List of African-American firsts
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African Americans are a demographic minority in the United States. The first achievements by African Americans in various fields historically establish a foothold, providing a precedent for more widespread cultural change. The shorthand phrase for this is "breaking the color barrier".
One commonly cited example is that of Jackie Robinson, who was the first African American of the modern era to become a Major League Baseball player, ending 60 years of segregated leagues. Segregated Negro Leagues had been established for decades.
- First known African-American published author: Jupiter Hammon (poem "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries", published as a broadside)
- First known African-American woman to publish a book: Phillis Wheatley (Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral)
- First separate African American church: Silver Bluff Baptist Church, Aiken County, South Carolina[Note 1]
- First African American to formally practice medicine in the U.S.: James Derham, who did not hold an M.D. degree (See also: 1847)
- First major African-American Back-to-Africa movement: 1,200 Black Loyalist slaves who escaped to settle in Settler Town, Sierra Leone
- First African Methodist Episcopal Church established: Richard Allen founded Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- First African Episcopal Church established: Absalom Jones founded African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- First African American ordained as an Episcopal priest in the U.S.: Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- First fully independent African-American denomination: African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)
- First African American to receive a degree from an American college: Alexander Twilight, Middlebury College (See also: 1836)
- First African-American owned-and-operated newspaper: Freedom's Journal
- First African American elected to public office and to serve in a state legislature: Alexander Twilight, Vermont (See also: 1823)
- First formally trained African-American doctor: Dr. James McCune Smith from the University of Glasgow, Scotland (See also: 1783, 1847)
- First African American to graduate from a U.S. medical school: Dr. David J. Peck (Rush Medical College) (See also: 1783, 1837)
- First African-American president of any nation: Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia
- First African-American college professor at a predominantly white institution: Charles L. Reason, New York Central College
- First African-American member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Patrick Francis Healy. (See also: 1866, 1874)
- First novel written by an African American: Clotel; or, The President's Daughter, by William Wells Brown.[Note 2]
- First African-American Roman Catholic priest: James Augustine Healy (see 1875 and 1886)
- First institute of higher learning created to educate African Americans: Ashmun Institute in Pennsylvania, renamed Lincoln University in 1866. (See also: 1863)
- First published play by an African American: The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom by William Wells Brown
- First African-American female college instructor: Sarah Jane Woodson Early, Wilberforce College
- First North American military unit with African-American officers: 1st Louisiana Native Guard of the Confederate Army
- First African-American U.S. federal government civil servant: William Cooper Nell
- First African-American woman to earn a B.A.: Mary Jane Patterson, Oberlin College
- First recognized U.S. Army African-American combat unit: 1st South Carolina Volunteers
- First college owned and operated by African Americans: Wilberforce University, Ohio.[Note 3] (See also: 1854)
- First African-American president of a college: Bishop Daniel Payne (Wilberforce University)
- First African-American field officer in the U.S. Army: Martin Delany
- First African-American attorney admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court: John Swett Rock
- First African American to be commissioned as captain in the Regular U.S. Army: Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall, known as OSB Wall
- First African American to earn a Ph.D.: Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J. (from University of Leuven, Belgium). (See also 1851, 1874)
- First African-American woman enlistee in the U.S. Army: Cathay Williams
- First elected African-American Lieutenant Governor: Oscar Dunn (Louisiana).
- First African-American mayor: Pierre Caliste Landry, Donaldsonville, Louisiana
- First African-American U.S. diplomat: Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, minister to Haiti
- First African-American woman school principal: Fanny Jackson Coppin (Institute for Colored Youth)
- First African American to vote in an election under the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting voting rights regardless of race: Thomas Mundy Peterson
- First African American to graduate from Harvard College: Richard Theodore Greener.
- January: First African American elected to either chamber of the U.S. Congress: Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-Miss.).[Note 4]
- December: First African American elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Joseph Rainey (R-S.C.).[Note 5]
- First African-American midshipman admitted to the United States Naval Academy: John H. Conyers (nominated by Robert B. Elliott of South Carolina).
- First African-American governor (non-elected): P. B. S. Pinchback of Louisiana (See also: Douglas Wilder, 1990)
- First African-American nominee for Vice President of the United States: Frederick Douglass by the Equal Rights Party.[Note 6]
- First African-American president of a major college/university: Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J. of Georgetown College. (See also: 1851, 1863, 1866)
- First African-American Roman Catholic bishop: Bishop James Augustine Healy, of Portland, Maine. (See also: 1854)
- First African American to earn a doctorate degree from an American university: Edward Alexander Bouchet (Yale College Ph.D., physics; also first African American to graduate from Yale, 1874) (See also: 1866)
- First African-American graduate of West Point and first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. military: Henry Ossian Flipper.
- First African-American police officer in Boston, Massachusetts: Sergeant Horatio Julius Homer.
- First African American to graduate from a formal nursing school: Mary Eliza Mahoney, Boston, Massachusetts.
- First African American whose signature appeared on U.S. paper currency: Blanche K. Bruce, Register of the Treasury.
