Black History Names: Barrier Breakers
Black history is filled with the extraordinary names of extraordinary achievers. This being the first day of Black History Month, we thought we’d look back through African-American history, on the lookout for the (interesting) names of people who have made breakthroughs by being the first to achieve something, whether it be in the arena of goverment, Civil Rights, scholarship, the professions, sports or the arts. It’s quite surprising to see how recently some of them occurred.
Here are some outstanding black history names:
- Alexia Canada— first female African-American neurosurgeon (1984)
- Althea Gibson—first black to win a major tennis title (1956) and first black woman to play on the Ladies PGA golf tour (1964)
- Aretha Franklin—first black woman inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (1986)
- Aulana Peters—first black woman appointed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (1984)
- Bessie Coleman—first black woman aviator (1921)
- Biddy Mason—first known black female property owner in L.A. (1866)
- Camilla Williams—first black woman to sing with the New York City Opera (1945)
- Charlotta Bass—considered the first black woman newspaper publisher (1912), and the first African-American to run for vice-president (1952)
- Condoleezza Rice –first female head of the National Security Council (2001), first black woman Secretary of State (2005)
- Constance Baker Motley—first black woman federal judge (1966)
- Cora M. Brown—first black woman in the US to be elected to a state senate (1952)
- Della Reese—first black woman to host a TV variety show (1969)
- Euzham Palcy—first black woman director of a feature film for a major studio (1989)
- Dorothea Towles—first professional black woman model (1949)
- Dorothy Dandridge—first black woman nominated for an Oscar in a leading role (1955)
- Ella Fitzgerald—first black woman to win a Grammy (1959)
- Gwendolyn Stewart King—first black woman commissioner of Social Security (1989)
- Hazel Johnson—first black woman army general (1979)
- Hazel Scott—first black entertainer to host her own TV show (1950)
- Ida Rollins—the first black woman dentist (1890)
- Jewel Plummer Cobb — the first black woman president of a California State University (1981)
- Joycelyn (born Minnie) Elders –the first black female Surgeon General of the U.S. (1993)
- Katherine Dunham—first black choreographer to work at the Metropolitan Opera House (1963)
- Lorraine Hansberry—first African-American to win the NY Drama Critics Award (1959)
- Lucy Ann Stanton—the first black woman college graduate (1850)
- Maggie Lena Walker—first black woman bank president (1903)
- Mamie Smith—first black woman to make a recording (1920)
- Marvel Jackson Cooke—first full-time black reporter on a mainstream paper (1950)
- Maude Rutherford—dancer who first introduced the Charleston on Broadway (1922)
- Maya Angelou (born Marguerite) – first black woman to have a nonfiction bestseller (1970); first black inaugural poet (1993)
- Michelle Obama–first African-American first lady (2009)
- Minnie M. Geddings Cox—first black US postmistress (1891)
- Minyon Moore—first black woman political director of the National Democratic Committee (1995)
- Octavia Butler—the first published female black science fiction writer (1976)
- Oprah Winfrey==first black woman to host a nationally syndicated weekday talk show (1986)
- Otelia Cromwell—first black woman to graduate from Smith College (1900)
- Phillis Wheatley—published the first book of poetry by an African-American (1773)
- Susie King Taylor— first black army nurse (1863)
- Toni Morrison—first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for literature (1993)
- Zina Garrison—first black Olympic winner in tennis (1988)
- Alexander Lucius Twilight—first known black to graduate from an American college (1823)
- Arsenio Hall—first black to host a talk show on national TV (1989)
- Asa T. Spalding—the first black actuary in the U.S. (1932)
- Atoy Wilson—first black American ice skater to win a figure skating title (1966)
- August Wilson—first black American to have two plays running on Broadway (1985)
- Azie Taylor Morton —first black treasurer of the United States (1977)
- Barack Obama–first African-American president of the United States (2009)
- Booker T. Washinton–first president of Tuskegee Institute (1881),first black to dine at the White House (1901), first black on a US stamp (1940) and coin (1946)
- Briton Hammon—wrote the first known slave autobiography (1760)
- Coleman Young –Detroit’s first black mayor (1973)
