African American Firsts Soccer phenom Freddy Adu

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African American Firsts

  1. Soccer phenom Freddy Adu became the youngest American athlete in more than 115 years to sign a major league professional contract in 2004, at the age of 14.

  2. The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon honored Ira Aldridge with a bronze plaque. Ira Aldridge is widely credited as the first African-American star of theater.

  3. BET was the first African-American controlled company to sell shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

  4. In 1845, Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American to pass the bar and practice law in the United States.He later became the first black American justice of the peace.

  5. Richard Allen founded the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1816.

  6. Marian Anderson, a gifted contralto singer, became the first African American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

  7. In 1993, Maya Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration. She was the first poet to do an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost spoke for President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

  8. Writer and performer Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, in the 1940s, and later became the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced.

  9. Maya Angelou's autobiographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, is the first non-fiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

  10. In 1987, scholar Molefi Asante founded the first Ph.D. program in African-American studies at Temple University.

  11. Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win the U.S. Open in 1968, the first African-American Wimbledon champion in 1975, and the first black U.S. citizen to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.

  12. Famed chess player Maurice Ashley became the first African American to win an international grandmaster title in 1999. That same year, he opened the Harlem Chess Center, where he began coaching young chess players.

  13. Deford Bailey was a wizard at playing the harmonica, and was most notable for mimicking the sound of locomotives. He was the first African-American to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the first African-American stars of country music.

  14. Model Tyra Banks was the first African-American woman on the covers of GQ magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

  15. Benjamin Banneker was considered the first African-American scientist.

  16. Physician Regina Benjamin became the first African-American woman and the first physician under age 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees in 1995. More than a decade later, she was tapped to become surgeon general of the United States.

  17. Halle Berry became the first African-American Miss World entrant in 1986. She  became the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for best actress in 2001, for her role in Monster's Ball.

  18. In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first black astronaut to travel in space.

  19. In 1932, Jane Bolin became the first black woman to become a U.S. judge. She was the first black woman to receive a law degree from Yale University.

  20. In 1876, physics student Edward Alexander Bouchet became the first African American to earn a doctorate from a U.S. university.

  21. Barbara Brandon was America's first black female cartoonist to be nationally syndicated in general publications with the strip "Where I'm Coming From."

  22. In 1950, writer Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection, Annie Allen.

  23. Ronald Brown was the first African American to serve as U.S. secretary of commerce. He served during President Bill Clinton's first term.

  24. Political scientist and diplomat Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts in the Middle East during the 1940s. He was the first African American to receive the honor.

  25. In 1995, African-American writer Octavia Butler became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

  26. Alexa Irene Canady became the first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States. She graduated from the University of Michigan's medical school in 1975.

  27. In 1968, Diahann Carroll won a Golden Globe Award for her role on the TV series Julia. Carroll was the first African-American actress to star in her own sitcom where she did not play a domestic worker.

  28. In 1987 Ben Carson, a skilled neurosurgeon, led the first successful operation to separate a pair of Siamese twin infants who were joined at the back of the head.

  29. George Washington Carver, who made a number of agricultural advancements and inventions, and Percy L. Julian, who was a pioneering chemist and researcher who synthesized medicinal drugs, were the first African Americans admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

  30. Politician and educator Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American congresswoman. Chisholm was the first major-party African-American candidate for President of the United States.

  31. In 1948, track-and-field star Alice Coachman made history when she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She was also the only American woman to win a medal at that year's games.

  32. Singer and pianist Nat King Cole was the first black American to host a television variety show.

  33. Bessie Coleman was the first licensed African-American female pilot. She received aviation instruction in France.

  34. In 1965, comedian Bill Cosby became the first African American to have a lead role in a network TV dramatic series when he co-starred with Robert Culp in I Spy.

  35. Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864, becoming the first black woman to receive an M.D.

  36. Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to earn an Oscar nomination for best actress, was later portrayed by Halle Berry, who became the first African-American woman to win the Oscar for best actress.

  37. Ernie Davis was the first African-American athlete to be the No.1 pick in the NFL draft and the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

  38. In 2006, speed skater Shani Davis became the first black athlete at the Winter Olympics to win a gold medal in an individual sport.

  39. Dominique Dawes was the first African American to win an individual event medal in gymnastics.

  40. Entrepreneur Suzanne de Passe is the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for screenwriting. She was honored for her work on the Motown biopic of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues.

  41. Ruby Dee was the first African-American actress to be featured at the American Shakespeare Festival in prominent roles.

  42. In 1989, David Dinkins became the first African-American mayor of New York City.

  43. In 1947, Larry Doby became the first African American to break the color barrier in the American League—less than three months after Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball.

  44. Poet Rita Dove was appointed poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress in 1993—becoming both the youngest person and the first African American to receive that appointment.

  45. In 1943, Charles R. Drew became the first African-American surgeon to work with the American Board of Surgery as an examiner.

  46. Civil Rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

  47. One of the first prominent African-American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar founded the African-American newspaper the Dayton Tattler in Dayton, Ohio.

  48. Baritone Todd Duncan became the first African American to sing in a major opera company when he joined the New York City Opera in 1945.

  49. Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007. He faced fellow African-American coach Lovie Smith.

  50. Lee Elder was the first African-American golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975. He has won four PGA and eight Champions Tour tournaments in his career.

  51. Jocelyn Elders was the first African-American to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.

  52. In 1959, Ella Fitzgerald became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award.

  53. Henry Ossian Flipper became the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877, and went on to become the first U.S. Army officer.

  54. Soul singer Aretha Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

  55. In January 1940, George W. Gibbs Jr. became the first African American to set foot on Antarctica.

  56. Althea Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to compete at the U.S. National Championships in 1950, and the first black player to compete at Wimbledon in 1951. In 1957, she won the women's singles and doubles at Wimbledon, which was celebrated by a ticker tape parade when she returned home to New York City.

  57. Louis Gossett Jr. became the first African American to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1982, for his role in the film An Officer and a Gentleman.

  58. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, led by Joseph "Grandmaster Flash" Saddler, became the first rap group to earn induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  59. Richard Theodore Greener became the first African American to graduate from Harvard University in 1870. The future professor also went on to become a Howard University dean and international diplomat.

  60. Human rights activist Clara "Mother" Hale founded the first and at the time only African-American child-care volunteer agency in 1975. Over the course of her life, Mother Hale received more than 370 awards and 15 honorary degrees for her vision and compassionate work in caring for children, including those born with AIDS and to drug-addicted mothers.

  61. Lorraine Hansberry authored A Raisin in the Sun, the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman.

  62. The first African-American woman to serve on the U.S. Cabinet was Patricia Roberts Harris, who became secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1977.

  63. In 1963, U.S. naval scientist Walter Harris became the first African-American chess master—a title based on tournament-accumulated points.

  64. In 1954, civil rights leader Anna Arnold Hedgeman became the first African-American woman to hold a mayoral cabinet position in the history of New York.

  65. In 1904, African-American gym teacher Edwin Henderson learned the game of basketball while at a summer conference at Harvard University. Henderson introduced the game to the students at the segregated public schools of Washington, D.C., where it gained widespread popularity. For this, Henderson earned the title of "Father of Black Basketball."

  66. Leon Higginbotham Jr. was a U.S. civil rights advocate and attorney who co-founded the first African American law firm in Philadelphia. As a judge, he later became the youngest person appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

  67. In 2011, 79-year-old Barbara Hillary became the first African-American woman to reach both the North Pole and South Pole. The cancer survivor took to outdoor exploration after retiring. "I fell in love with the beauty of nature and the chance to meet free-thinking, dynamic people who had an excitement for life," Hillary said in a news publication interview.

  68. Allen Iverson is the first Philadelphia 76er to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year title.

  69. Hal Jackson became the first radio figure to have three daily shows on three different stations in New York. In 1995, the legendary disc jockey was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

  70. In 1950, Mahalia Jackson became the first gospel singer to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall.

  71. In 2010, Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur became the first black couple in history to compete in Olympic pairs skating.

  72. Mae C. Jemison became the first black female astronaut in 1992.

  73. Jack Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

  74. Robert Johnson, the owner of Black Entertainment Television, became the first African-American billionaire in 2001.

  75. Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones was the first African-American opera singer to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.

