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BIO Classroom

Black History Fast Facts Inventions

Check out 159 achievements in Black History.
Fact #1

Soccer phenom Freddy Adu was the youngest athlete to play in a professional American sports league.

Fact #2

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon honored Ira Aldridge with a bronze plaque. He is the only African-American actor to receive this tribute.

Fact #3

BET was the first African-American controlled company to sell shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fact #4

Macon Bolling Allen was the first African-American to pass the bar and practice law in the United States in 1845.

Fact #5

Lawyer Macon Bolling Allen was the first black American Justice of the Peace and the first African-American licensed to practice law in the U.S.

Fact #6

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by Richard Allen became the first national black church in the United States in 1816.

Fact #7

Marian Anderson, a gifted contralto singer, was the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

Fact #8

In 1993, Maya Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration. She was the first poet to do an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost spoke for President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Fact #9

Writer and performer Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, before graduating from high school.

Fact #10

Maya Angelou's autobiographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first non-fiction work by an African-American woman to make the best-seller list.

Fact #11

In 1988, while at Temple University, scholar Molefi Asante founded the first Ph.D. program in African-American studies.

Fact #12

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to win the U.S. Open (1968); to come in first in the Wimbeldon men's singles (1975); and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

Fact #13

In 1963, tennis champion Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to be named to the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Fact #14

Jamaican-born chess player Maurice Ashley became the first Black Grandmaster in 1999. That same year, he opened the Harlem Chess Center, where he began coaching young chess players.

Fact #15

Deford Bailey was a wizard at playing the harmonica, and was most notable for mimicking the sound of locomotives. He was the first African-American to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the first African-American stars of country music.

Fact #16

Lawyer Constance Baker Motley was the first African-American woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fact #17

Model Tyra Banks was the first African-American woman on the covers of GQ magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Fact #18

In 1997, model Tyra Banks became the first-ever African-American on the cover of the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalog.

Fact #19

Benjamin Banneker was considered the first African-American scientist.

Fact #20

Before she was tapped to become Surgeon General of the United States in 2009, physician Regina Benjamin was the first African-American female, and the youngest person, to be elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees.

Fact #21

Halle Berry became the first African-American Miss World entrant in 1986.

Fact #22

In 2001, model and actress Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Monster's Ball.

Fact #23

In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first black astronaut to travel in space.

Fact #24

In 1932, Jane Bolin became the first black woman to become a judge in the United States. She was also the first black woman to receive a law degree from Yale.

Fact #25

In 1876, physics student Edward Alexander Bouchet became the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree.

Fact #26

Barbara Brandon was the country's only black female cartoonist to be nationally syndicated. Her strip was named "Where I'm Coming From."

Fact #27

Jane Brolin was the first African-American to graduate from Yale University's Law School.

Fact #28

In 1950, writer Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection, Annie Allen.

Fact #29

Ronald Brown was the United States Secretary of Commerce, serving during the first term of President Bill Clinton. He was the first African-American to hold this position.

Fact #30

Political scientist and diplomat, Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche, received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts in Palestine during the 1940s. He was the first African-American to receive the honor.

Fact #31

In 1995, African-American writer Octavia Butler became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

Fact #32

Alexa Canady became the first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States. She graduated from medical school in 1975.

Fact #33

Actress Diahann Carroll won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In A Television Series in 1968 for her role on the sitcom Julia. Carroll was the first African-American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker.

Fact #34

In 1987 Ben Carson, a skilled neurosurgeon, led the first successful operation to separate a pair of Siamese twin infants who were joined at the back of the head.

Fact #35

George Washington Carver who made agricultural advancements and inventions pertaining to the use of peanuts, and Percy Julian, who helped create drugs to combat glaucoma, were the first African-Americans admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

Fact #36

Politician and educator Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

Fact #37

Politician Shirley Chisholm was the first major-party African-American candidate for President of the United States.

Fact #38

Track-and-field star Alice Coachman made history when she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal—and the only American woman to win a medal—at the 1948 Olympic Games.

Fact #39

Singer and pianist, Nat 'King' Cole was the first black American to host a television variety show.

Fact #40

Nat 'King' Cole, a singer, song writer and pianist, was the first African-American to host a national television program, The Nat King Cole Show, in 1956.