- First known African-American woman to graduate from one of the Seven Sisters college: Hortense Parker (Mount Holyoke College)[Note 7]
- First African American to play professional baseball at the major-league level: Moses Fleetwood Walker. (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1947) *First African-American woman to hold a patent: Judy W. Reed, for an improved dough kneader, Washington, D.C.[Note 8]
- First African-American Roman Catholic priest publicly known at the time to be African-American: Augustine Tolton, Quincy and Chicago, Illinois (See also: 1854)
- First African-American police officer in present-day New York City: Wiley Overton, hired by the Brooklyn Police Department prior to 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York. (See also: Samuel J. Battle, 1911)
- First African American to sing at Carnegie Hall: Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones
- First African American named to a College Football All-America Team: William H. Lewis, Harvard University
- First African American to earn a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) from Harvard University: W.E.B. Du Bois
- First African-American woman to work for the United States Postal Service: Mary Fields
- First African American to achieve world championship in any sport: Marshall "Major" Taylor, for 1-mile track cycling
- First African-American professional basketball player: Harry Lew (New England Professional Basketball League) (See also: 1950)
- First Broadway musical written by African Americans, and the first to star African Americans: In Dahomey
- First African-American woman to found and become president of a bank: Maggie L. Walker, St. Luke Penny Savings Bank (since 1930 the Consolidated Bank & Trust Company), Richmond, Virginia
- First Greek-letter fraternal organization established by African Americans: Sigma Pi Phi
- First African American to participate in the Olympic Games, and first to win a medal: George Poage (two bronze medals)
- First intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established by African Americans: Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ), at Cornell University
- First African-American Greek Orthodox priest and missionary in America: Very Rev. Fr. Robert Josias Morgan
- First African-American heavyweight boxing champion: Jack Johnson
- First African-American Olympic gold medal winner: John Taylor (Track and field medley relay team). (See also: DeHart Hubbard, 1924)
- First intercollegiate Greek-letter sorority established by African Americans: Alpha Kappa Alpha (ΑKΑ)
- First African-American scholar to address the American Historical Association: W.E.B. Du Bois[not relevant]
- First intercollegiate Greek-letter society established by African Americans at a historically black college: Omega Psi Phi (ΩΨΦ), at Howard University
- First African-American police officer in New York City: Samuel J. Battle, following the 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York, and the hiring of three African-American officers in the Brooklyn Police Department. Battle was also the NYPD's first African-American sergeant (1926), lieutenant (1935), and parole commissioner (1941). (See also: Wiley Overton, 1891)
- First African-American football player to play in a Rose Bowl game: Fritz Pollard, Brown University
- First African-American serviceman to become a colonel in the U.S. Army: Charles Young
- First African-American woman to be a police officer in Los Angeles: Georgia Robinson[not relevant]
- First African-American police officer killed in the line of duty: NYPD officer Robert H. Holmes
- First African-American woman to win a major sports title: Lucy Diggs Slowe, American Tennis Association
- First African-American NFL football players: Fritz Pollard (Akron Pros) and Bobby Marshall (Rock Island Independents)
- First African-American bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church: Robert Elijah Jones and Matthew Wesley Clair.
- First African-American woman to become an aviation pilot, first American to hold an international pilot license: Bessie Coleman
- First African-American NFL football coach: Fritz Pollard, co-head coach, Akron Pros, while continuing to play running back
- First African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the U.S.: Sadie Tanner Mossell, Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania
- First African American to win individual Olympic gold medal: DeHart Hubbard (Long jump, 1924 Summer Olympics). (See also: John Taylor, 1908)
- First African-American woman to receive a degree (Ph.D.) from Yale University: Otelia Cromwell, who had previously been the first African-American graduate of Smith College.[not relevant?]
- First post-Reconstruction African American elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Oscar Stanton De Priest (Republican; Illinois)
- First African-American composer to have symphony performed by leading orchestra: William Grant Still, Symphony No. 1, by Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
- First African American on a presidential ticket in the 20th century: James W. Ford (Communist Party USA, as vice-presidential candidate running with William Z. Foster)
- First African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat: Arthur W. Mitchell (Illinois)
- First trade union set up for African-American domestic workers by Dora Lee Jones[not relevant?]
- First known interracial jazz group: Benny Goodman Trio (Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa)
- First African American to conduct a major U.S. orchestra: William Grant Still (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
- First African-American federal magistrate: William H. Hastie (later the first African-American governor of the United States Virgin Islands)
- First African-American female federal agency head: Mary McLeod Bethune (National Youth Administration)
- First African American to win an Academy Award: Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress, Gone with the Wind, 1939)
- First African American to be portrayed on a U.S. postage stamp: Booker T. Washington
- First African-American flag officer: BG Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., U.S. Army[Note 9]
- First African American to be awarded the Navy Cross: Doris Miller
- First African-American member of the U.S. Marine Corps: Alfred Masters
- First African-American artists to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts: Mills Brothers ("Paper Doll"), topped "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on November 6 (See also: Tommy Edwards, 1958; The Platters, 1959)[not relevant]
- First African-American commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy: The "Golden Thirteen"
- First African American commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps: Samuel Gravely.[Note 10]
- First African American to co-pastor with a white minister at the first interracial church: Dr. Howard Thurman with Dr. Alfred Fisk, Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, San Francisco[not relevant?]
- First African American to receive a contract with a major American opera company: Camilla Williams
- First known comic book art by an African-American: Matt Baker for Fox Comics and Fiction House
- First African-American member of the New York City Opera: Todd Duncan[not relevant]
- First African-American U.S. Marine Corps officer: Frederick C. Branch
- First African-American Major League Baseball player of the modern era: Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers). (See also: Moses Fleetwood Walker, 1884)
- First African-American consensus college All-American basketball player: Don Barksdale
- First African-American artist to receive sole credit for a #1 hit on the Billboard charts: Count Basie ("Open the Door, Richard"), topped "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on February 22 (See also: Mills Brothers, 1943; Nat King Cole, 1950; Tommy Edwards, 1958; The Platters, 1959)
- First African-American full-time faculty member at a predominantly white law school: William Robert Ming (University of Chicago Law School)
- First comic book produced entirely by African-Americans: All-Negro Comics
- First African-American man to receive an Academy Award: James Baskett (Honorary Academy Award for his portrayal of "Uncle Remus" in Song of the South, 1946) (See also: Sidney Poitier, 1964)
- First African-American U.S. Navy aviator: Jesse L. Brown
- First African-American composer to have an opera performed by a major U.S. company: William Grant Still (Troubled Island, New York City Opera)
- First African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal: Alice Coachman
- First African American on an Olympic basketball team and first African-American Olympic gold medal basketball winner: Don Barksdale, in the 1948 Summer Olympics
- First African American to design and construct a professional golf course: Bill Powell
- First African American since Reconstruction to enroll at a traditionally white university of the South: Silas Hunt (University of Arkansas Law School)[Note 11]
- First African-American star of a regularly scheduled network television series: Bob Howard, The Bob Howard Show
- First African-American to star in network television sitcom: Amanda Randolph, The Laytons
- First African-American graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy: Wesley Brown
- First African American to hold rank of Ambassador of the United States: Edward R. Dudley, ambassador, and previously minister, to Liberia (See also: 1869)
- First African American to have opera performed by major company: William Grant Still, Troubled Island, New York City Opera
- First African American to win an MVP award in Major League Baseball: Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers, National League) (See also: Elston Howard, 1963)
- First regularly scheduled network television series with an all African-American cast: Uptown Jubilee
- First African American to win Pulitzer Prize: Gwendolyn Brooks (Book of poetry, Annie Allen, 1949)
- First African American to win Nobel Peace Prize: Ralph Bunche
- First individual African American as subject on the cover of Life magazine: Jackie Robinson, May 8, 1950
- First African-American star of a network television sitcom: Ethel Waters, Beulah
- First African-American woman to compete on the world tennis tour: Althea Gibson
- First African-American solo singer to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts: Nat King Cole ("Mona Lisa"), topped "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on July 15 (See also: Mills Brothers, 1943; Count Basie, 1947; Tommy Edwards, 1958; The Platters, 1959)
- First African American nominated for a Golden Globe Award: Juano Hernández (Most Promising Newcomer – Male, Intruder in the Dust)
- First African-American delegate to the United Nations: Edith S. Sampson (See also: 1961)
- First African-American NBA basketball players: Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (New York Knicks), Chuck Cooper (Boston Celtics), and Earl Lloyd (Washington Capitols). Note: Harold Hunter was the first to sign an NBA contract, signing with the Washington Capitols on April 26, 1950. However, he was cut from the team during training camp and did not play professionally.[Note 12] (See also: 1902)
- First African American named to the College Football Hall of Fame: Duke Slater, University of Iowa (1918–1921)
- First African-American woman elected to a U.S. state senate: Cora Brown, Democrat (Michigan)
- First African-American U.S. Marine Corps aviator: Frank E. Petersen
- First African-American woman to be nominated for a national political office: Charlotta Bass, Vice President (Progressive Party) (See also: 2000)
- First African-American basketball player to play in the NBA All-Star Game: Don Barksdale in the 1953 NBA All-Star Game
- First African American named as Dean of chapel at a majority white university: Howard Thurman at Marsh Chapel, Boston University
- First African-American woman to be made a member of ASCAP: Jessie Mae Robinson
- First African-American quarterback to play in the National Football League during the modern (post-World War II) era: Willie Thrower (Chicago Bears)
- First African-American U.S. Navy Diver: Carl Brashear
- First African-American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress: Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones, 1954). (At that time, nominations were announced in November of the year of release, instead of early the following year.)