- Colin Powell—the first black National Security Advisor (1987), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989), Secretary of State (2001)
- Cornelius Johnson—set an Olympic high jump record (1936)
- Derrick Albert Bell Jr— first black law professor at Harvard Law School (1969)
- Ebenezer Don Carlo Bassett—the first AFRICAN-American diplomat (1869)
- Emmett Ashford—first black umpire in the major leagues (1966)
- Gordon Parks—first black photojournalist on Life staff (1949)
- Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr—the first black American to make a space flight
- Hiram Rhodes Revels—first African-American U.S. senator (1870)
- Jacob Lawrence—first black artist represented by a New York gallery (1941)
- Jupiter Hammon—first African-American published writer (1760)
- Kobe Bryant—at 18, the youngest basketballer to play with the NBA—(1996)
- Langston Hughes—wrote the first play by an African-American to be a Broadway hit (1935)
- Lemuel Haynes—first black to receive an honorary degree in the US (1804)
- Levi Jackson—first black football captain at Yale (1948)
- Lincoln Perry—aka Stepin Fetchit—was the first black actor to receive feature billing in movies (1926)
- Lionel Hampton—first black musician to play at a presidential inauguration (1949)
- Lloyd Richards—first black director of a play on Broadway (1959)
- Lucas Santomee– first trained black physician in New Amsterdam (1667)
- Macon B. Allen— first African-American admitted to the bar in any state (1845)
- Mordecai Johnson — first black president of Howard University (1926)
- Moses Fleetwood Walker–first black in major league baseball (1881)
- Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback—first black governor of any state (1872)
- Rafer Johnson— first black to carry an American flag at an Olympic event (1960)
- Rojo Black— first black auto racer (1923)
- Roscoe Robinson, Jr—first US black four-star general (1982)
- Salem Poor—first black soldier to win a battle commendation (1775)
- Satchel Paige (born Leroy) – first black to pitch in a World Series game (1948)
- Sidney Poitier—first African-American to win the Best Actor Oscar (1963)
- Simeon Booker—first full-time African American reporter on the Washington Post (1952)
- Solomon Carter Fuller Jr—the nation’s first black psychiatrist (1897)
- Spottswood Robinson—the Court of Appeals’ first black judge (1966)
- Theophilos Thompson—earliest documented black American chess expert (1800s)
- Thomy Lafon—considered the first black millionaire (1890)
- Thurgood Marshall—first black US solicitor general (1965), first black Supreme Court Justice (1967) and first black Cabinet secretary (1997)
- Wynton Marsalis—first jazz artist to win a Pulitzer Prize (1997)
There are of course hundreds of other barrier-breakers, who just happened to have more common names. To find out more, I recommend the book Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events by Jessie Carney Smith.
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on February 1st, 2011 at 5:56 am
I believe that’s Biddy Mason, not Biddy Wilson.
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on February 1st, 2011 at 10:29 am
Fixed — thanks!
on February 1st, 2011 at 11:49 am
You’re missing one of my heroes, with a great self-given name…. Sojourner Truth was a women’s rights activist. She was born a slave in 1797 and died free in 1883. Reflecting on her escape to freedom with an infant daughter in 1826 she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be right.” She was an amazing orator and her speech “Ain’t I a Woman” continues to be referenced today.
on February 1st, 2011 at 1:02 pm
What about the first African-American president of the US: Barack Obama?
on February 1st, 2011 at 1:20 pm
OMG–how could we possibly have left him out!!!??
Heather Tucker Said
on February 1st, 2011 at 2:12 pm
Dr. Joycelyn Elders
From Wikipedia: (born Minnie Lee Jones on August 13, 1933)…….the first African American appointed as Surgeon General of the United States.
on February 1st, 2011 at 5:55 pm
I so love Octavia Butler! She would be well-worth naming a little girl after :).
on February 1st, 2011 at 7:52 pm
What about Booket T Washington? He was the first leader of Tuskegee Institute and the first black man to be invited to the White House.
And George W Carver, he was the first black man and non-president to have a monument dedicated to him.
And Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black professional baseball player.
on February 1st, 2011 at 8:54 pm
I have added Joycelyn Elders, Booker T. