Black History Firsts 81 to 160
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones was the first African-American opera singer to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In 2007, Beyonce Knowles was the first non-model and non-athlete to pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer in Ohio when he passed the bar exam in 1854. His great-nephew was renowned African-American poet Langston Hughes.
The first African-American professional basketball player was Harry Lew, who in 1902 became a member of the New England Professional Basketball League.
Businessman Reginald F. Lewis was the first African American to build a billion-dollar company.
Alain Locke, a writer, philosopher and educator, was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and edited the Harlem Renaissance anthology The New Negro (1925).
Louis E. Lomax became the first black television journalist in 1958 after joining the staff of WNTA-TV in New York.
Donyale Luna was the first black cover girl, appearing on the front of British Vogue in March 1966.
In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, being lauded for her work in restoring forestation in Kenya.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Hattie McDaniel was first black performer to win an Academy Award, earning Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in the epic film, Gone with the Wind.
Actress Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to sing on the radio in America.
In 1910, writer William Foster became the first African American to form a movie production company: the Foster Photoplay Company.
Dancer Arthur Mitchell opened the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, in 1969.
In 1993, author Toni Morrison, became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for her work, Beloved.
In 1964, Constance Baker Motley became the first African-American woman to serve as a New York state senator.
The first interracial kiss to be seen on television was on an episode of the sci-fi drama Star Trek in 1968. The scene was a romantic moment between African-American actress Nichelle Nichols and white Canadian actor William Shatner.
Jackie Ormes became the first professional African-American female cartoonist with her 1937 serial comic "Dixie to Harlem." The strip featured character Torchy Brown, a teen who finds fame as an entertainer at New York's Cotton Club.
Black Swan Records, founded in 1921 by Harry Pace in Harlem, was the first U.S. record label that was black-owned. It was named after 19th century concert singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, who was known as the "Black Swan."
Gordon Parks was the first African American to direct, write, score and co-produce a major Hollywood film with 1969's The Learning Tree. The plot was based on Parks's semi-autobiographical book of the same name.
Gordon Parks was the first African-American staff photographer to work at LIFE magazine.
Samuel R. Pierce Jr., one of the members of the 1961 legal defense team for Martin Luther King, Jr., co-established Freedom National Bank, New York State's first predominantly black-managed bank. Pierce was also the first black partner of a major New York City law firm.
In 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana was the first African American to become a U.S. governor.
In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Academy Award in a leading role for his part in the film Lilies of the Field.
Charley Pride is one of the most successful African-American country singers of all time, with a career spanning decades and 36 No. 1 hits. He is the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry and the first African American to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Pride was a baseball player with the Negro League and the Memphis Red Sox before becoming a professional musician.
In 1974, Congressman Charles B. Rangel became the first African American to serve on the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
African-American surgeon Charles R. Drew organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States.
Singer and actress Della Reese was the first woman to serve as guest host of The Tonight Show and the first black woman to host her own variety show.
Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African-American congressman, becoming a senator in 1870 and serving the state of Mississippi.
Educator and politician, Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman to serve as national security adviser for the United States.
Scholar and politician, Condoleezza Rice, was the first African-American woman to serve as the U.S. National Security Advisor.
In 1993, educator and politician Condoleezza Rice became the first female, first African-American and youngest provost at Stanford University.
When he signed on to lead the Cleveland Indians in 1975, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in Major League Baseball history.
Major League Baseball's first African-American manager, Frank Robinson, managed the Cleveland Indians, the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles, the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals.
Baseball player Jackie Robinson became the first African American to be featured on a LIFE magazine cover on May 8, 1950.
Max Robinson was the first black network news anchor in the United States. He was also a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Roscoe Robinson was the first African American to become a four-star U.S. Army major general.
In 1984, Run-D.M.C. became the first rap act to have a music video played on MTV. They were also the first hip-hop group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, in 1986.
David Satcher was the first African-American man to serve as surgeon general of the United States.
In 1995, educator Ruth Simmons became the first African-American woman to head a major college when she was named president of Smith College. She also started the first engineering program at a women's college in the United States.
Educator Ruth Simmons became Brown University's 18th president in 2001, making her the first black president of an Ivy League institution and Brown's first female president. That same year, TIME magazine named her America's best college president.