  76. John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer in Ohio when he passed the bar exam in 1854. His great-nephew was renowned African-American poet Langston Hughes.

  77. The first African-American professional basketball player was Harry Lew, who in 1902 became a member of the New England Professional Basketball League.

  78. Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American and Native-American sculptor; her subjects included figures like Cleopatra, Phillis Wheatley and President Ulysses S. Grant.

  79. Businessman Reginald F. Lewis was the first African American to build a billion-dollar company.

  80. Alain Locke, a writer, philosopher and educator, was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and edited the Harlem Renaissance anthology The New Negro (1925).

  81. Louis E. Lomax became the first black television journalist in 1958 after joining the staff of WNTA-TV in New York.

  82. Donyale Luna was the first black cover girl, appearing on the front of British Vogue in March 1966.

  83. In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, being lauded for her work in restoring forestation in Kenya.

  84. Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

  85. Hattie McDaniel was first black performer to win an Academy Award, earning Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in the epic film, Gone with the Wind. She was also the first black woman to sing on the radio in America.

  86. In 1910, writer William Foster became the first African American to form a movie production company: the Foster Photoplay Company.

  87. Dancer Arthur Mitchell opened the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, in 1969.

  88. In 1993, author Toni Morrison, became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for her work, Beloved.

  89. In 1964, Constance Baker Motley became the first African-American woman to serve as a New York state senator.

  90. Jackie Ormes became the first professional African-American female cartoonist with her 1937 serial comic "Dixie to Harlem." The strip featured character Torchy Brown, a teen who finds fame as an entertainer at New York's Cotton Club.

  91. Black Swan Records, founded in 1921 by Harry Pace in Harlem, was the first U.S. record label that was black-owned. It was named after 19th century concert singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, who was known as the "Black Swan."

  92. Gordon Parks was the first African American to direct, write, score and co-produce a major Hollywood film with 1969's The Learning Tree. The plot was based on Parks's semi-autobiographical book of the same name. Gordon Parks was also the first African-American staff photographer to work atLIFE magazine.

  93. Samuel R. Pierce Jr., one of the members of the 1961 legal defense team for Martin Luther King, Jr., co-established Freedom National Bank, New York State's first predominantly black-managed bank. Pierce was also the first black partner of a major New York City law firm.

  94. In 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana was the first African American to become a U.S. governor.

  95. In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Academy Award in a leading role for his part in the film Lilies of the Field.

  96. Charley Pride is one of the most successful African-American country singers of all time, with a career spanning decades and 36 No. 1 hits. He is the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry and the first African American to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Pride was a baseball player with the Negro League and the Memphis Red Sox before becoming a professional musician.

  97. In 1974, Congressman Charles B. Rangel became the first African American to serve on the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

  98. African-American surgeon Charles R. Drew organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States.

  99. Singer and actress Della Reese was the first woman to serve as guest host of The Tonight Show and the first black woman to host her own variety show.

  100. Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African-American congressman, becoming a senator in 1870 and serving the state of Mississippi.

  101. Educator and politician, Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman to serve as national security adviser for the United States. In 1993, educator and politician Condoleezza Rice became the first female, first African-American and youngest provost at Stanford University.

  102. When he signed on to lead the Cleveland Indians in 1975, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in Major League Baseball history. He managed the Cleveland Indians, the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles, the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals.

  103. Baseball player Jackie Robinson became the first African American to be featured on a LIFE magazine cover on May 8, 1950.

  104. Max Robinson was the first black network news anchor in the United States. He was also a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.

  105. Roscoe Robinson was the first African American to become a four-star U.S. Army major general.

  106. In 1984, Run-D.M.C. became the first rap act to have a music video played on MTV. They were also the first hip-hop group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, in 1986.

  107. David Satcher was the first African-American man to serve as surgeon general of the United States.

  108. In 1995, educator Ruth Simmons became the first African-American woman to head a major college when she was named president of Smith College. She also started the first engineering program at a women's college in the United States. Simmons became Brown University's 18th president in 2001, making her the first black president of an Ivy League institution and Brown's first female president. That same year, TIME magazine named her America's best college president.

