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 …

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Person to run for the presidency: George Edwin Taylor

Licensed pilot: Bessie Coleman

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

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

NFL quarterback: Willie Thrower

Secret Service Agent: Charles LeRoy Gittens

Sidney Poitier

Best Actor Oscar: Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field

U.S Senator (elected): Edward Brooke

Astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr.

MLB manager: Frank Robinson, Cleveland Indians

Woman U.S. Senator: Carol Mosely Braun

Condoleezza Rice

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

Woman Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice

President: Barack H. Obama, elected Nov. 2008

Reaching for the Moon: A Giant Leap for Mankind

Do you remember?

s69-39961At 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered lunar orbit. It was July 19.

The next day, at 1:46 p.m., just over 100 hours into the mission, the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Michael Collins remained. The Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface two hours later, and at 4:18 p.m., it touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong radioed to Mission Control, “The Eagle has landed.”

AS11-40-5867HRAt 10:39 p.m., Armstrong opened the hatch and made his way down the lunar module’s ladder as an estimated 530 million people on Earth watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote (which he later said was slightly garbled by his microphone) “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” He planted his left foot on the surface, took a cautious step forward, and walked on the moon.

“Buzz” Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the two men slept that night on the surface of the moon.

spacestore_2058_58085639After spending nearly a day on the moon, at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon—July 1969 A.D—We came in peace for all mankind.”

At 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

Did You Know? Interesting Moon Landing Facts

apollo11_0The astronauts were surprised by the strong odor of the lunar dust which they were only able to smell when they got back inside the Lunar Module. While conducting experiments on the surface of the Moon the astronauts’ spacesuits gathered the moon dust in its creases. After coming into contact with oxygen for the first time inside the Lunar Module, the four billion years old moon dust produced a pungent smell. Neil Armstrong described the scent as similar to wet ashes in a fireplace.

lunar chaliceAfter landing safely on the moon, Buzz Aldrin radioed to Earth asking anyone who was listening to reflect on that moment in history. Aldrin gave thanks for the opportunity and produced a small chalice and a piece of bread which he then consumed whilst reading from the Gospel of John. So Buzz Aldrin became the first and only person to participate in the Christian ritual of Communion on the Moon.

Armstrong with flagThe U.S. flag was later knocked over when Armstrong and Aldrin launched the Lunar Module back into lunar orbit. After Aldrin hit the button to begin the launch he looked out the window and watched as the flag was blasted away with the rest of the material left behind on the lunar surface.

As the Apollo 11 team arrived safely on the Earth, the crew was brought to Hawaii. Despite being the three most famous men at the time, having just traveled to the moon and back, they were still asked to fill out a customs and declarations form at security. In the section asking “Departure From:” the Apollo 11 crew had to write “The Moon.”