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African Americans are a demographic minority in the United Statesmarker. The first achievements by African Americans in various fields historically establish a foothold, providing a precedent for more widespread cultural change. The shorthand phrase for this is "breaking the color barrier."

One commonly cited example is that of Jackie Robinson, who was the first African American of the modern era to become a Major League Baseball player, ending 60 years of segregated leagues. Segregated Negro Leagues had been established for decades, featuring many talented athletes.

18th century

19th century: 1820s1830s1840s1850s1860s1870s1880s1890s

20th century: 1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s

21st century

See also


18th century

  • 1760
:First known African-American published author: Jupiter Hammon (poem "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries", published as a broadside)

  • 1770s
:Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, popularly known as "The Father of Chicago", was the first known settler in the area which is now Chicago, Illinoismarker.

  • 1773
:First known African-American woman to publish a book: Phillis Wheatley (Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral)
:First separate African American church: Silver Bluff Baptist Church, Aiken Countymarker, South Carolinamarker

  • 1774
:First African-American Baptist congregation: First Baptist Church, Petersburgmarker, Virginiamarker

  • 1777
:First known African-American church congregation: the First Colored Baptist Church, renamed First African Baptist Church, Savannahmarker, Georgiamarker. This claim is contested by the First Baptist Church, Petersburgmarker, Virginiamarker (1774) and historians of the Silver Bluff Baptist Church (1773-1775) of Aiken Countymarker, South Carolinamarker

  • 1778
:First African-American U.S. military regiment: the 1st Rhode Island Regiment

  • 1783
:First African American to formally practice medicine in the U.S.: James Derham, who did not hold an M.D. degree (See also: 1847)

  • 1792
:First major African-American Back-to-Africa movement: 1,200 slaves who escaped to settle in Settler Town, Sierra Leone.

  • 1793
:First African Methodist Episcopal Church established: Richard Allen founded Mother Bethel A.M.E.marker Churchmarker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker

  • 1794
:First African Episcopal Church established: Absalom Jones founded African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

19th century


  • 1804
:First African American ordained as an Episcopal priest in the United States: Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • 1807
:First African Presbyterian Church opened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


  • 1816
:First fully independent African-American denomination established: Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was elected bishop. Several black congregations withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church and created their own denomination.


  • 1821
:First African American to hold a patent: Thomas L. Jennings, for the "dry scouring" cleaning process

  • 1823
:First African American to receive a degree from an American college: Alexander Twilight, Middlebury Collegemarker (See also: 1836)

  • 1827
:First African-American owned-and-operated newspaper: Freedom's Journal


  • 1836
:First African American elected to public office and to serve in a state legislature: Alexander Twilight, Vermont (See also: 1823)

  • 1837
:First African-American doctor: Dr. James McCune Smith from the University of Glasgowmarker, Scotlandmarker (See also: 1783, 1847)


  • 1845
:First African American licensed to practice law in the United States: Macon Allen from the Boston bar

  • 1847
:First African American to graduate from a U.S. medical school: Dr. David J. Peck (Rush Medical College) (See also: 1783, 1837)
:First independent African-American nation and first African-American president of any nation: Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberiamarker

  • 1849
:First African-American college professor: Charles L. Reason, New York Central College


  • 1851
:First African-American member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Patrick Francis Healy. (See also 1866, 1874)
  • 1853
:First novel written by an African American: Clotel; or, The President's Daughter, by William Wells Brown.

  • 1854
:First African-American Roman Catholic priest: James Augustine Healy. (see 1875 and 1886)
:First institute of higher learning created to educate African Americans: Ashmun Institute in Pennsylvaniamarker, renamed Lincoln Universitymarker in 1866.

  • 1858
:First published play by an African American: The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom by William Wells Brown
:First African-American female college professor: Sarah Jane Woodson Early, Wilberforce Collegemarker


  • 1861
:First North American military unit with African-American officers: 1st Louisiana Native Guard of the Confederate Army

:First African-American US federal government civil servant: William Cooper Nell

  • 1863
:First college owned and operated by African Americans: Wilberforce Collegemarker, Ohiomarker
:First African-American college president: Bishop Daniel Payne, Wilberforce Collegemarker
:First recognized U.S. Army African American combat unit, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers

  • 1865
:First African-American field officer in the U.S. Army: Martin Delany
:First African-American attorney admitted to the bar of the US Supreme Courtmarker: John Swett Rock

  • 1866
:First African-American to earn a Ph.D.: Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J. (from University of Louvain, Belgium). (see also 1851, 1874)
:First African-American woman enlistee in the U.S. Army: Cathay Williams

  • 1868
:First elected African-American lieutenant governor: Oscar Dunn (Louisianamarker)

  • 1869
:First African-American US diplomat: Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, minister to Haitimarker


  • 1870
:First African American to vote in an election under the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting voting rights regardless of race: Thomas Mundy Peterson
:January: First African American elected to either chamber of the U.S. Congress: Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-Miss.marker)
:December: First African American elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Joseph Rainey (R-S.C.marker)

  • 1872
:First African-American governor (non-elected): P. B. S. Pinchback of Louisianamarker (See also: Douglas Wilder, 1990)
:First African-American nominee for Vice President of the United States: Frederick Douglass by the Equal Rights Party.

