News Archive

A very special message from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in celebration of Black History Month

These are the first black Americans to realize pioneering achievements in their fields. With talent and determination, each one has reinvented not only what it means to be an African American, but also what it means to be an American. Our list celebrates the first African Americans to overcome the obstacles of discrimination and achieve top honors in their fields of endeavor.

(Listed in alphabetical order)

1.Marian Anderson
First black member of the Metropolitan Opera Company, in 1955.
2. Arthur Ashe
First black man to win a Wimbledon singles title, defeating Jimmy Connors in 1975.
3. Halle Berry
First African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, in 2001 for Monster's Ball.
4. Garrett Augustus Morgan
A native of Paris, Kentucky invented the 1st stop light and received the first patent.
5. Guion Bluford
First African-American astronaut to launch into space, in 1983.
6. Gwendolyn Brooks
First black to receive a Pulitzer Prize, in 1950.
7. Ralph Bunche
First African-American to win a Nobel Peace Prize, in 1950.
8. Shirley Chisholm
First black woman elected to Congress, in 1968 (from Brooklyn to 91st Congress).
9. Nat King Cole
First back entertainer to host his own show on national television, in 1956.
10. Elbert Frank Cox
First African-American to earn a PhD in Mathematics, in 1925 (Cornell University).
11. Frederick Douglass
First black to receive a major US government appointment, in 1877.
12. Althea Gibson
First African-American to play in the US Open, winning the tournament twice, in 1957 and 1958.
13. Whitney Houston
First artist ever to have seven consecutive singles hit number one.
14. Dr. Mae Jemison
First black woman astronaut to launch into space, in 1992.
15. Jack Johnson
First African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, in 1908.
16. Robert Johnson
The owner of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson became the first black billionaire in 2001.
17. Simmie Knox
First black artist to paint an official presidential portrait (Bill Clinton).
18. Oliver Lewis
First jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1875. Thirteen of the 14 jockeys in the first Derby were black.
19. Thurgood Marshall
First African-American appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1963.
20. Hattie McDaniel
First African-American to win an Oscar, in 1940 for Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.
21. Carol Moseley-Braun
First black woman to serve on the U.S. Senate, in 1992 from Illinois.
22. Toni Morrison
First black to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993.
23. Barack Obama
First African-American president of the United Staes of America.
24. Sidney Poitier
First African-American to win Oscar for best actor ("Lillies of the Field," 1963)
25. Colin L. Powell
First black chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1989, and first black Secretary of State, in 2001.
26. Charley Pride
First African-American inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, in 2000.
27. Jackie Robinson
First black major league baseball player, in 1947, and first black player elected to Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1962.
28. Williams, Vanessa
The first African American woman to win the Miss USA title