- First individual African-American woman as subject on the cover of Life magazine: Dorothy Dandridge, November 1, 1954
- First African-American page for the U.S. Supreme Court, and first to be enrolled in the Capitol Page School: Charles V. Bush
- First African-American member of the Metropolitan Opera: Marian Anderson
- First African-American male dancer in a major ballet company: Arthur Mitchell (New York City Ballet; also first African-American principal dancer of a major ballet company (NYCB), 1956. (See also: 1969)
- First African-American singer to appear in a telecast opera: Leontyne Price in NBC's production of Tosca
- First African-American pilot of a scheduled US airline: August Martin (cargo airline Seaboard & Western Airlines) (See also: 1964)
- First African-American U.S. Secret Service agent: Charles Gittens
- First African American to break the color barrier in a bowl game in the Deep South: Bobby Grier, (Pittsburgh Panthers in the 1956 Sugar Bowl)
- First African American Wimbledon tennis champion: Althea Gibson (doubles, with Englishwoman Angela Buxton); also first African American to win a Grand Slam event (French Open). (See also: Arthur Ashe, 1968; Serena Williams, 2003)
- First African American to win the Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in Major League Baseball, in the award's inaugural year: Don Newcombe (Brooklyn Dodgers)
- First African American assistant coach in the NFL: Lowell W. Perry (See also: 1966)
- First African American to win the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival: John Kitzmiller (Dolina Miru)
- First African American to win Major League Baseball's Gold Glove, in the award's inaugural year: Willie Mays (New York Giants)[Note 13]
- First African American to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Tommy Edwards ("It's All in the Game"), September 29 (See also: The Platters, 1959)
- First African American flight attendant: Ruth Carol Taylor (Mohawk Airlines)
- First African-American Grammy Award winners, in the award's inaugural year: Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie (two awards each)
- First African American television journalist: Louis Lomax
- First African American group to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: The Platters ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"), January 19 (See also: Tommy Edwards, 1958)
- First African American to win a major national player of the year award in college basketball: Oscar Robertson, USBWA Player of the Year[Note 14] (in that award's inaugural year)
- First African-American U.S. presidential candidate: Rev. Clennon King, on the Independent Afro-American party
- First African American to win the Heisman Trophy: Ernie Davis
- First African-American tenor to sing leading roles for the Metropolitan Opera: George Shirley
- First African-American delegate to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Edith S. Sampson (See also: 1950}
- First African-American to go over Niagara Falls: Nathan Boya a.k.a. William FitzGerald
- First African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jackie Robinson (See also: Satchel Paige, 1971)
- First African-American coach in Major League Baseball: John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil (Chicago Cubs)
- First African-American composer nominated for an Academy Award: Duke Ellington (Best Music, Scoring of a Motion Picture, Paris Blues)
- First African-American attorney general of a state: Edward Brooke (Massachusetts) (See also: 1966)
- First African-American bank examiner for the United States Department of the Treasury: Roland Burris
- First African American named as Time magazine's Man of the Year: Martin Luther King, Jr.
- First African-American police officer of the NYPD to be named a precinct commander: Lloyd Sealy, commander of the NYPD's 28th Precinct in Harlem.
- First African American to be named American League MVP: Elston Howard (New York Yankees) (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1949)
- First African-American chess master: Walter Harris
- First African American to appear as a series regular on a prime time dramatic television series: Cicely Tyson, "East Side/West Side" (CBS).
- First African-American to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award: Diahann Carroll, for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role, for episode "A Horse Has a Big Head, Let Him Worry" of Naked City
- First African Americans inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame: New York Renaissance, inducted as a team. (See also: Bob Douglas, 1972; Bill Russell, 1975; Clarence Gaines, 1982)
- First African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy: Charles V. Bush.
- First African American to win a NASCAR Grand National event: Wendell Scott at Speedway Park, Jacksonville, Florida (To date, he is the only one.)
- First African-American pilot for a major commercial airline: David Harris, American Airlines[Note 15] (See also: 1955 and Marlon Green)
- First movie with African-American interracial marriage: One Potato, Two Potato, actors Bernie Hamilton and Barbara Barrie, written by Orville H. Hampton, Raphael Hayes, directed by Larry Peerce
- First African-American man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor: Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, 1963) (See also: James Baskett, 1948)
- First African-American Baseball Player to be named the World Series MVP: Bob Gibson (St. Louis Cardinals)
- First African-American nationally syndicated cartoonist: Morrie Turner (Wee Pals)
- First African-American title character of a comic book series: Lobo (Dell Comics). (See also: The Falcon, 1969, and Luke Cage, 1972)
- First African-American star of a network television drama: Bill Cosby, I Spy (co-star with Robert Culp)
- First African-American cast member of a daytime soap opera: Micki Grant who played Peggy Nolan Harris on Another World until 1972.