  • 1874
:First African-American president of a college/university: Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J. of Georgetown College. (see also 1851, 1866)

  • 1875
:First African-American Roman Catholic bishop: Bishop James Augustine Healy, of Portland, Maine. (see also 1854)

  • 1876
:First African American to earn a doctorate degree from an American university: Edward Alexander Bouchet (Yale College Ph.D., physics; also first African American to graduate from Yale, 1874) (see also 1866)

  • 1877
:First African-American graduate of West Pointmarker and first African-American commissioned officer in the US military: Henry Ossian Flipper.

  • 1879
:First African American to graduate from a formal nursing school: Mary Eliza Mahoney, Boston, Massachusetts


  • 1880
:First African-American in command of a U.S. ship: Michael Healy.
  • 1881
:First African American whose signature appeared on US paper currency: Blanche K. Bruce, Registrar of the Treasury.

  • 1884
:First African American to play professional baseball at the major-league level: Moses Fleetwood Walker. (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1947)

  • 1885
:First African-American woman to hold a patent: Sarah E. Goode, for the cabinet bed, Chicago, Illinois

  • 1886
:First African-American Roman Catholic priest publicly known at the time to be African-American: Augustine Tolton, Quincy and Chicago, Illinois (but see 1854)


  • 1891
:First African-American police officer in present-day New York Citymarker: Wiley Overton, hired by the Brooklynmarker Police Department prior to 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York. (See also: Samuel J. Battle, 1911)

  • 1892
:First African American to sing at Carnegie Hallmarker: Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones

  • 1895
:First African American to earn a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) from Harvard Universitymarker: W.E.B. Du Bois

  • 1896
:First African American appointed to serve as U.S. Army Paymaster: Richard R. Wright

20th century


  • 1901
:First African American invited to dine at the White Housemarker: Booker T. Washington

  • 1902
:First African-American professional basketball player: Harry Lew (New England Professional Basketball League) (See also: 1950)

  • 1903
:First Broadway musical written by African Americans, and the first to star African Americans: In Dahomey
:First African-American woman to found and become president of a bank: Maggie L. Walker, St. Luke Penny Savings Bank (since 1930 the Consolidated Bank & Trust Company), Richmond, Virginia

  • 1904
:First Greek-letter fraternal organization established by African Americans: Sigma Pi Phi

  • 1906
:First intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established by African Americans: Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ), at Cornell Universitymarker

  • 1907
:First African-American Greek Orthodox priest and missionary in America: Very Rev. Fr. Raphael Morgan (Robert Josias Morgan), "Priest-Apostolic" to America and the West Indies.

  • 1908
:First African-American heavyweight boxing champion: Jack Johnson
:First African-American Olympic gold medal winner: John Taylor (track and field medley relay team). (See also: William DeHart Hubbard, 1924)
:First intercollegiate Greek-letter sorority established by African Americans: Alpha Kappa Alpha (ΑKΑ)

  • 1909
:First African-American scholar to address the American Historical Association: W.E.B. Du Bois


  • 1910
:First African-American millionaire: Madam C. J. Walker

  • 1911
:First intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established by African Americans in the Midwest: Kappa Alpha Psi (ΚΑΨ), at Indiana University, Bloomingtonmarker
:First African-American police officer in New York Citymarker: Samuel J. Battle, following the 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York, and the hiring of three African American officers in the Brooklyn Police Department. Battle was also the NYPD's first African American sergeant (1926), lieutenant (1935), and parole commissioner (1941). (See also: Wiley Overton, 1891)

  • 1916
:First African-American football player to play in the Rose Bowl game: Fritz Pollard for the Brown Universitymarker Bruins; also first African American football player named to a College Football All-America Team (the Walter Camp All-American football team)

  • 1917
:First African-American police officer killed in the line of duty: Robert H. Holmes in New York Citymarker
:First African-American woman to win a major sports title: Lucy Diggs Slowe, American Tennis Association
:First African-American football All-American: Paul Robeson, Rutgers Universitymarker, 1917 and 1918


  • 1920
:First African-American NFL football players: Fritz Pollard (Akron Pros) and Bobby Marshall (Rock Island Independents)
:First African-American bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church: Robert Elijah Jones and Matthew Wesley Clair.