  109. In 1992, Carole Simpson became the first African American and first woman to moderate a U.S. presidential debate. It was between candidates Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

  110. Norma Sklarek became the first licensed, black female architect in 1954, and later became the first black woman to become a fellow with the American Institute of Architects. She was also the first African-American woman to establish and manage an architectural firm—Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond.

  111. James McCune Smith was the first African American to practice medicine. He was denied entry into American colleges due to racism, so he moved to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow, where he would earn three degrees by 1837.

  112. Musician and composer William Grant Still was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra and the first to have a symphony of his own performed by a leading orchestra.

  113. In 1953, Toni Stone became the first woman to play professional baseball in a men's big-league team when she was selected as a second baseman for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns.

  114. Percy E. Sutton was the first African-American Manhattan borough president.

  115. Robert Robinson Taylor is recognized as the first academically educated black architect in the United States.

  116. In 1958, Ruth Carol Taylor became the first African-American flight attendant, joining the staff of Mohawk Airlines.

  117. The first African-American poet on record is Lucy Terry Prince, who wrote the poem "Bar's Fight" in 1746.

  118. In 1988, figure skater Debi Thomas became the first African American to win a medal, bronze, at the Olympic Winter Games.

  119. In 2002, Vonetta Flowers became the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games.

  120. In 1821, Thomas L. Jennings became the first African American to receive a patent, which was for a dry-cleaning process. He used the money earned to purchase relatives out of slavery and support abolitionist causes.

  121. Vermont native Alexander Lucius Twilight became the first black college graduate in the United States in 1823, earning a bachelor's from Middlebury College. In 1836, he became the first African American to be elected to public office, joining his home-state legislature.

  122. Dr. Maulana Karenga created the African-American holiday Kwanzaa in 1966.

  123. Booker T. Washington was the first African American to be invited to a formal White House dinner, with the request coming from President Theodore Roosevelt.

  124. On April 7, 1940, educator and author Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

  125. Educator Booker T. Washington was the first African American to be featured on a coin: the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar. The coin was minted in the United States from 1946 to 1951.

  126. Harold Washington was the first African-American mayor of Chicago.

  127. Singer and performer Ethel Waters became the first African-American star of a network television show- Beulah, which ran from 1950 to 1953.

  128. In 1966, Robert Weaver became the first U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After his death in 1997, the HUD headquarters were renamed the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building in his honor. Weaver was the first African American to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States.

  129. Civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was one of the first American women to continue to keep her last name after her marriage.

  130. In 1998, Mark Whitaker became editor of Newsweek, making him the first African American to lead a national newsweekly. During his tenure, the magazine won four National Magazine Awards.

  131. In 1956, Willye B. White earned a silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, becoming the first American woman to medal in the long jump. She was only 16 years old.

  132. In 1990, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia took oath as the first African-American elected governor in U.S. history.

  133. Harriet E. Wilson is considered the first African-American writer to publish a novel in the United States with her 1859 autobiographical work, Our Nig.

  134. In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show with the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show. She became the first black female U.S. billionaire in 2003.

  135. In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first person of African-American or Asian ancestry to win the Masters Tournament.

  136. In 1965, Lobo became the first African-American protagonist to headline his own comic book series. Published by Dell Comics, the story centered on a fictional character living in the Old West.

  137. The African Free School in New York City was founded by the abolitionist group the New York Manumission Society in 1787. James McCune Smith, who attended the school, became the first black licensed physician in the United States while fellow student Henry Highland Garnett became the first black speaker to address Congress. In 1797, the school gained its first African-American headmaster, John Teasman.

  138. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. armed forces. Beginning in 1941, select groups of servicemen were rigorously trained at the Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field.

  139. In 2010, Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African-American screenwriter to win an Academy Award. He was honored for writing Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

  140. In 1971, radio personalities Hal Jackson and Percy Sutton co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation. They also acquired WLIB-AM and WBLS-FM, the first African American-owned and -operated radio stations in New York City.

  141. In 1872, Bridget "Biddy" Mason was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles' first black church.


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