- First African-American Playboy Playmate centerfold: Jennifer Jackson (March issue)
- First African-American U.S. Air Force general: Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. (three-star lieutenant general)
- First African-American female Ambassador of the United States: Patricia Roberts Harris, ambassador to Luxembourg
- First African-American NFL official: Burl Toler, field judge/head linesman
- First African-American to win a national chess championship: Frank Street, Jr. (U.S. Amateur Championship)
- First African-American United States Solicitor General: Thurgood Marshall (See also: 1967)
- First African American male to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and first African American to win a Primetime Emmy Award: Bill Cosby, I Spy
- First African-American coach in the National Basketball Association: Bill Russell (Boston Celtics)
- First African-American mayor of a U.S. city: Robert C. Henry, (Springfield, Ohio, appointed by city commission)
- First African-American model on the cover of a Vogue (British Vogue) magazine: Donyale Luna
- First post-Reconstruction African American elected to the U.S. Senate (and first African American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote): Edward Brooke (Republican; Massachusetts) (See also: 1962)
- First African American Cabinet secretary: Robert C. Weaver (Department of Housing and Urban Development)
- First African-American Major League Baseball umpire: Emmett Ashford
- First African-American NFL broadcaster: Lowell W. Perry (CBS, on Pittsburgh Steelers games) (See also: 1957)
- First African-American fire commissioner of a major U.S. City: Robert O. Lowery of the New York City Fire Department
- First African American elected mayor of a large U.S. city: Carl B. Stokes (Cleveland, Ohio)
- First African American appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States: Thurgood Marshall (See also: 1965)
- First African American selected for astronaut training: Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
- First African American to win a PGA Tour event: Charlie Sifford (1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational)
- First African American to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Emlen Tunnell
- First African-American interracial kiss on network television: entertainers Nancy Sinatra (Caucasian) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (African American) on Sinatra's variety special Movin' With Nancy, airing December 11 on NBC (See also: 1968)
- First African-American interracial kiss on a network television drama: Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols (African American), and Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner (white Canadian): Star Trek: "Plato's Stepchildren" (See also: 1967)
- First African-American woman elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Shirley Chisholm (Democrat; New York)
- First African-American appointed as a United States Assistant Secretary of State: Barbara M. Watson
- First African-American man to win a Grand Slam tennis event: Arthur Ashe (US Open) (See also: Althea Gibson, 1956; Serena Williams, 2003)
- First African American to start at quarterback in the modern era of professional football: Marlin Briscoe (Denver Broncos, AFL)
- First African-American commissioned officer awarded the Medal of Honor: Riley L. Pitts
- First fine-arts museum devoted to African-American work: Studio Museum in Harlem
- First African-American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker: Diahann Carroll in Julia
- First African-American woman as Presidential candidate: Charlene Mitchell (See also: Shirley Chisholm, 1972)
- First African-American woman reporter for The New York Times: Nancy Hicks Maynard
- First African-American coach to win NBA Championship: Bill Russell
- First African-American superhero: The Falcon, Marvel Comics' Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969).[Note 16] (See also: Lobo, 1965 and Luke Cage, 1972)
- First African-American graduate of Harvard Business School: Lillian Lincoln
- First African-American director of a major Hollywood motion picture: Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree)
- First African-American founder of a classical training school and company of ballet: Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theatre of Harlem (See also: 1955)
- First African-American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry: Linda Martell
- First African American to head an Episcopal diocese: John Melville Burgess, diocesan bishop of Massachusetts
- First African-American U.S. Navy Master Diver: Carl Brashear
- First African-American member of the New York Stock Exchange: Joseph L. Searles III 
- First African-American basketball player to win the NBA All Star MVP, the NBA Finals MVP, & the NBA MVP all in the same season: Willis Reed (New York Knicks)
- First African-American NCAA Division I basketball coach: Will Robinson (Illinois State University)[Note 17]
- First African-American owners of a radio station: Hal Jackson and Percy Sutton, WLIB-New York
- First African-American pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Satchel Paige (See also: Jackie Robinson, 1962)
- First African-American president of the New York City Board of Education: Isaiah Edward Robinson, Jr.
- First African American to win an Academy Award in a non-acting category, winning Academy Award for Best Original Song: Isaac Hayes
- First African American to campaign for the U.S. presidency in a major political party and to win a U.S. presidential primary/caucus: Shirley Chisholm (Democratic Party, New Jersey primary) (See also: 1968)
- First African-American superhero to star in own comic-book series: Luke Cage, Marvel Comics' Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972).[Note 16] (See also: Lobo, 1965, and the Falcon, 1969)
- First African-American National Basketball Association general manager: Wayne Embry
- First African-American interracial kiss in a mainstream comics magazine: "The Men Who Called Him Monster", by writer Don McGregor (See also: 1975) and artist Luis Garcia, in Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazine Creepy #43 (Jan. 1972)
- First African-American interracial male kiss on network television: Sammy Davis, Jr. (African American) and Carroll O'Connor (Caucasian) in All in the Family
- First African American inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame: Team-owner and coach Bob Douglas, in the category of "contributor" (See also: New York Renaissance, 1963; player Bill Russell, 1975; coach Clarence Gaines, 1982)
- First African-American woman Broadway director: Vinnette Justine Carroll (Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope)
- First African-American comic-book creator to receive a "created by" cover-credit: Wayne Howard (Midnight Tales #1)
- First African-American artistic director of a professional regional theater: Harold Scott (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park)
- First African-American Bond villain: Yaphet Kotto, playing Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga, Live and Let Die.
- First African-American Bond Girl in a James Bond movie: Gloria Hendry (playing Rosie Carver), Live and Let Die.