  • 1921
:First African-American woman to become a pilot, first American to hold an international pilot license: Bessie Coleman
:First African-American NFL football coach: Fritz Pollard, co-head coach, Akron Pros, while continuing to play running back
:First African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the U.S.: Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, Ph.D. in Economics from University of Pennsylvaniamarker

  • 1924
:First African American to win individual Olympic gold medal: William DeHart Hubbard (Long jump, 1924 Summer Olympics, Parismarker). (See also: John Taylor, 1908)

  • 1925
:First African-American Foreign Service Officer: Clifton R. Wharton, Sr.

  • 1926
:First African-American woman to receive a degree (Ph.D.) from Yale Universitymarker: Otelia Cromwell, who had previously been the first African-American graduate of Smith Collegemarker.

  • 1927
:First African American to star in an international motion picture: Josephine Baker in La Sirène des tropiques.

  • 1928
:First post-Reconstruction African American elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Oscar Stanton De Priest (Republican; Illinoismarker)

  • 1929
:First African-American sportscaster: Sherman Maxwell, WNJR, Newark, New Jerseymarker.


  • 1932
:First African American on a presidential ticket in the 20th century: James W. Ford (Communist Party USA, as vice-presidential candidate running with William Z. Foster)

  • 1934
:First African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat: Arthur W. Mitchell (Illinois)

  • 1935
:First known interracial jazz group: Benny Goodman Trio (Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa)

  • 1936
:First African American to conduct a major U.S. orchestra: William Grant Still (Los Angeles Philharmonic)

  • 1937
:First African-American federal magistrate: William H. Hastie (later the first African-American governor of the United States Virgin Islandsmarker)

  • 1939
:First African-American network radio host: Hal Jackson, WINX-Washington, D.C.


  • 1940
:First African American to win an Academy Award: Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress, Gone with the Wind, 1939)
:First African American to be portrayed on a US postage stamp: Booker T. Washington
:First African-American U.S. Army brigadier general: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

  • 1941
:First African American to give a White House Command Performance: Josh White

  • 1942
:First African American to be awarded the Navy Cross: Doris Miller

  • 1944
:First African-American commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy: The "Golden Thirteen"
:First African American commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps: Samuel Gravely. Gravely was also the first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship (1962), and the first promoted to the rank of admiral (1971).
:First African American to co-pastor with a white minister at the first interracial church: Dr. Howard Thurman with Dr. Alfred Fisk, Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, San Franciscomarker

  • 1945
:First African-American member of the New York City Opera: Todd Duncan
:First African-American U.S. Marine Corps officer: Frederick C. Branch

  • 1946
:First novel by an African-American woman to sell a million copies published: The Street

  • 1947
:First African-American Major League Baseball player of the modern era: Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers). (See also: Moses Fleetwood Walker, 1884)
:First African-American consensus college All-American basketball player: Don Barksdale

  • 1948
:First African-American man to receive an Academy Award: James Baskett (Honorary Academy Award for his portrayal of "Uncle Remus" in Song of the South, 1946) (See also: Sidney Poitier, 1964)
:First African-American U.S. Navy aviator: Jesse L. Brown
:First African-American composer to have an opera performed by a major U.S. company: William Grant Still (Troubled Island, New York City Opera)
:First African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal: Alice Coachman
:First African American on an Olympic basketball team and first African American Olympic gold medal basketball winner: Don Barksdale, in the 1948 Summer Olympics
:First African American in the Regular Army Medical Corps: Allan Oliver Wilson
:First African American to host a network television program: Solomon Lightfoot Michaux, "Elder Michaux" (DuMont)

  • 1949
:First African-American graduate of the U.S.marker Naval Academymarker: Wesley Brown
:First African American to hold rank of Ambassador of the United States: Edward R. Dudley, ambassador, and previously minister, to Liberiamarker (See also: 1869)
:First African American to win an MVP award in Major League Baseball: Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers, National League) (See also: Elston Howard, 1963)


  • 1950
:First African American to win Pulitzer Prize: Gwendolyn Brooks (Book of poetry, Annie Allen, 1949)
:First African American to win Nobel Peace Prize: Ralph Bunche
:First individual African American as subject on the cover of Life magazine: Jackie Robinson, May 8, 1950
:First African-American NBA basketball players: Earl Lloyd (Washington Capitols), Chuck Cooper (Boston Celtics), and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (New York Knicks) (See also: 1902)
:First African American star of a network television sitcom: Ethel Waters, Beulah
:First African-American woman to compete on the world tennis tour: Althea Gibson

  • 1952
:First African-American woman elected to a United Statesmarker state senate: Cora Brown, Democrat (Michiganmarker)
:First African-American U.S. Marine Corps aviator: Frank E. Petersen
:First African-American woman to be nominated for a national political office: Charlotta Bass, Vice President (Progressive Party)

  • 1953
:First African-American basketball player to play in the NBA All-Star Game: Don Barksdale in the 1953 NBA All-Star Game
:First African American named as Dean of chapel at a majority white university: Howard Thurman at Marsh Chapel, Boston Universitymarker

