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

Back to the Future Day … Going Back to 1985!

In celebration of Back to the Future Day, we take a look back at what was happening in 1985.

  • 8767687_f520Ronald Reagan is sworn in for a second term as U.S. President.
  • In Hollywood, California, the charity single “We Are the World” is recorded by USA for Africa.
  • William J. Schroeder becomes the first artificial heart patient to leave the hospital.
  • The FDA approves a blood test for AIDS, used since then to screen all blood donations in the United States.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and de facto leader of the Soviet Union.
  • Coca-Cola changes its formula and releases New Coke. (The response is overwhelmingly negative, and the original formula is back on the market in less than 3 months.)
  • LiveAidlogoLive Aid pop concerts in Philadelphia and London on July 13 raise over £50 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.
  • The Nintendo Entertainment System is released in the U.S. It was first released in Japan in 1983.
  • Microsoft Corporation releases the first version of Windows, Windows 1.0.
  • The first .com domain name,, is registered by the Symbolics corporation.
  • Compact Discs are introduced to American Consumers.
  • British Scientists discover a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer.
  • The first Blockbuster video-rental store opens in Dallas, TX

a-ha_takeBillboard’s Number 1 song the week of October 21:
Take On Me – A-Ha

Also playing on the radio in 1985:

  • Rock Me Amadeus – Falco
  • Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears
  • One Night in Bangkok – Murray Head
  • Careless Whisper – Wham!
  • Like A Virgin – Madonna
  • I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
  • Shout – Tears for Fears
  • Heat Is On – Glenn Frey
  • Miami Vice Theme – Jan Hammer
  • Power of Love – Huey Lewis & the News
  • Can’t Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) – John Parr
  • Axl F (Theme to Beverly Hills Cop) – Harold Faltermeyer

backtothefutureThe movie Back to the Future opens in July and becomes the highest grossing film of the year in the United States.

Popular films: The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, The Color Purple, and Rocky IV
Popular TV Shows: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, 60 Minutes, Cheers and Dallas
Academy Award for Best Picture: Amadeus
Grammy for Record of the Year/Song of the Year: “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Economy in 1985:

  • Average cost of new house: $89,330
  • Average annual income: $22,100
  • Average monthly rent: $375
  • Average new car: $9,005
  • Gas: $1.09 per gallon
  • Movie ticket: $2.75
  • U.S. postage stamp: 22 cents
  • Eggs: $0.80/dozen
  • Milk: $2.26 per gallon
  • Population: 237,923,795
  • Life expectancy: 74.7 years
  • Dow-Jones: High – 1,553; Low – 1,184

Welcome to the Future, Marty McFly!