Fact #41

Bessie Coleman was the first licensed African-American pilot in the world. She received aviation instruction in France.

Fact #42

In 1965, comedian Bill Cosby became the first African-American to star in a network television show when he co-starred with Robert Culp in the action-adventure show, I Spy.

Fact #43

Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864, becoming the first black woman to receive an M.D.

Fact #44

Two years after she played the role of Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, perfomer Halle Berry actually became the first African-American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.

Fact #45

Football star Ernie Davis was the No.1 pick in the 1962 NFL draft, becoming the first African-American football player to be chosen first.

Fact #46

Ernie Davis, the football running back, was the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman trophy.

Fact #47

In 2006, speed skater Shani Davis became the first black athlete at the Winter Olympics to win a gold medal in an individual sport.

Fact #48

Dominique Dawes was the first African-American to win an individual event medal in gymnastics.

Fact #49

Entrepreneur Suzanne de Passe is the first and only African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for screen writing.

Fact #50

Ruby Dee was the first black woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival.

Fact #51

In 1989, African-American David Dinkins, became the first non-white Mayor of New York City.

Fact #52

Larry Doby made history in 1947, when he became the first African-American to break the color barrier in the American League—less than three months after Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball.

Fact #53

Poet Rita Dove was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1993 not only as the youngest person, but also as the first African-American.

Fact #54

In 1943, physician Charles R. Drew became the first black surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.

Fact #55

Civil Rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University.

Fact #56

Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar founded the first African-American newsletter in Dayton, Ohio.

Fact #57

Baritone opera singer Todd Duncan became the first African-American to sing in a major opera company when he became a member of the New York City Opera in 1945.

Fact #58

Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl when the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears on February 4th, 2007.

Fact #59

Lee Elder was the first African-American golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975. He has won 4 PGA tournaments and 8 Senior PGA tournaments in his career.

Fact #60

M. Jocelyn Elders was the first African-American, and the second woman, to serve as the United States Surgeon General. Her term lasted for 15 months.

Fact #61

Jocelyn Elders was the first African-American to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.

Fact #62

In 1959, Ella Fitzgerald became the first African-American woman to earn a Grammy Award. She won five awards that year, including an award for best jazz soloist and one for best female pop vocalist.

Fact #63

Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African-American to graduate from West Point academy in 1877. He became the first black commander when he was assigned to the 10th Cavalry, a Buffalo Soldier regiment.

Fact #64

Soul singer Aretha Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Fact #65

In 1939, African-American George Gibbs became the first black man to explore the South Pole.

Fact #66

Althea Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to compete in the U.S. Championships in 1950 and at Wimbledon in 1951. In 1957 she won the women's singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957, which was celebrated by a ticker tape parade when she returned home to New York City.

Fact #67

The first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was Louis Gossett, Jr. for his role in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.

Fact #68

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first rap group to earn induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Fact #69

Richard Theodore Greener, was the first African-American graduate from Harvard in 1870. He started out at Oberlin college, the first American college to admit African-Americans and went on to become a lawyer.

Fact #70

Human rights activist Clara "Mother" Hale founded the first and, at the time, the only black social services agency in America in 1975. Over the course of her life, Mother Hale received more than 370 awards for her work in the fight against AIDS and inner city drug use.

Fact #71

Lorraine Hansberry authored A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman.

Fact #72

The first African-American woman to make it into the U.S. Cabinet was Patricia Roberts Harris, the 1977 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Fact #73

In 1963, U.S. Naval scientist Walter Harris became the first African-American chess master.

Fact #74

In 1954, African-American civil rights leader Anna Hedgeman became the first African-American woman to hold a mayoral cabinet position in the history of New York.

Fact #75

In 1904, African-American gym teacher Edwin Henderson learned the game of basketball while at a summer conference at Harvard University. Henderson introduced the game to the students at the segregated public schools of Washington, D.C., where it gained widespread popularity. For this, Henderson earned the title of "Father of Black Basketball."

Fact #76

Leon Higginbotham, Jr. was a U.S. civil rights advocate and judge, as well as the first African-American on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Fact #77

In 2007, Barbara Hillary became the first recorded African-American woman to reach the North Pole. She was 75 years old.