  • 1954
:First African-American US Navy Master Diver: Carl Brashear
:First African-American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress: Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones, 1954). (At that time, nominations were announced in November of the year of release, instead of early the following year.)
:First individual African-American woman as subject on the cover of Life magazine: Dorothy Dandridge, November 1, 1954

  • 1955
:First African-American member of the Metropolitan Opera: Marian Anderson
:First African-American male dancer in a major ballet company: Arthur Mitchell (New York City Ballet; also first African-American principal dancer of a major ballet company (NYCB), 1956. (See also: 1969)
:First African-American singer to appear in a telecast opera: Leontyne Price in NBC's production of Tosca

  • 1956
:First African American male star of a network television show: Nat King Cole, The Nat King Cole Show
:First African American Wimbledonmarker tennis champion: Althea Gibson (doubles, with Englishwoman Angela Buxton); also first African American to win a Grand Slam event (French Openmarker). (See also: Arthur Ashe, 1968; Serena Williams, 2003)
:First African American to win the Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in Major League Baseball, in the award's inaugural year: Don Newcombe (Brooklyn Dodgers)

  • 1957
:First African-American assistant coach in the NFL: Lowell W. Perry (See also: 1966)

  • 1958
:First African-American flight attendant: Ruth Carol Taylor (Mohawk Airlines)

  • 1959
:First African-American Grammy Award winners, in the award's inaugural year: Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie (two awards each)
:First African American television journalist: Louis Lomax


  • 1960
:First African-American US presidential candidate: Rev. Clennon King, on the Independent Afro-American party

  • 1961
:First African American to win the Heisman Trophy: Ernie Davis

  • 1962
:First African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Famemarker: Jackie Robinson (See also: Satchel Paige, 1971)
:First African-American coach in Major League Baseball: John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil (Chicago Cubs)
:First African-American male professional wrestler to win a world heavyweight championship: Bobo Brazil (NWA)

  • 1963
:First African American Airline Stewardess for a major airline Wanda Dorn
:First African-American bank examiner for the United States Department of the Treasurymarker: Roland Burris
:First company to use an African American in a televised commercial: Unilever, through its U.S. division of Lever Brothers, for Wisk detergent.
:First African American named as Time magazine's Man of the Year: Martin Luther King, Jr.
:First African-American police officer of the NYPD to be named a precinct commander: Lloyd Sealy, commander of the NYPD's 28th precinct in Harlem.
:First African American to be named American League MVP: Elston Howard (New York Yankees) (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1949)
:First African-American chess master: Walter Harris
:First African American to appear as a series regular on a prime time dramatic television series: Cicely Tyson, "East Side/West Side" (CBS). Also the first African American woman to wear an afro hairstyle on a prime time series.

  • 1964
:First movie with African-American interracial marriage: One Potato, Two Potato, actors Bernie Hamilton and Barbara Barrie, written by Orville H. Hampton, Raphael Hayes, directed by Larry Peerce
:First African-American man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor: Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, 1963) (See also: James Baskett, 1948)

  • 1965
:First African-American title character of a comic book series: Lobo (Dell Comics). (See also: The Falcon, 1969, and Luke Cage, 1972)
:First African-American star of a network television drama: Bill Cosby, I Spy (co-star with Robert Culp)
:First African-American cast member of a daytime soap opera: Micki Grant who played Peggy Nolan Harris on Another World until 1972.
:First African-American Playboy Playmate centerfold: Jennifer Jackson (March issue)
:First African-American U.S. Air Force general: Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. (three-star lieutenant general)
:First African-American female Ambassador of the United States: Patricia Roberts Harris, ambassador to Luxembourgmarker
:First African-American NFL official: Burl Toler, field judge/head linesman
:First African American to win a national chess championship: Frank Street, Jr. (U.S. Amateur Championship)

  • 1966
:First African-American coach in the National Basketball Association: Bill Russell (Boston Celtics)
:First African-American mayor of a US city: Robert C. Henry, (Springfield, Ohiomarker, appointed by city commission)
:First African-American model on the cover of a Vogue (British Vogue) magazine: Donyale Luna
:First post-Reconstruction African American elected to the U.S. Senate (and first African American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote): Edward Brooke (Republican; Massachusettsmarker)
:First African American Cabinet secretary: Robert C. Weaver (Department of Housing and Urban Developmentmarker)
:First African-American Major League Baseball umpire: Emmett Ashford
:First African-American NFL broadcaster: Lowell W. Perry (CBS, on Pittsburgh Steelers games) (See also: 1957)
:First African-American fire commissioner of a major US City: Robert O. Lowery of the New York City Fire Department
:First African American elected to president, American Psychological Association: Kenneth Bancroft Clark

