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African American Firsts
17 black men and 3 black women land at Jamestown, Virginia, on August 20th. Possibly the first Africans to arrive in what will later be the U.S., they are accorded the status of indentured servants.
1623 or 1624---
The first black person born in America was William, son of Antoney and Isabell, indentured servants.
11 blacks petitioned the Council of New Netherlands for freedom--the first black legal protest in America. The Council freed them because they had "served the Company 17 or 18 years" and had "long since been promised their freedom."
Jupiter Hammon, a New York slave, was the first black poet. He wrote An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.
Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable was the first settler in Chicago.
Crispus Attucks died in the Boston Massacre.
Phillis Wheatley was the first author and first major black poet. She wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. It was the second book published by an American woman.
Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery.
Lemuel Haynes of the Congregational Church was the first black minister certified by a predominantly white denomination.
The first general institution organized and managed by blacks was the Free African Society of Philadelphia. The first black Masonic lodge was African Lodge No. 459 in Boston. James Derham, a former slave, was the first black physician. He bought his freedom and established a large practice among both blacks and whites.
The first scientific writing by a black person was produced by astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Banneker, writing in his almanac, which was issued annually after 1792.
Lemuel Haynes was the first black to receive a degree from a U.S. college, an honorary M.A. from Middlebury College.
The first black insurance company was the American Insurance Company of Philadelphia.
Richard Allen was the first black bishop, elected at the general convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.
Frank Johnson became the first black to publish sheet music in the U.S.
The first black drama group was the African Company of New York City.
Thomas L. Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent, issued on March 3rd.
James Hall graduated from the Medical College of Maine, the first black to graduate from a U.S. medical college.
Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first black college graduate, who received a bachelor's degree from Middlebury College.
Freedom's Journal, published in New York City, was the first black newspaper.
The first black national convention met at Philadelphia's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Maria W. Stewart began an unprecedented public speaking tour at Franklin Hall in Boston. She was the first woman in the U.S. to engage in public political debates.
Henry Blair of Maryland was the first black inventor to receive a patent. He invented a corn planter.
Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first black elected to public office (the Vermont legislature).
Cheyney State Training School in Pennsylvania was the first black college established.
Mirror of Liberty, published in New York, was the first black magazine.
Macon B. Allen of Maine was the first black lawyer.
William Wells Brown, who wrote Clotel: or, The President's Daughter, was the first black novelist.
John V. DeGrasse was the first black to be admitted to a medical society, the Massachusetts Medical Society.
William Wells Brown was the first black playwright. He wrote The Escape.
Mary Jane Patterson was the first black woman to graduate from an American college--Oberlin College.
The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first African American regiment from a northern state to join the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Sgt. William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was the first black to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was 1 of 20 blacks who fought during the Civil War to receive Congressional Medals of Honor, although the honor was not awarded until May 23, 1900.
Rebecca Lee of Boston was the first black woman physician. The New Orleans Tribune, founded by Dr. Louis C. Roudanez, was the first black daily newspaper.
John S. Rock of Massachusetts was the first black lawyer admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Patrick Francis Healy was the first black to receive a Ph.D.
Lucy Hobbs was the first black woman to graduate from dental school.
Robert Tanner Freeman of Harvard University was the first black man to graduate from an American school of dentistry.
Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett became the first black diplomat and the first black to receive a major government appointment--he was appointed minister to Haiti by President Grant. John Willis Menard of Louisiana became the first black to speak on the floor of the House when he pleaded his own case concerning the election he had just won when he was denied a seat.
Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi became the first black U.S. Senator when he was elected to fill the unexpired term of Jefferson Davis. He was the first black in Congress. Joseph R. Rainey was the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jonathan Jasper Wright was the first black judge. He was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court. James W. Smith of South Carolina was the first black student at West Point Military Academy.
P.B.S. Pinchback became the first black governor (Louisiana). John Henry Conyers of South Carolina was the first black student at Annapolis Naval Academy. Charlotte E. Ray was the first black woman lawyer.
The first black to preside over the House of Representatives was Rep. Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina. Patrick Francis Healy was inaugurated president of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the U.S. Healy was the first African-American to head a predominantly white university.
The first black to serve a full term as a U.S. Senator was Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi. Oliver Lewis became the first black jockey--and the first jockey--to win the Kentucky Derby. Thirteen or fourteen jockeys in the first race were black. James A. Healy was the first black bishop of a predominantly white denomination, the Roman Catholic Church.
Edward A. Bouchet was the first black to receive a Ph.D. degree from an American university, Yale University.
Frederick Douglass became the first black to receive a major government appointment in the U.S., the U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. Henry O. Flipper was the first black to graduate from West Point.
Mary Eliza Mahoney enrolled in the New England Hospital Nursing School on March 26th. She became the first professionally trained African-American nurse in the U.S.
