101 African American Firsts

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African American history is about much more than chronicling a series of “firsts.”  The time and place of a breakthrough reflects not only remarkable individual achievement but is itself an indication of the progress or lack of progress of black people in realizing the centuries-old intertwined goals of freedom, equality, and justice.  Our 2014 Black History Month Observance examines the progreess toward those goals by acknowledging those who were the first in their fields of endeavor.  We at BlackPast.org have assembled the following list which provides the names of the first African Americans in a variety of areas of achievement in government, law, diplomacy, the military, science and medicine, sports, literature, and other fields. Some of the names below like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Halle Berry, or Barack Obama will be known to most who read this list.  Other names are less well known.  Regardless of their fame, we applaud the efforts of all on this list as we encourage many, many others to follow in their footsteps.

George Edwin Taylor Image Ownership: Public Domain

African-American Firsts: Government

African-American Firsts: Law

African-American Firsts: Diplomacy

African-American Firsts: Military

African-American Firsts: Science

African-American Firsts: Medicine

African-American Firsts: Scholarship

African-American Firsts: Art and Literature

African-American Firsts: Newspapers and Other Print Media

African-American Firsts: Music and Dance

African-American Firsts: Film and Theater

African-American Firsts: Radio and Television

African-American Firsts: Sports

African-American Firsts: Religion


African-American Firsts: Business and Labor


Other African-American Firsts:


For a detailed chronology of African American history please consult the following BlackPast.org timelines:

African American history, 1601-1700
African American history, 1701-1800
African American history, 1801-1900
African American history, 1901-2000
African American history, 2001-


Jessie Carney Smith, Black Firsts: 4,000 ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events (Detroit, Visible Ink Press, 2003); Charles M. Christian, Black Saga: The African American Experience, A Chronology (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995); Factmonster.com, http://www.factmonster.com/spot/bhmfirsts.html