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African American Achievements

These are the first black Americans to realize pioneering achievements in their fields. With talent and determination, each one has reinvented not only what it means to be an African American, but also what it means to be an American. Our list celebrates the first African Americans to overcome the obstacles of discrimination and achieve top honors in their fields of endeavor.

1.

Marian Anderson

First black member of the Metropolitan Opera Company, in 1955.

2.

Arthur Ashe
  • Arthur Ashe

First black man to win a Wimbledon singles title, defeating Jimmy Connors in 1975.

3.

Halle Berry
  • Halle Berry

First African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, in 2001 for Monster's Ball.

4.

Beyoncé
  • Beyoncé

In October 2003, black artists held all "Billboard" Top Ten chart positions for the first time in pop history. Beyoncé was No. 1.

5.

James Hubert (Eubie) Blake

Composed first Broadway musical written and directed by African-Americans.

6.

Guion Bluford

First African-American astronaut to launch into space, in 1983.

7.

Gwendolyn Brooks

First black to receive a Pulitzer Prize, in 1950.

8.

Ralph Bunche

First African-American to win a Nobel Peace Prize, in 1950.

9.

Shirley Chisholm

First black woman elected to Congress, in 1968 (from Brooklyn to 91st Congress).

10.

Nat King Cole

First back entertainer to host his own show on national television, in 1956.

11.

Elbert Frank Cox

First African-American to earn a PhD in Mathematics, in 1925 (Cornell University).

12.

Benjamin Oliver Davis

First black appointed to the rank of general, in 1940. His son, Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., was the first black general in the Air Force.

13.

Frederick Douglass
  • Frederick Douglass

First black to receive a major US government appointment, in 1877.

14.

Rita Dove

First black female US Poet Laureate, 1993-1995.

15.

Keith Ellison

First Black Muslim elected to U.S Congress, in 2006 from Minnesota.

16.

Althea Gibson
  • Althea Gibson

First African-American to play in the US Open, winning the tournament twice, in 1957 and 1958.

17.

Whitney Houston
  • Whitney Houston

First artist ever to have seven consecutive singles hit number one.

18.

Dr. Mae Jemison
  • Dr. Mae Jemison

First black woman astronaut to launch into space, in 1992.

19.

Jack Johnson

First African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, in 1908.

20.

Robert Johnson

The owner of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson became the first black billionaire in 2001.

21.

Simmie Knox

First black artist to paint an official presidential portrait (Bill Clinton).

22.

John Mercer Langston

First African-American elected to public office, in 1855 in Ohio.

23.

Oliver Lewis

First jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1875. Thirteen of the 14 jockeys in the first Derby were black.

24.

Reginald Lewis

First black person to own a billion-dollar company, TLC Beatrice Lewis opened TLC Group, a venture capital firm.

25.

Thurgood Marshall
  • Thurgood Marshall

First African-American appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1963.

26.

Hattie McDaniel

First African-American to win an Oscar, in 1940 for Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.

27.

James Meredith

First black graduate of the University of Mississippi, in 1963.

28.

Carol Moseley-Braun

First black woman to serve on the U.S. Senate, in 1992 from Illinois.

29.

Toni Morrison
  • Toni Morrison

First black to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993.

30.

Barack Obama
  • Barack Obama

First African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, 1991.

31.

Sidney Poitier
  • Sidney Poitier

First African-American to win Oscar for best actor ("Lillies of the Field," 1963). First black nominated for Best Actor Academy Award ("The Defiant Ones," 1958). First black to star as romantic lead ("Paris Blues," 1961). First black to become number-one box office draw (1968). First black to insist on a film crew at least 50% African-American ("The Lost Man," 1969). First black to kiss a white woman on screen ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," 1967).

32.

Colin L. Powell
  • Colin L. Powell

First black chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1989, and first black Secretary of State, in 2001.

33.

Charley Pride Charley Pride

First African-American inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, in 2000.

34.

Joseph Rainey

First black Congressman, in 1870 from South Carolina.

35.

Phylicia Rashad

First black woman to win Tony Award for dramatic lead on Broadway, in 2004, role of Lena Younger in "A Raisin in the Sun."

36.

Hiram R. Revels

First black member of the U.S. Senate (R-Miss), in 1870, sworn in to fill unexpired term of Jefferson Davis.

37.

Condoleezza Rice
  • Condoleezza Rice

First black woman Secretary of State, in 2005.

38.

Jackie Robinson
  • Jackie Robinson

First black major league baseball player, in 1947, and first black player elected to Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1962.

39.

Carl Stokes

First black mayor of a major American city, in 1967 (Cleveland).

40.

Willie Thrower

First black NFL quarterback, in 1953.

41.

Alexander Lucius Twilight

First black college graduate, in 1823 from Middlebury College.

42.

Emlen Tunnell

First black elected to the Football Hall of Fame, in 1967 (defensive back, New York Giants).

43.

Madam C. J. Walker
  • >Madam C. J. Walker

First self-made African American woman millionaire.

44.

L. Douglas Wilder

The first black governor elected by popular vote, 1990 (Virginia).

45.

Daniel Hale Williams

Founded the first black-owned hospital in America, and credited with the world's first successful heart surgery, in 1893 (Chicago).

46.

Tiger Woods
  • >Tiger Woods

First African-American to win the Masters golf tournament, in 1997.

47.

Andrew Young

First black U.S. Representative to the UN, in 1977.

48.

Eric Holder

In 2008, he became the first African-American attorney general designate in the United States.

49.

George Poage

First African-American to win a medal in the Olympic Games

50.

Alain Locke

First African-American Rhodes scholar

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