- First African American elected mayor of Los Angeles, California: Tom Bradley
- First African-American psychologist in the U.S. Air Force: John D. Robinson
- First African-American woman mayor of a U.S. metropolitan city: Doris A. Davis, Compton, California
- First African-American woman to win a Primetime Emmy Award: Cicely Tyson, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
- First African-American model on the cover of American Vogue magazine: Beverly Johnson
- First African American elected mayor, and first mayor, of Washington, D.C.: Walter Washington
- First African-American game show host: Adam Wade (CBS' Musical Chairs)
- First African-American four-star general: Daniel James, Jr.
- First African American inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player: Bill Russell (See also: New York Renaissance, 1963; Bob Douglas, 1972; Clarence Gaines, 1982)
- First African-American interracial couple in a TV-series cast: The Jeffersons, actors Franklin Cover (Caucasian) and Roxie Roker (African American) as Tom & Helen Willis; series creator: Norman Lear
- First African-American interracial kiss in a color comic book: Amazing Adventures #31 (July 1975), feature "Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds", characters M'Shulla Scott and Carmilla Frost, by writer Don McGregor (See also: 1972) and artist P. Craig Russell
- First African-American manager in Major League Baseball: Frank Robinson (Cleveland Indians)
- First African-American model on the cover of Elle magazine: Beverly Johnson
- First African-American psychologist in the U.S. Navy: John D. Robinson
- First African American to play in a men's major golf championship: Lee Elder (The Masters)
- First African American to be named Super Bowl MVP in NFL: Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers). Of mixed heritage, Harris was also first Italian American to win the award.
- First African-American women named as Time magazine's, Person of the Year: Barbara Jordan and Addie L. Wyatt 
- First African-American woman elected officer of international labor union: Addie L. Wyatt
- First African American, and first woman, appointed director of the Peace Corps: Carolyn R. Payton
- First African-American woman in the U.S. Cabinet: Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- First African-American woman whose signature appeared on U.S. currency: Azie Taylor Morton, the 36th Treasurer of the United States
- First African-American publisher of mainstream gay publication: Alan Bell (Gaysweek)
- First African-American woman to join the Daughters of the American Revolution: Karen Batchelor
- First African-American Major League Baseball general manager: Bill Lucas (Atlanta Braves)
- First African-American broadcast network news anchor: Max Robinson
- First African American and first person to win the Emmy Award Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries: Esther Rolle
- First African-American U.S. Marine Corps general officer: Frank E. Petersen
- First African-American to win a Daytime Emmy Award for lead actor in a soap opera: Al Freeman, Jr. (Ed Hall in One Life to Live)
- First African-American head football coach in Division I-A: Willie Jeffries (Wichita State)
- First African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Charles Fuller for A Soldier's Play
- First African American inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach: Clarence Gaines (See also: New York Renaissance, 1963; Bob Douglas, 1972; Bill Russell, 1975)
- First African-American U.S. Army four-star General: Roscoe Robinson, Jr.
- First African-American astronaut: Guion Stewart "Guy" Bluford, Jr. (Challenger mission STS-8).[Note 19]
- First African-American mayor of Chicago: Harold Washington
- First African-American Miss America: Vanessa L. Williams
- First African-American owners of a major metropolitan newspaper: Robert C. and Nancy Hicks Maynard, (Oakland Tribune)
- First African American to win a delegate-awarding U.S. presidential primary/caucus: Jesse Jackson (Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two separate Mississippi contests).
- First African-American coach to win the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship: John Thompson (Georgetown)
- First African-American New York City Police Commissioner: Benjamin Ward
- First African American to become a member of the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team: Donnie Cochran. Also first African American to command the team (1994).
- First African-American woman general: Sherian Cadoria
- First African-American Formula One racecar driver: Willy T. Ribbs[Note 20] (See also: Ribbs, 1991)
- First African-American musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the inaugural class: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and Little Richard
- First African-American to die in spaceflight: Ronald McNair
- First African-American woman, and first woman, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Aretha Franklin
- First African-American woman elected to a U.S. judgeship, and first appointed to a state supreme court: Juanita Kidd Stout
- First African-American candidate for President of the United States to obtain ballot access in all 50 states: Lenora Fulani
- First African American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics (a bronze in figure skating): Debi Thomas
- First African-American quarterback to start (and win) in the Super Bowl: Doug Williams
- First African-American NFL referee: Johnny Grier
- First African-American NFL coach of the modern era: Art Shell, Los Angeles Raiders
- First African-American mayor of New York City: David Dinkins
- First African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell
- First African-American woman, and first woman, ordained bishop in the Episcopal Church: Barbara Clementine Harris
- First African-American Chairman of the Democratic National Committee: Ron Brown
- First elected African-American governor: Douglas Wilder (Democrat; Virginia) (See also: P. B. S. Pinchback, 1872)
- First African American elected president of the Harvard Law Review: Barack Obama (See also: 2008, 2009)
- First African-American Miss USA: Carole Gist
- First African-American Playboy Playmate of the Year: Renee Tenison
- First all African-American band to win the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance: Living Colour for "Cult of Personality"
- First African American nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood
- First African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 auto race: Willy T. Ribbs (See also: Ribbs, 1986)
- First African-American woman mayor of Washington, D.C.: Sharon Pratt Kelly
- First African-American NBA Coach of the Year: Don Chaney (Houston Rockets)
- First African-American woman astronaut: Dr. Mae Jemison (Space Shuttle Endeavour)
- First African-American woman elected to U.S. Senate: Carol Moseley Braun (Democrat; Illinois)
- First African American Major League Baseball manager to reach (and win) the World Series: Cito Gaston (Toronto Blue Jays) 1992 World Series
- First African-American woman to moderate a Presidential debate : Carole Simpson (second debate of 1992 campaign)
- First African-American woman appointed U.S. Secretary of Energy: Hazel R. O'Leary
- First African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison
- First African-American woman named Poet Laureate of the United States: Rita Dove; also the youngest person named to that position
- First African American appointed Surgeon General of the United States: Joycelyn Elders
- First African American appointed Director of the National Drug Control Policy: Lee P. Brown
- First African-American United States Secretary of Commerce: Ron Brown
- First African-American woman director of a major-studio movie: Darnell Martin (Columbia Pictures' I Like It Like That)
- First African American to win the United States Amateur Championship: Tiger Woods
- First African-American inductee to the Radio Hall of Fame: Hal Jackson
- First African-American Sergeant Major of the Army: Gene C. McKinney
- First African-American mayor of San Francisco: Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. (also first African-American Speaker of the California Assembly, 1980)
- First African-American U.S. Navy four-star admiral: J. Paul Reason
- First African-American MLB general manager to win the World Series: Bob Watson (New York Yankees), 1996 World Series
- First African American to win a men's major golf championship: Tiger Woods (The Masters)
- First African-American model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Tyra Banks
- First African-American UFC champion: Maurice Smith
- First African-American actor to star in the lead role in a comic-book adaptation movie (Spawn): Michael Jai White
- First African-American Director of the National Park Service: Robert Stanton
- First African American appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor: Alexis Herman
- First African-American woman to hold the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy: Lillian Fishburne
- First African-American Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard: Vincent W. Patton III
- First African-American mayor of Houston: Lee P. Brown
- First African American to play in the Presidents Cup: Tiger Woods
- First African American to be awarded the International Grandmaster title in chess: Maurice Ashley
- First African American Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps: Alford L. McMichael
- First African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company: Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae
- First African American nominated for Vice President of the United States by a Federal Election Commission-recognized and federally funded political party: Ezola B. Foster (See also: 1952; FEC established 1975)
- First African-American Secretary of State: Colin Powell
- First African-American president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: The Most Reverend Wilton Daniel Gregory
- First African-American president of the Unitarian Universalist Association: Rev. William G. Sinkford
- First African-American president of an Ivy League university: Ruth J. Simmons at Brown University, also the first permanent female president of Brown.
- First African-American woman to win the ASCAP Pop Music Songwriter of the Year award: Beyoncé Knowles
- First African-American woman to be appointed National Security Advisor: Republican :Condoleezza Rice (See also: 2005)
- First African-American billionaire: Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (see also 2002)
- First African-American female billionaire: Sheila Johnson
- First African-American Winter Olympic gold medal winner: Vonetta Flowers (two-woman bobsleigh). (See also: Shani Davis, 2006)
- First African American to become majority owner of a U.S. major sports league team: Robert L. Johnson (Charlotte Bobcats, NBA)[Note 21] (see also 2001)
- First African-American female combat pilot in the U.S. Armed Services: Captain Vernice Armour, USMC
- First African American to hold the #1 rank in tennis: Venus Williams, February 25, 2002.
- First African American to hold the year-end #1 rank in tennis: Serena Williams
- First African American to be named year-end world champion by the International Tennis Federation: Serena Williams
- First African-American Arena Football League head coach to win ArenaBowl: Darren Arbet (San Jose SaberCats), ArenaBowl XVI
- First African-American general manager in the National Football League: Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens)
- First African American to win a Career Grand Slam in tennis: Serena Williams (See also: Althea Gibson, 1956; Arthur Ashe, 1968)
- First African American to win Broadway theater's Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play: Phylicia Rashād
- First African-American NBA general manager to win the NBA Finals: Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons), 2004 NBA Finals
- First African-American Canadian Football League head coach to reach (and win) the Grey Cup: Pinball Clemons (Toronto Argonauts), 92nd Grey Cup
- First African-American woman appointed Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice (See also: 2001)
- First African-American woman U.S. Coast Guard aviator: Jeanine Menze
- First African-American individual Winter Olympic gold medal winner: Shani Davis (men's 1,000 meter speed skating) (See also: Vonetta Flowers, 2002)
- First African American to command a United States Marine Corps division: Major General Walter E. Gaskin
- First African American to reach the peak of Mount Everest: Sophia Danenberg
- First African-American NFL head coaches to reach the Super Bowl: Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, Super Bowl XLI[Note 22]
- First African-American NFL head coach to win the Super Bowl: Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts), Super Bowl XLI
- First known African-American woman to reach the North Pole: Barbara Hillary
- First African American to be nominated as a major-party U.S. presidential candidate: Barack Obama, Democratic Party
- First African American to referee a Super Bowl game: Mike Carey (Super Bowl XLII)
- First African-American NFL general manager to win the Super Bowl: Jerry Reese (New York Giants), Super Bowl XLII
- First African-American woman elected Speaker of a state House of Representatives: California Rep. Karen Bass
- First African American elected President of the United States: Barack Obama
- First African American to be appointed to the United States Senate by a state governor: Roland Burris
- First African-American female combat pilot in the United States Air Force: Major Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell
- First African-American First Lady of the United States: Michelle Obama
- First African-American chair of the Republican National Committee: Michael Steele
- First African-American United States Attorney General: Eric Holder
- First African-American woman United States Ambassador to the United Nations: Susan Rice
- First African-American United States Trade Representative: Ron Kirk
- First African-American woman Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Lisa P. Jackson
- First African-American White House Social Secretary: Desirée Rogers
- First African American to appear by himself on a circulating U.S. coin: Duke Ellington (District of Columbia quarter).