Blanche Kelso Bruce became the first black to preside over the U.S. Senate.
The first African-American nursing school in the country opened at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
John R. Lynch was the first black to preside over a national political convention (Republican). Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black in major league baseball, a catcher on the Toledo team of the American Association.
Matthew Henson moved in with his sister Eliza in Washington, D.C. Working as a stock boy for a haberdashery, he met civil engineer Lieutenant Robert Peary and began work with him as a valet. He proved himself more useful as a colleague, going with Peary on his crossings of northern Greenland in 1891-1892 and 1893-1895, lending invaluable support during the explorer's repeated struggles to reach the North Pole. He pushed Peary forward during periods of despair and saved his life on more than one occasion. He was also able to deal with the Inuits, who taught him to drive dogsleds and survive in their world, when the arrogant Peary could not convince them to lift a finger on his behalf.
Capital Savings Bank of Washington, D.C., was the first black bank.
George Dixon was the first black world champion in boxing, defeating Nunc Wallace in the 18th round.
Playing for center Harvard, William H. Lewis was the first black All-American from a major college.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful operation on the human heart at Chicago's Provident Hospital.
Oriental America was the first Broadway production with an all-black company.
Edwin P. "King" McCabe founded Langston University in Oklahoma, the first African American A & M College.
A Trip to Coontown was the first black musical comedy produced, directed and managed by blacks. It ran for 3 seasons in New York.
"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" was first performed.
Joe Walcott defeated Rube Ferns in 5 rounds to become the first black welterweight champion.
Joe Gans became the first black lightweight champion by knocking out Frank Erne in the 1st round.
Maggie Lena Walker founded the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank, becoming the first black woman to head a bank.
George Poage was the first black to compete in the Olympics.
Alain L. Locke was the first black Rhodes scholar.
Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion. He defeated Tommy Burns.
Matthew Henson became the first black to reach the North Pole, accompanying Robert Peary. Later Peary downplayed Henson's role in the expedition. Henson wrote a book, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. A racially-mixed group met at Niagara Falls to organize the NAACP. Then later in the year 300 blacks and whites met in New York City for the first NAACP conference.
W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" was the first published blues number. Bill Foster's comedy, The Railroad Porter was the first black film.
Sam Lucas was the first black actor in a full-length Hollywood film--he played Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The Lincoln Motion Picture Company was the first black movie production company. Ernest E. Just received the first Springarn Medal for pioneering research on fertilization and cell division.
Tally Holmes and Lucy Stone were the first black players to win the American Tennis Association championship.
Fritz Pollard was the first black professional football player. He was also the first black coach--he was a player-coach for the Akron Indians. He coached them to a world professional championship in 1920.
James Weldon Johnson became the first black secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People--he was preceded by three white women and two white men.
In June, aviator Bessie Coleman became the first African American and woman to be licensed as an international pilot. Georgiana Simpson and Sadie M. Alexander were the first black women awarded Ph.D. degrees one day apart.
The Chipwoman's Fortune was the first Broadway play by a black writer (Willis Richardson).
DeHart Hubbard was the first black to win an Olympic gold medal. Dixie to Broadway, "the first real revue by Negroes," opened in New York City. Florence Mills starred.
The First Negro History Week was observed. Tiger Flowers became the first black middleweight champion, defeating Harry Greb in 15 rounds.
Archibald Motley was the first black artist to have a show at the New Gallery of New York.
The first feature-length black Hollywood films were Hearts in Dixie and Hallelujah.
Caterina Jarboro was the first black to perform with an American opera company, the Chicago Opera Company.
Caterina Jarboro was the first flack prima donna of an opera company, performing Aida at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Mary McLeod Bethune was the first black woman to receive a major appointment from the U.S. government. She was named Director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Jesse Owens defied Hitler's racist predictions and won four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Crystal Bird Fauset of Pennsylvania was the first black woman elected to a state legislature.
Way Down South was the first film with a script by black writers (Langston Hughes and Clarence Muse). Jane Matilda Bolin was the first black woman judge (in New York City). The first full-length black film was Oscar Micheaux's Birthright.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black to receive an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first black general in the regular army. He was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Booker T. Washington was the first black to be pictured on a U.S. postage stamp--the 10-cent stamp.
W.E.B. Du Bois was the first black admitted to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Nat King Cole was the first black with his own network radio show.
Kenny Washington of the Los Angeles Rams was the first black player in professional football in the modern era.
Jackie Robinson was the first black in baseball's major leagues in the modern era. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first black players in a World Series were Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead, who played with the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Yankees.
Alice Coachman was the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics.
The first black-owned radio station was WERD in Atlanta.
