, the runner-up and also an African American, assumed the title. She represented New Jersey. Three additional African Americans have been Miss Americas: Debbye Turner (1990), Marjorie Vincent (1991), and Kimberly Aiken (1994).
  • Explorer, North Pole: Matthew A. Henson, 1909, accompanied Robert E. Peary on the first successful U.S. expedition to the North Pole.
  • Explorer, South Pole: George Gibbs, 1939–1941 accompanied Richard Byrd.
  • Flight around the world: Barrington Irving, 2007, from Miami Gardens, Florida, flew a Columbia 400 plane named Inspirationaround the world in 96 days, 150 hours (March 23-June 27).

Courtesy of factmonster.com

2 responses to “Black History Month: Famous Firsts By African-Americans

  1. Pingback: Faces of Black History – Rebecca Lee Crumpler | Merc Xue

  2. Pingback: Senator Hiram Revels, circa 1870 « Caught Green-Handed

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