- First African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for History: Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
- First African-American Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
- First African-American woman rabbi: Alysa Stanton
- First African-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company: Ursula Burns, Xerox Corporation.
- First African-American doubles team to be named year-end world champion by the International Tennis Federation: Serena and Venus Williams
- First African American to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire) Geoffrey S. Fletcher
- First African-American Disney Princess: Tiana
- First African-American member of a Stanley Cup-winning team: Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago Blackhawks)
- List of African-American U.S. state firsts
- List of African-American United States Cabinet Secretaries
- List of first African-American mayors
- List of African-American Academy Award winners and nominees
- List of African-American Primetime Emmy Award nominees and winners
- List of African-American Golden Globe Award winners and nominees
- Timeline of African-American Civil Rights Movement
- This claim is contested by the First Baptist Church, Petersburg, Virginia (1774) and the First Colored Baptist Church, renamed First African Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia (1777).
- Because it was published in the U.K., the book is not the first African-American novel published in the United States. This credit goes to one of two disputed books: Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859), brought to light by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1982; or Julia C. Collins' The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride (1865), brought to light by William L. Andrews, an English literature professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Mitch Kachun, a history professor at Western Michigan University, in 2006. Andrews and Kachun document Our Nig as a novelized autobiography, and argue that The Curse of Caste is the first fully fictional novel by an African American to be published in the U.S.
- Founded earlier; not fully owned and operated by African Americans until 1863
- Revels, the Mississippi State Senate's Adams County representative, was elected by the U.S. Senate in January 1870 to fill an unexpired term.
- Rainey, a South Carolina state senator, was elected to fill the seat vacated by B. Franklin Whittemore. Rainey took his seat on December 12, 1870. John Willis Menard was actually the first African-American elected to the House (1868) but he was denied his seat.
- Douglass did not seek the nomination or campaign after being nominated.
- Parker graduated from Mount Holyoke when it was still a seminary.
- This was previously thought to be Sarah E. Goode (for the cabinet bed, Chicago, Illinois).
- His son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was the first African-American general in the United States Air Force.
- Gravely was also the first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship (1962), and the first promoted to the rank of admiral (1971).
- L. Clifford Davis applied to the law school in 1946, and after several failed attempts was granted admission in September 1947, but was unable to enroll in classes. Hunt later enrolled on February 2, 1948.
- Clifton was the first to sign an NBA contract and subsequently play, Cooper was the first to be drafted by an NBA team, and Lloyd was the first to play in an NBA regular-season game because his team's opening game was one day before the others.
- While two black players won Gold Gloves that year, only Mays is African American. The other, Minnie Miñoso, is a black Cuban.
- In 1998, the award would be renamed the Oscar Robertson Trophy after its first recipient.
- Harris' milestone came a year after Marlon Green, who had been rejected as a Continental Airlines applicant in 1957, won the United States Supreme Court case "Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission v. Continental Airlines, Inc. 372 U.S. 714 no. 146" which found Green had been unlawfully discriminated against.
- The first Black superhero, Marvel's Black Panther, introduced in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), is African, not African-American. This is also true of the first Black character to star in his own mainstream comic-book feature, Waku, Prince of the Bantu, who headlined one of four features in the multiple-character omnibus series Jungle Tales (Sept. 1954 – Sept. 1955), from Marvel's 1950s predecessor, Atlas Comics.
- At the time, the NCAA had not yet adopted its three-division system. Illinois State was in the NCAA University Division, which became Division I in 1973. The NCAA retroactively considers University Division members to have been Division I members.
- The NHL had fielded black players for more than 20 years, with the first being Willie O'Ree in 1958, but all previous black players were Black Canadians and not African American.
- Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Mendez was the first person of African descent in space, in 1980.
- Lewis Hamilton became the first black Formula One racer in 2006, but he is a British citizen of Grenadan ancestry, and not an African American. Ribbs did not compete in a race, but drove a Formula One car professionally in January 1986 as a tester for the Brabham-BMW at Estoril, Portugal.
- Announced as Bobcats' owner in December 2002, although team did not begin play until 2004.
- Smith and Dungy both reached this milestone on the same day, although Smith was technically the first due solely to scheduling. The NFC and AFC Championship Games are always held on the same day. In the playoffs that followed the 2006 NFL season, the NFC game was played first.
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