Black History Month: African American Firsts

In celebration of Black History Month, below is an updated list from last year of just some of the important African American firsts in American history. Listed in chronological order, you’ll see that several of these “firsts” actually occurred in just the last 25 years.

The First African-American …

1773
Woman (known) to publish a book: Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

1783
Doctor in the U.S. (unlicensed): Dr. James Durnham purchased his freedom after apprenticing with several doctors and opened his own practice until new laws prohibited him from practicing medicine unlicensed.

thomas jenning1821
Patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, a ‘dry scouring’ process that was a precursor to modern-day dry cleaning.

1823
College graduate: Alexander Lucius Twilight (Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, Vermont)

1837
Medical doctor: James McCune Smith, MD (Graduated from the University of Glasgow in Scotland after being denied admission to American schools.)

1847
Medical doctor to earn a degree from a U.S. medical school: David Jones Peck, Rush Medical College, Chicago, Ill.

1863
Commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy: Robert Smalls

1864
Woman to earn a medical degree: Rebecca Lee Davis Crumpler, MDNew England Female Medical College, Boston, Mass.

1870
U.S. Senator (appointed): Hiram Rhodes Revels (Revels filled the seat left vacant by Jefferson Davis when Mississippi seceded from the Union.)

Mary_Eliza_Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney

1878
Graduate of a formal nursing school: Mary Eliza Mahoney, New England Hospital for Women and Children, Boston, Mass.

1893
Surgeon to perform open heart surgery (of any race): Daniel Hale Williams, MD, Provident Hospital, Chicago, Ill.

1897
Psychiatrist: Solomon Carter Fuller, MD, Boston University School of Medicine

1904
Person to run for the presidency: George Edwin Taylor

1921
Licensed pilot: Bessie Coleman

1940
Oscar winner: Hattie McDaniel, supporting actress for Gone with the Wind

1947
Major league baseball player (20th Century): Jackie Robinson

1953
NFL quarterback: Willie Thrower

1956
Secret Service Agent: Charles LeRoy Gittens

1963-sidney-poitie_oscar
Sidney Poitier

1963
Best Actor Oscar: Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field

1966
U.S Senator (elected): Edward Brooke

1967
Astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr.

1975
MLB manager: Frank Robinson, Cleveland Indians

1992
Woman U.S. Senator: Carol Mosely Braun

condoleezza-rice-lg
Condoleezza Rice

2001
U.S. Secretary of State: Colin Powell
Best Actress Oscar: Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball

2005
Woman Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice

2009
President: Barack H. Obama, elected Nov. 2008

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