Fact #78

African-American Allen Iverson, was the first 76er to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year title.

Fact #79

African-American disc jockey Hal Jackson became the first radio personality to broadcast three daily shows on three different New York stations. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Fact #80

Model Jennifer Jackson was the first African-American model chosen as Playboy magazine's Playmate of the Month. She was featured in the March 1965 issue.

Fact #81

In 1950, African-American Mahalia Jackson became the first gospel singer to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Fact #82

In 2010, Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur became the first black couple in history to compete in Olympic pairs skating.

Fact #83

Mae Jemison became the first black female astronaut in 1992.

Fact #84

Jack Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Fact #85

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

Fact #86

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones was the first African-American opera singer to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Fact #87

In 2007, Beyonce Knowles was featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as the first female non-model and non-athlete to pose for the magazine.

Fact #88

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.

Fact #89

The first African-American professional basketball player was Harry Lew. In 1902, he became a member of the New England Professional Basketball League, where he was a skillful guard.

Fact #90

Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American sculptor, often sculpting courageous and inspirational people such as Cleopatra, Phillis Wheatley and President Ulysses S. Grant.

Fact #91

Businessman Reginald Lewis was the first African-American to build a billion dollar company.

Fact #92

Alain Locke, a writer, philosopher and intellectual, was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar. A strong supporter of African-American arts, he wrote about the Harlem Renaissance in The New Negro (1925).

Fact #93

Louis Lomax became the first black television journalist in 1958, when he joined the staff of WNTA-TV in New York.

Fact #94

Donyale Luna was the first black cover girl, appearing on the cover of the British version of Vogue magazine in March 1966.

Fact #95

Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She won for her contributions to preventing deforestation in Kenya.

Fact #96

Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Fact #97

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.

Fact #98

Actress Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to sing on the radio in America.

Fact #99

In 1919,Oscar Micheaux became the first African-American director with his film, Homesteader.

Fact #100

Dancer Arthur Mitchell opened the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, in 1969.

Fact #101

Author Toni Morrison, was the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her work, Beloved.

Fact #102

In 1964, Constance Baker Motley became the first African-American woman to serve as a New York State senator.

Fact #103

The first interracial kiss to be seen on network 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.

Fact #104

Artist Jackie Ormes became the first African-American 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.

Fact #105

Black Swan Records, founded in 1921 by Harry Pace in Harlem, was the first U.S. record label owned and operated by African-Americans. It was originally the Pace Phonograph Corporation and was renamed Black Swan Records after the 19th century opera singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, who was known as the Black Swan.

Fact #106

Gordon Parks was the first African-American to write, direct, and score a major Hollywood film with the 1969 movie The Learning Tree. The plot was based on Parks' semi-autobiographical book of the same name.

Fact #107

Photojournalist Gordon Parks was the first African-American to work at Life magazine.

Fact #108

Sam Pierce, one of the members of the legal defense team for Martin Luther King, Jr., became the first black partner of a major New York City law firm, and the first African-American to serve on the board of directors of a Fortune 500 corporation.

Fact #109

In 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana was the first African-American to become a U.S. governor, when he replaced a governor who had died while in office.

Fact #110

In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film, Lilies of the Field.

Fact #111

Charley Pride (1938 - ) is one of the most successful African-American country singers of all time, with a career spanning over 40 years and 36 number one hits. He is also the first African-American to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. Pride was a baseball player with the Negro League and the Memphis Red Sox before becoming a successful musician.

Fact #112

In 1981, Congressman Charles B. Rangel became the first African-American Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fact #113

Judy W. Reed was the first African-American woman to receive a patent in 1884 for a hand-operated machine used to knead and roll dough.

Fact #114

Singer and actress Della Reese was the first black woman to serve as guest host of The Tonight Show.

Fact #115

Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African-American U.S. Senator in 1870, serving the state of Mississippi. He was also the first African-American in U.S. Congress.

Fact #116

Educator Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State.

Fact #117

Scholar and politician, Condoleezza Rice, was the first African-American woman to serve as the U.S. National Security Advisor.

Fact #118

In 1993, educator and politician Condoleezza Rice became the first female, first minority, and youngest provost at Stanford University.

Fact #119

When he signed on to lead the Cleveland Indians, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in Major League Baseball history.