Norma Sklarek became the first licensed, black female architect in 1954, and later became the first black woman to become a fellow with the American Institute of Architects. She was also the first African-American woman to establish and manage an architectural firm—Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond.
James McCune Smith was the first African American to practice medicine. He was denied entry into American colleges due to racism, so he moved to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow, where he would earn three degrees by 1837.
Musician and composer William Grant Still was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra and the first to have a symphony of his own performed by a leading orchestra.
In 1953, Toni Stone became the first woman to play professional baseball in a men's big-league team when she was selected as a second baseman for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns.
Percy E. Sutton was the first African-American Manhattan borough president.
Robert Robinson Taylor is recognized as the first academically educated black architect in the United States.
In 1958, Ruth Carol Taylor became the first African-American flight attendant, joining the staff of Mohawk Airlines.
The first African-American poet on record is Lucy Terry Prince, who wrote the poem "Bar's Fight" in 1746.
In 1988, figure skater Debi Thomas became the first African American to win a medal, bronze, at the Olympic Winter Games.
In 2002, Vonetta Flowers became the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games.
In 1821, Thomas L. Jennings became the first African American to receive a patent, which was for a dry-cleaning process. He used the money earned to purchase relatives out of slavery and support abolitionist causes.
Vermont native Alexander Lucius Twilight became the first black college graduate in the United States in 1823, earning a bachelor's from Middlebury College. In 1836, he became the first African American to be elected to public office, joining his home-state legislature.
Dr. Maulana Karenga created the African-American holiday Kwanzaa in 1966.
Booker T. Washington was the first African American to be invited to a formal White House dinner, with the request coming from President Theodore Roosevelt.
On April 7, 1940, educator and author Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp.
Educator Booker T. Washington was the first African American to be featured on a coin: the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar. The coin was minted in the United States from 1946 to 1951.
Harold Washington was the first African-American mayor of Chicago.
Singer and performer Ethel Waters became the first African-American star of a network television show- Beulah, which ran from 1950 to 1953.
In 1966, Robert Weaver became the first U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After his death in 1997, the HUD headquarters were renamed the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building in his honor.
Politician Robert Weaver was the first African American to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States.
Civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was one of the first American women to continue to keep her last name after her marriage.
In 1998, Mark Whitaker became editor of Newsweek, making him the first African American to lead a national newsweekly. During his tenure, the magazine won four National Magazine Awards.
In 1956, Willye B. White earned a silver at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, becoming the first American woman to medal in the long jump. She was only 16 years old.
In 1990, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia took oath as the first African-American elected governor in U.S. history.
Harriet E. Wilson is considered the first African-American writer to publish a novel in the United States with her 1859 autobiographical work, Our Nig.
Oprah Winfrey became the first black female U.S. billionaire in 2003.
In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show with the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first person of African-American or Asian ancestry to win the Masters Tournament.
In 1965, Lobo became the first African-American protagonist to headline his own comic book series. Published by Dell Comics, the story centered on a fictional character living in the Old West.
The African Free School in New York City was founded by the abolitionist group the New York Manumission Society in 1787. James McCune Smith, who attended the school, became the first black licensed physician in the United States while fellow student Henry Highland Garnett became the first black speaker to address Congress. In 1797, the school gained its first African-American headmaster, John Teasman.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. armed forces. Beginning in 1941, select groups of servicemen were rigorously trained at the Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field.
In 2010, Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African-American screenwriter to win an Academy Award. He was honored for writing Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.
In 1971, radio personalities Hal Jackson and Percy Sutton co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation. They also acquired WLIB-AM and WBLS-FM, the first African American-owned and -operated radio stations in New York City.
In 1872, Bridget "Biddy" Mason was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles' first black church.
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
Explore our curated collections of African-American figures, including:
Check out BIO’s original video series, American Freedom Stories, about the historic events of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, and the leaders and everyday heroes who fought to make racial equality a reality. Watch videos.
Flip through these photos of some of Black History's most important, controversial and inspiring figures. Check out our African-American Firsts - Athletes, Black Comedians, Million-Dollar Ideas, African-American Biopics, African-American Expats, or explore all of our Black History photos.
Celebrate the historical icons of America's black community through this interactive journey.
- Apollo Theater Interactive Tour
- Apollo Theater Timeline
- Path to Equality
- Who Am I Game
- Harlem Renaissance