Edith S. Sampson became the first black named to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. Charles Cooper was signed by the Boston Celtics and Harlem Globetrotter "Sweetwater" Nat Clifton's contract was purchased by the New York Knicks. They were the first black players in the NBA. Ralph J. Bunche, undersecretary of the U.N., was the first black to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first black to receive a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Althea Gibson was the first black tennis player to be accepted in national competition. Arthur Dorrington of the Atlantic City Seagulls was the first black man in organized hockey to suit up.
Amos 'n' Andy moved to television, the first TV show to have an all-black cast.
Jackie Robinson was named Director of Communication for NBC, becoming the first black executive of a major radio-TV network.
Lorraine Williams was the first black to win a nationally recognized tennis title, the junior girls' championship.
Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was the first black general in the U.S. Air Force.
E. Frederic Morrow was the first black named to an executive position in the White House. He was appointed administrative aide to President Eisenhower. Marian Anderson was the first black signed by the Metropolitan Opera. She appeared as Ulrica in Verdi's The Masked Ball on January 7th. The Brooklyn Dodgers took to the field, making history as the first team with a majority of black players.
Nat King Cole was the first black with his own network TV show, The Nat King Cole Show. Althea Gibson was the first black to win a major tennis title--the French Open.
Charles Sifford was the first black to win a major professional golf tournament (Long Beach Open). Althea Gibson was the first black to win a major U.S. national tennis championship. She was also the first black to win a Wimbledon championship.
Clifton R. Wharton Sr. was the first black to head a U.S. embassy in Europe. He was minister to Rumania. Althea Gibson was the first black voted female athlete of the year. Ruth Carol Taylor was the first black woman to become a stewardess. Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun was the first Broadway play by a black woman to be produced.
Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun was the first Broadway play by a black writer to win the New York Drama Critics Award.
Robert C. Weaver was the first black to head a major agency of the U.S. government as administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency. Ernest Davis of Syracuse was the first black to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy. With a contract for $85,000, Willie Mays was making more money than any other baseball player.
Jackie Robinson was the first black inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. John "Buck" O'Neil was the first black coach of a major league baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.
Sidney Poitier was the first black to receive an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize--he was 35. Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to play on the U.S. Davis Cup tennis team.
Patricia R. Harris took the post of U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, becoming the first African-American U.S. ambassador.
Robert C. Weaver became the first black cabinet member when appointed by President Johnson to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Andrew F. Brimmer was the first black governor of the Federal Reserve Board. Emmett Ashford was the first black umpire in the major leagues. Andrew F. Brimmer was the first black governor of the Federal Reserve Board.
Emlen Tunnell, a defensive back for the New York Giants, was the first black elected to the Football Hall of Fame. Thurgood Marshall became the first black Supreme Court justice.
Henry Lewis was the first black musical director of an American orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony. Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman in Congress. Moneta J. Sleet Jr. of Ebony magazine was the first black male to receive a Pulitzer Prize for photography.
Joseph L. Searles III became the first black on the New York Stock Exchange. Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa, was the first African-American contestant in the nation's most popular beauty pageant.
Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. was the first black admiral in the U.S. Navy.
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman nominated for president of the U.S. Jerome H. Holland was the first black elected to the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange. Bob Douglas, owner and coach of the New York Renaissance (which won 88 consecutive games in 1933) was the first black man to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Lee Elder was the first black to play in the Masters Tournament at Augusta, Georgia. The first black-owned TV station was Detroit's WGPR-TV.
Patricia R. Harris was the first black woman named to the cabinet of a U.S. president. She was appointed secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by Jimmy Carter.
The first black general in the Marine Corps was Frank E. Peterson, Jr. Hazel Johnson was appointed the first black woman general.
Guion Steward Bluford, Jr. was the first black in space. Vanessa Williams, Miss New York, was crowned the first black Miss America.
Navy Lt. Commander Donnie Cochran became the first black pilot to fly with the celebrated Blue Angels precision aerial demonstration team. Debi Thomas was the first black to win a world figure skating championship.
The Most Reverend Eugene Antonio Marino became the nation's first black Roman Catholic archbishop during an installation mass in the Atlantic Civic Center.
Oprah Winfrey became the first black to own her own television and film production company, Harpo Studios, Inc.
Vonetta Flowers was the first African-American to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympics. She won in the women's bobsleigh event on February 19th. Then on March 24th, Actress Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for best actress for the film Monster's Ball.
Black History Month Home
African American Firsts
African American Pioneers
in Health Care
Tribute to African American Doctors
Biographies of African American Pioneers in Health Care
William Edward Allen, Jr.
Keith Lanier Black
Lonnie Robert Bristow
Sara Winifred Brown
Solomon Carter Fuller
Lucille Constance Gunning
Robert Steward Jason
John B. Johnson, Jr.
Joseph Lealand Johnson
Myra Adele Logan
Arnold Hamilton Maloney
John Sweat Rock
Louis W. Sullivan
Jose English Wells
2/5/2016 2:18:00 PM
Office of Minority Health
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