  • 1967
:First African American elected mayor of a large US city: Carl B. Stokes (Cleveland, Ohiomarker)
:First African American appointed to the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker: Thurgood Marshall
:First African American selected for astronaut training: Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
:First African American to win a PGA Tour event: Charlie Sifford (1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational)
:First African-American interracial kiss on network television: entertainers Nancy Sinatra (white) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (African American) on Sinatra's variety special Movin' With Nancy, airing December 11 on NBC (See also: 1968)
  • 1968
: First African-American interracial kiss on a network television drama: Uhura, played by African American Nichelle Nichols, and Captain Kirk, played by white Canadian William Shatner: Star Trek: "Plato's Stepchildren" (See also: 1967)
:First African-American woman elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Shirley Chisholm (Democrat; New Yorkmarker)
:First African-American man to win a Grand Slam tennis event: Arthur Ashe (US Openmarker) (See also: Althea Gibson, 1956; Serena Williams, 2003)
:First African American to start at quarterback in the modern era of professional football: Marlin Briscoe (Denver Broncos, AFL)
:First African-American commissioned officer awarded the Medal of Honor: Riley L. Pitts
:First fine-arts museum devoted to African-American work: Studio Museum in Harlemmarker
:First African-American woman as Presidential candidate: Charlene Mitchell (See also: Shirley Chisholm, 1972)
:First African-American woman reporter for the New York Times: Nancy Hicks Maynard

  • 1969
:First African-American superhero: The Falcon, Marvel Comics' Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969). (See also: Lobo, 1965 and Luke Cage, 1972)
:First African-American graduate of Harvard Business Schoolmarker: Lillian Lincoln
:First African-American director of a major Hollywoodmarker motion picture: Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree)
:First African-American founder of a classical training school and company of ballet: Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theatre of Harlem (See also: 1955)
:First African-American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Oprymarker: Linda Martell


  • 1970
:First African-American member of the New York Stock Exchangemarker: Joseph L. Searles III
:First African-American basketball player to win the NBA All Star MVP, the NBA Finals MVP, & the NBA MVP all in the same season: Willis Reed (New York Knicks)

  • 1971
: First African American owners of a radio station: Hal Jackson and Percy Sutton, WLIB-New York
:First African American pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Famemarker: Satchel Paige (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1962)
: First African American president of the New York City Board of Education: Isaiah Edward Robinson, Jr.

  • 1972
:First African American to campaign for the U.S. presidency in a major political party and to win a U.S. presidential primary/caucus: Shirley Chisholm (Democratic Party, New Jersey primary) (See also: 1968)
:First African-American superhero to star in own comic-book series: Luke Cage, Marvel Comics' Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). (See also: Lobo, 1965, and the Falcon, 1969)
:First African-American interracial kiss in a mainstream comics magazine: "The Men Who Called Him Monster", by writer Don McGregor (See also: 1975) and artist Luis Garcia, in Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazine Creepy #43 (Jan. 1972)
:First African-American interracial male kiss on network television: Sammy Davis, Jr. (African American) and Carroll O'Connor (white) in All in the Family

  • 1973
:First African American to hold the plant manager position at a U.S. automobile company: Lowell W. Perry
:First African American elected mayor of Los Angeles, Californiamarker: Tom Bradley
:First African-American Bond Girl in a James Bond movie: Gloria Hendry (as Rosie Carver), Live and Let Die.
:First African American Bond villain: Yaphet Kotto, playing Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga, Live and Let Die.
:First African-American comic-book creator to receive a "created by" cover-credit: Wayne Howard (Midnight Tales #1)
:First African-American woman mayor of a U.S. metropolitan city: Doris A. Davis, Compton, Californiamarker
:First African-American artistic director of a professional regional theater: Harold Scott (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Parkmarker)

  • 1974
:First African-American model on the cover of American Vogue magazine: Beverly Johnson

  • 1975
:First African American elected mayor, and first mayor, of Washington, D.C.marker: Walter Washington
:First African-American manager in Major League Baseball: Frank Robinson (Cleveland Indians)
:First African-American four-star general: Daniel James, Jr.
:First African-American women named as Time magazine's, Person of the Year: Barbara Jordan and Addie L. Wyatt
:First TV-series cast with African-American interracial couple: The Jeffersons, actors Franklin Cover (white) and Roxie Roker (African American) as Tom & Helen Willis; series creator: Norman Lear
:First African-American model on the cover of ELLE magazine: Beverly Johnson
:First African American to win Super Bowl MVP in NFL: Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers). Of mixed heritage, Harris was also first Italian American to win the award.
:First African-American game show host: Adam Wade (CBS' Musical Chairs)
:First African-American interracial kiss in a color comic book: Amazing Adventures #31 (July 1975), feature "Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds", characters M'Shulla Scott and Carmilla Frost, by writer Don McGregor (See also: 1972) and artist P. Craig Russell

  • 1976
:First African-American woman Broadwaymarker director: Vinnette Justine Carroll (Your Arms Too Short to Box with God)
:First African-American woman elected officer of international labor union: Addie L. Wyatt

  • 1977
:First African American, and first woman, appointed director of the Peace Corps: Carolyn R. Payton
:First African-American woman in the U.S. Cabinet: Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
:First African-American woman whose signature appeared on U.S. currency: Azie Taylor Morton, the 36th Treasurer of the United States
:First African-American publisher of mainstream gay publication: Alan Bell (Gaysweek)

  • 1978
:First African-American broadcast network news anchor: Max Robinson

  • 1979
:First African American and first person to win the Emmy Award Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries: Esther Rolle
:First African American U.S. Marine Corps general officer: Frank E. Petersen
:First African-American man to win Daytime Emmy Award for lead actor in a soap opera: Al Freeman, Jr. (Ed Hall in One Life To Live)


  • 1980
: First African-American Channel Black Entertainment Television
  • 1981
: First African-American owners of a major metropolitan newspaper: Robert C. and Nancy Hicks Maynard, The Oakland Tribune
: First African American to play in the NHL: Val James (Buffalo Sabres)

  • 1982
:First African-American male to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor: Louis Gossett, Jr.
:First African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Charles Fuller for A Soldier's Play

  • 1983
:First African-American astronaut: Guion Stewart "Guy" Bluford, Jr. (Challenger mission STS-8).
:First African-American mayor of Chicagomarker: Harold Washington
:First African-American Miss America: Vanessa L. Williams
:First African-American WWE Tag Team Champion: Tony Atlas
:First African American to play in the Ryder Cup: Calvin Peete (United States)

  • 1984
:First African American to win a delegate-awarding U.S. presidential primary/caucus: Jesse Jackson (Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two separate Mississippi contests).
:First African-American coach to win the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship: John Thompson (Georgetown)
:First African-American New York City Police Commissioner: Benjamin Ward

  • 1985
:First African American to become a member of the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team: Donnie Cochran. Also first African American to command the team (1994).

  • 1986
:First African-American Formula One racecar driver: Willy T. Ribbs (See also: Ribbs, 1991)
:First African-American musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker, in the inaugural class: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and Little Richard
:First African-American to die in spaceflight: Ronald McNair
:First African-American wrestling manager: Slick

  • 1987
:First African-American woman, and first woman, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Famemarker: Aretha Franklin

  • 1988
:First African-American woman elected to a U.S. judgeship, and first appointed to a state supreme court: Juanita Kidd Stout
:First African-American candidate for President of the United States to obtain ballot access in all 50 states: Lenora Fulani
:First African American to win the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker: Forest Whitaker (Bird)
:First African American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics (a bronze in figure skating): Debi Thomas
:First African-American quarterback to start (and win) in the Super Bowl: Doug Williams
:First African-American NFL referee: Johnny Grier

  • 1989
:First African-American mayor of New York Citymarker: David Dinkins
:First African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell
:First African American, and first woman, ordained bishop in the Episcopal Church: Barbara Clementine Harris
:First African-American Chairman of the Democratic National Committee: Ron Brown


  • 1990
:First elected African-American governor: Douglas Wilder (Democrat; Virginiamarker) (See also: P. B. S. Pinchback, 1872)
:First African American elected president of the Harvard Law Review: Barack Obama (See also: 2008, 2009)
:First African-American Miss USA: Carole Gist
:First African-American Playboy Playmate of the Year: Renee Tenison
:First all African-American band to win the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance: Living Colour for "Cult of Personality"

  • 1991
:First African American nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. John Singleton for Boyz N The Hood
:First African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500marker auto race: Willy T. Ribbs (See also: Ribbs, 1986)
:First African-American woman mayor of Washington, D.C.marker: Sharon Pratt Kelly
:First African-American NBA Coach of the Year: Don Chaney (Houston Rockets)

  • 1992
:First African-American WCW World Heavyweight Champion: Ron Simmons
:First African-American woman astronaut: Dr. Mae Jemison (Space Shuttle Endeavour)
:First African-American woman elected to U.S. Senate: Carol Moseley Braun (Democrat; Illinoismarker)
:First African American to manage a Major League Baseball team to a World Series Championship: Cito Gaston (Toronto Blue Jays)

  • 1993
:First African-American woman appointed U.S. Secretary of Energy: Hazel R. O'Leary
:First African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison
:First African-American woman named Poet Laureate of the United States: Rita Dove, also the youngest person named to that position
:First African American appointed Surgeon General of the United States: Joycelyn Elders
:First African-American woman to win a national chess championship: Kimberly McClelland
:First African-American appointed Director of the National Drug Control Policy: Lee P. Brown

  • 1994
:First African-American woman director of a major-studio movie: Darnell Martin (Columbia Pictures' I Like It Like That)
:First African American to win the United States Amateur Championship: Tiger Woods

