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.
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, MD, New 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.)
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
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
Woman Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice
President: Barack H. Obama, elected Nov. 2008