Fact #120

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.

Fact #121

Baseball player Jackie Robinson was the first individual African-American to be the subject of a Life magazine cover on May 8, 1950.

Fact #122

Max Robinson was the first black network news anchor in the United States. He is also a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Fact #123

Roscoe Robinson was the first African-American to become a four-star U.S. Army Major General.

Fact #124

Hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. became the first rap act to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone and make a video appearance on MTV.

Fact #125

David Satcher was the first African-American male to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.

Fact #126

Educator Ruth Simmons became Brown University's 18th president in 2001, making her the first black president of an Ivy League institution. That same year, Time magazine named her America's best college president.

Fact #127

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 started the school's first engineering program.

Fact #128

In 1992, Carole Simpson became the first African-American to moderate a presidential debate. It was between presidential candidates Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Fact #129

Norma Sklarek became the first licensed, black female architect in 1954, and remained the only African-American woman architect for 20 years.

Fact #130

James McCune Smith is the first African-American in the United States to practice medicine. He was denied entry into several American colleges, so he moved to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow in 1835.

Fact #131

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.

Fact #132

Toni Stone became the first woman—and first African-American—to play professional baseball when she was selected as a second baseman for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns.

Fact #133

Percy E. Sutton was the first African-American President of the Borough of Manhattan.

Fact #134

Robert Robinson Taylor was the first professionally-educated black architect in the United States.

Fact #135

In 1958, Ruth Carol Taylor became the first African-American flight attendant. She worked for Mowhawk Airlines.

Fact #136

The first African-American poet on record is Lucy Terry, who wrote the poem 'Bar's Fight' in 1746. It is her only surviving poem.

Fact #137

Debi Thomas (1967 - ), the talented figure-skater, is the first African-American to win a medal (bronze) at the Winter Olympic games (1988).

Fact #138

In 2002, Vonetta Flowers became the first African-American to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympic games.

Fact #139

Charles Henry Turner (1867 - 1923), a zoologist and educator, was the first person to discover that insects can hear.

Fact #140

Vermont native Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first black college graduate. He received a B.A. from Middlebury College in 1823.

Fact #141

Madame C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) (1876 - 1919) invented specialized hair products for African-American hair and became the first American woman to become a millionaire.

Fact #142

Booker T. Washington was the first African-American invited to the White House.

Fact #143

On April 7, 1940, educator and author Booker T. Washington became the first African-American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp.

Fact #144

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 U.S. from 1946 to 1951.

Fact #145

Harold Washington was an American lawyer and politician who became the first African-American mayor of Chicago.

Fact #146

Singer and performer Ethel Waters became the first African-American star of a network television show. The sitcom, Beulah, was about a cook and housekeeper of the same name.

Fact #147

In 1966, Robert Weaver served as the first United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (also known as HUD). After his death in 1997, the HUD headquarters was renamed the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building in his honor.

Fact #148

Politician Robert Weaver was the first African-American to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States.

Fact #149

Black civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was one of the first American women to continue to keep her last name after her marriage.

Fact #150

In 1998, Mark Whitaker became the editor of Newsweek, making him the first African-American to lead a national newsmagazine. During his tenure, the magazine won four National Magazine Awards.

Fact #151

In 1956, Willye B. White earned a silver medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, becoming the first American woman to ever medal in the long jump. She was only 16 years old.

Fact #152

In 1989, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the first African-American elected governor in U.S. history.

Fact #153

Harriet E. Wilson is considered the first African-American writer to publish a novel in the United States with her 1859 autobiography, Our Nig.

Fact #154

Oprah Winfrey became the first female U.S. billionaire in 2003.

Fact #155

In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female TV host when she started The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Fact #156

In 1997, Tiger Woods was the first African-American man to win the Masters tournament.

Fact #157

In 1965, Lobo became the first African-American character to headline his own comic book series. The story centers on a fictional character who lived in the Old West, and was published by Dell Comics.

Fact #158

The African Free School in New York City was the first free school for African-Americans. It was started by the abolitionist group the New York Manumission Society in 1787.

Fact #159

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. armed forces. Beginning in 1941, select groups of extensively tested and rigorously trained African-Americans were trained at The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen are depicted in the G.I. Joe action figure series.

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