  • 1995
:First African-American inductee to the Radio Hall of Fame: Hal Jackson
:First African-American Sergeant Major of the Army: Gene C. McKinney

  • 1996
:First African-American mayor of San Francisco: Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. (also first African-American Speaker of the California Assembly, 1980)
:First African-American U.S. Navy four-star admiral: J. Paul Reason

  • 1997
:First African American to win a men's major golf championship: Tiger Woods (The Mastersmarker)
:First African-American model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Tyra Banks
:First African-American actor to star in the lead role in a comic-book adaptation movie (Spawn): Michael Jai White

  • 1998
:First African American appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor: Alexis Herman
:First African-American woman to hold the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy: Lillian Fishburne
:First African American Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard: Vincent W. Patton III
:First African-American mayor of Houston: Lee P. Brown
:First African American to play in the Presidents Cup: Tiger Woods (United States)

  • 1999
:First African American to be awarded the International Grandmaster title in chess: Maurice Ashley
:First African American Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps: Alford L. McMichael
:First African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company: Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae

  • 2000
:First African American nominated for Vice President of the United States by an FEC-recognized and federally-funded political party: Ezola B. Foster

21st century

  • 2001
:First African-American Secretary of State: Colin Powell
:First African-American president of the Unitarian Universalist Association: Rev. William G. Sinkford
:First African-American president of an Ivy League university: Ruth J. Simmons at Brown Universitymarker, also the first permanent female president of Brown.
:First African-American woman to win the ASCAP Pop Music Songwriter of the Year award: Beyoncé Knowles
:First African-American woman to be appointed National Security Advisor: Condoleezza Rice (See also: 2005)
:First African-American billionaire: Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television
:First African-American female billionaire: Sheila Johnson

  • 2002
:First African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress: Halle Berry (Monster's Ball, 2001)
:First African-American Winter Olympic gold medal winner: Vonetta Flowers (two-woman bobsleigh). (See also: Shani Davis, 2006)
:First African American to hold the number #1 rank in tennis: Venus Williams, February 25, 2002.
:First African-American Arena Football League head coach to win ArenaBowl: Darren Arbet (San Jose SaberCats), ArenaBowl XVI
:First African-American general manager in the National Football League: Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens)

  • 2003
:First African American to win a Career Grand Slam in tennis: Serena Williams (See also: Althea Gibson, 1956; Arthur Ashe, 1968)

  • 2004
:First African American to win Broadway theatermarker's Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play: Phylicia Rashād
:First African American General Manager for World Wrestling Entertainment: Theodore Long

  • 2005
:First African-American woman appointed Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice (See also: 2001)
:First African-American interracial gay kiss on network television: Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie in Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

  • 2006
:First African-American individual Winter Olympic gold medal winner: Shani Davis (men's 1,000 meter speed skating) (See also: Vonetta Flowers, 2002)
:First African-American Extreme Championship Wrestling champion: Bobby Lashley
:First African American to command a United States Marine Corps division: Walter Gaskin
:First African American to reach the peak of Mount Everestmarker: Sophia Danenberg

  • 2007
:First African-American Governor of Massachusetts: Deval Patrick
:First African-American NFL head coach to reach the Super Bowl: Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears), Super Bowl XLI
:First African-American NFL head coach to win the Super Bowl: Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts), Super Bowl XLI
:First known African-American woman to reach the North Polemarker: Barbara Hillary

  • 2008
:First African American to be nominated as a major-party US presidential candidate: Barack Obama, Democratic Party
:First African American to referee a Super Bowl game: Mike Carey (Super Bowl XLII)
:First African-American woman elected Speaker of a state House of Representatives: California Rep. Karen Bass
:First African-American governor of New York Statemarker: David Paterson (elected as lieutenant governor, succeeded on resignation of previous governor)
:First African American to own a movie and TV studio: Tyler Perry
:First African American elected President of the United States: Barack Obama
:First African American to be appointed to the United States Senate by a state governor: Roland Burris

  • 2009
:First African-American President of the United States: Barack Obama
:First African-American First Lady of the United States: Michelle Obama
:First African-American United States Attorney General: Eric Holder
:First African-American woman United States Ambassador to the United Nations: Susan Rice
:First African-American United States Trade Representative: Ron Kirk
:First African-American woman Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Lisa P. Jackson
:First African-American White House Social Secretary: Desirée Rogers
:First African American honored on United States coin: Duke Ellington (District of Columbiamarker quarter)
:First African-American Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
:First African-American female rabbi: Alysa Stanton
:First African-American female CEO of a S&P 100 Company: Ursula Burns

