The following list 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.
African-American Firsts: Government
- Officeholder in colonial America: Matthias de Souza, 1641
- State elected official: Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1836.
- Municipal elected official: John Mercer Langston, 1855.
- County sheriff: Walter Burton, 1869.
- State Supreme Court Justice: Jonathan Jasper Wright, 1870.
- City mayor: Robert Wood, 1870.
- U.S. Representative: Joseph Rainey,1870.
- U.S. Senator (appointed): Hiram Revels, 1870.
- Governor (appointed): P.B.S. Pinchback, 1872.
- Person to run for the presidency: George Edwin Taylor, 1904.
- Woman legislator: Crystal Bird Fauset, 1938.
- U.S Senator (elected) Edward Brooke, 1966.
- U.S. cabinet member: Robert C. Weaver, 1966.
- Mayor of major city: Carl Stokes, 1967.
- Woman U.S. Representative: Shirley Chisholm, 1969.
- Woman cabinet officer: Patricia Harris, 1977.
- Governor (elected): L. Douglas Wilder, 1989.
- Woman mayor of a major U.S. city: Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, 1991.
- Woman U.S. Senator: Carol Mosely Braun, 1992.
- U.S. Secretary of State: Colin Powell, 2001.
- Woman Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice, 2005.
- Major party nominee for President: Sen. Barack Obama, 2008.
- U.S. President: Barack Obama, 2009.
African-American Firsts: Law
African-American Firsts: Diplomacy
African-American Firsts: Military
African-American Firsts: Science and Medicine
- U.S Army unit to have black men comprise more than half of its troops: 1st Rhode Island Regiment, 1778.
- Commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy: Robert Smalls, 1863.
- Commissioned officer above the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army: Major Martin R. Delany, 1865.
- West Point graduate: Henry O. Flipper, 1877.
- Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy: Wesley A. Brown, 1949.
- Congressional Medal of Honor winner: Sgt. William H. Carney, 1900.
- Combat pilot: Eugene Jacques Bullard, 1917.
- General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1940.
- Woman general: Hazel W. Johnson, 1979.
- Woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy: Janie L. Mines, 1980.
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell, 1989–1993.
- Woman Rear Admiral in the United States Navy: Lillian Fishburne, 1998.
- Patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, 1821.
- Hospital dedicated to black patient care: The Georgia Infirmary, 1832.
- M.D. degree: James McCune Smith, 1837.
- M.D. degree from a U.S. Medical School: David Jones Peck, 1847.
- Woman to receive an M.D. degree: Rebecca Lee Crumpler, 1864.
- Woman patent holder: Judy Reed, 1884.
- Black-owned hospital: Provident Hospital founded by Daniel Hale Williams, 1891.
- Heart surgery pioneer: Daniel Hale Williams, 1893.
- Developer of the blood bank: Dr. Charles Drew, 1940.
- Member of the National Academy of Sciences: David Harold Blackwell, 1965.
- Astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967.
- Implantation of heart defibrillator: Levi Watkins, Jr., 1980.
- Astronaut to travel in space: Guion Bluford, 1983.
- Head of the National Science Foundation: Walter E. Massey, 1990.
- Woman astronaut: Mae Jemison, 1992.
- President of the American Medical Association: Lonnie Bristow, 1995
- Space Shuttle Commander: Frederick D. Gregory, 1998.
African-American Firsts: Scholarship
African-American Firsts: Art and Literature
- College graduate (B.A.): Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1823.
- Graduate of an Ivy League School: Theodore Sedgewick Wright, 1828
- College professor: Charles Lewis Reason, 1849.
- Woman to graduate from a college, Lucy Stanton, 1850.
- College president: Daniel A. Payne, 1856.
- Non-white public high school: Paul Lawrence Dunbar High, 1870.
- Ph.D.: Edward A. Bouchet, 1876. .
- Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, George Washington Henderson, 1877.
- Rhodes scholar: Alain L. Locke, 1907.
- Women Ph.D's: Georgiana Simpson, Sadie Tanner Mossell and Eva Beatrice Dykes, 1921.
- Ivy League University president: Ruth Simmons, 2001.
- Poet: Lucy Terry, 1746.
- Published autobiography: Briton Hammon, 1760.
- Poet (published): Phillis Wheatley, 1773.
- Recognized artist: Joshua Johnston, 1790, portraiture.
- Woman's autobiography: Jarena Lee, 1831.
- Male Novelist: William Wells Brown, 1853.
- Woman novelist, Harriett Wilson, 1859.
- Recognized photographer: James Conway Farley, 1885
- Pulitzer prize winner: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950.
- Pulitzer prize winner in Drama: Charles Gordone, 1970.
- Poet Laureate: Robert Hayden, 1976.
- Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Toni Morrison, 1993.
- Woman Poet Laureate: Rita Dove, 1993.
African-American Firsts: Newspapers and Other Print Media
African-American Firsts: Music and Dance
African-American Firsts: Film and Theater
- First African American film company: Lincoln Motion Picture Company, 1916.
- Film director: Oscar Micheaux, 1919.
- First Oscar winner: Hattie McDaniel, 1940.
- First Honorary Oscar: James Baskett, 1948.
- Tony Award Winner: Juanita Hall, 1950.
- Oscar, Best Actor: Sidney Poitier 1963.
- Director for a major Hollywood studio: Gordon Parks, 1969.
- Woman director for a major Hollywood Studio: Julie Dash, 1991.
- Oscar, Best Actress: Halle Berry, 2001.
African-American Firsts: Radio and Television
African-American Firsts: Sports
- Jockey to win the Kentucky Derby: Oliver Lewis, 1875.
- Professional golfer: John Matthew Shippen, Jr., 1896
- World cycling champion: Marshall W. "Major" Taylor, 1899.
- Olympic medalist (Summer games): George Poage, 1904.
- Olympic gold medalist (Summer games): John Baxter "Doc" Taylor, 1908.
- World Heavyweight boxing champion: Jack Johnson, 1908.
- NFL football coach: Fritz Pollard, 1922–1937.
- Professional Race Car Driver, Rajo Jack De Soto, 1923
- Olympic gold medalist (Summer games; individual): DeHart Hubbard, 1924.
- Major league baseball player: Jackie Robinson, 1947.
- Woman gold medalist (Summer games; individual): Alice Coachman, 1948.
- NFL quarterback: Willie Thrower, 1953.
- Wimbledon tennis champion: Althea Gibson, 1957.
- NHL hockey player: Willie O'Ree, 1958, Boston Bruins.
- NASCAR stock car driver to win a major race: Wendell Oliver Scott, 1963.
- Male tennis champion: Arthur Ashe, 1968.
- Professional Bowlers Association Champion: George Branham III, 1985
- Olympic medalist (Winter games): Debi Thomas, 1988.
- Golf champion: Tiger Woods, 1997.
- Chess Grandmaster: Maurice Ashley, 1999
- Olympic gold medalist (Winter games): Vonetta Flowers, 2002.
- Olympic gold medalist (Winter games; individual): Shani Davis, 2006.
African-American Firsts: Religion
African-American Firsts: Business and Labor
- Baptist Church:David George and the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, 1773.
- African Episcopal (AME) Church: Mother Bethel AME Church, 1794.
- Church-Sponsored African American College: Wilberforce University, 1856.
- Episcopal Church Bishop: James Theodore Holly, 1879
- Pentecostal Faith Revival: William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival, 1906.
- National Black Catholic Fraternal Order: Knights of St. Peter Claver, 1909.
- Woman Bishop in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church: Barbara Harris, 1989.
- Woman Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church: Vashti Murphy McKenzie, 2000.
- President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Fred Luter, Jr., 2012
- Landowners: Anthony and Mary Johnson, 1640.
- Black-owned insurance company: The African Insurance Company, 1810.
- Black Labor Union: American League of Colored Laborers, 1850.
- Black-owned Bank: True Reformers Bank, 1889.
- Black-owned resort: Highland Beach, Maryland, 1893.
- Millionaire: Robert Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender in 1905.
- Automobile manufacturing company: C.R. Patterson & Sons, 1915.
- Record Company: Black Swan Records, 1921.
- Black-owned Youth Camp: Camp Atwater, 1921.
- Black-owned metropolitian newspaper: Robert Maynard and the Oakland Tribune, 1983
- Billionaire: Robert Johnson, 2001, owner of Black Entertainment Television.
Other African-American Firsts:
- Explorer, North Pole: Matthew Henson, 1909.
- Licensed Pilot: Bessie Coleman, 1921.
- Explorer, South Pole: George Gibbs, 1939–1941.
- Captain of an American Merchant Marine ship: Hugh Mulzac, 1942.
- Pilot for commercial airline: Perry Young, Jr., 1957.
- Flight Attendant: Ruth Carol Taylor, 1958.
- President of Girl Scouts, USA, Gloria Dean Randall Scott, 1975
- Woman commercial airline pilot: Jill Elaine Brown, 1978.
- Miss America: Vanessa Williams, 1984.
- Sail solo around the world: William Pinkney, 1990-1992
- Miss USA: Carole Ann-Marie Gist, 1990.
- President of the National League of Women Voters, Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins, 1994.
- President of the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA): Lois Jean White, 1995
- Flight around the world: Barrington Irving, 2007.
- Explorer, North Pole: Barbara Hillary, 2007.
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
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-