See also


  1. Juguo, Zhang. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Quest for the Abolition of the Color Line, Routledge, 2001 - ISBN 0415930871
  2. Herbst, Philip H. The Color of Words: an encyclopaedic dictionary of ethnic bias in the United States, Intercultural Press, p. 57, 1997 - ISBN 1877864978
  3. Sailes, Gary Alan. African Americans in Sport: Contemporary Themes, Transaction Publishers, 1998 - ISBN 0765804409 (p. 8, "Jackie Robinson: Breaking the Color Barrier in Team Sports")
  4. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "invisible Institution' in the Antebellum South, Oxford University Press, 2004, p.139, accessed 21 Jan 2009
  5. Walter H. Brooks, "The Priority of the Silver Bluff Church and Its Promoters", Journal of Negro History (April 1922)
  6. Essortment: "First 3 African American Physicians"
  7. Because it was published in the U.K., the book is not the first African-American novel published in the United States. This credit goes to one of two disputed books: Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859), brought to light by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1982; or Julia C. Collins' The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride (1865), brought to light by William L. Andrews, an English literature professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Mitch Kachun, a history professor at Western Michigan University, in 2006. Andrews and Kachun document Our Nig as a novelized autobiography, and argue that The Curse of Caste is the first fully fictional novel by an African American to be published in the USA.
  8. Revels, the Mississippi State Senate's Adams County representative, was elected by the U.S. Senate in January 1870 to fill an unexpired term.
  9. Rainey, a South Carolina state senator, was elected to fill the seat vacated by B. Franklin Whittemore. Rainey took his seat on December 12, 1870. John Willis Menard was actually the first African-American elected to the House (1868) but he was denied his seat.
  10. Douglass did not seek the nomination or campaign after being nominated.
  11. New York City Police Museum: "A History of African Americans in the NYPD"
  12. Jazz Resource Library: "Important Firsts, Groups and their Leaders, and Groups and Personnel", compiled by David Baker)
  13. Because of team schedules for season opening games, Lloyd was the first to play, on October 31, 1950, with Cooper debuting November 1 and Clifton November 4. Cooper was the first African American player to be drafted by an NBA team, and Clifton the first to sign a contract with an NBA team.
  14. Spelman College: The Black Presence in American Dance website
  15. Grammy Awards official site — list of winners for Grammy Award inaugural year, presented May 4, 1959, for recordings made in 1958
  16. New York City Police Museum: A History of African Americans in the NYPD
  17. Gregory Kearse, "Historic Moments: A Legacy of Excellence", Chess Life July 1998 reprinted at
  18. "Chess Quiz" Question #43
  19. "Black Cinema", by David Hudson (no date) Note: Asian-American interracial marriage had previously been portrayed.
  20. The first Black superhero, Marvel's Black Panther, introduced in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), is African, not African-American. This is also true of the first Black character to star in his own mainstream comic-book feature, Waku, Prince of the Bantu, who headlined one of four features in the multiple-character omnibus series Jungle Tales (Sept. 1954 - Sept. 1955), from Marvel's 1950s predecessor, Atlas Comics.
  21. The "NM Frank Street, Jr."
  22. Bell, Gregory S. (2002). Joe Searles. In In the Black: A History of African Americans on Wall Street. John Wiley and Sons. p. 143. ISBN 9780471214854. Google Book Search. Retrieved on January 30, 2009.
  23. In the comedy All in the Family, at the last moment as a picture is taken, Sammy Davis, Jr., playing himself, chides the bigoted but celebrity-fawning Archie Bunker with a kiss on the cheek.
  24. Seabaugh, Cathy (February 1994). "BLK: Focused Coverage for African-American Gays & Lesbians". Chicago Outlines.
  25. Chestnut, Mark (June 1992). "BLK: Getting Glossy". Island Lifestyle.
  26. The NHL had fielded black players for more than 20 years, with the first being Willie O'Ree in 1958, but all previous black players were Black Canadians and not African American.
  27. Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Mendez was the first person of African descent in space, in 1980.
  28. Atlas' tag team partner at the time, Rocky Johnson, is also black, but is not African American. Johnson, also known as the father of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, is a Black Canadian, more specifically Black Nova Scotian.
  29. Lewis Hamilton became the first black Formula One racer in 2006, but he is a British citizen of Grenadan ancestry, and not an African American. Ribbs did not compete in a race, but drove a Formula One car professionally in January 1986 as a tester for the Brabham-BMW at Estoril, Portugal.
  30. Woods' mixed ancestry — ¼ Chinese, ¼ Thai, ¼ African-American, ⅛ white, and ⅛ Native American — also makes him the first Asian American to achieve this feat. He is also the first of only four golfers of primarily non-European descent to win a men's major, with the others being Vijay Singh (an Indian Fijian), Michael Campbell (a Māori from New Zealand), and Y.E. Yang (South Korean).
  31. Smith was the first African American head coach to reach the Super Bowl solely because of scheduling. The NFC and AFC Championship Games are always held on the same day; in the playoffs that followed the 2006 NFL season, the NFC game was played first. The AFC game was won by the Indianapolis Colts and their African American head coach Tony Dungy.
  32. Duke Ellington becomes first African-American on U.S. coin

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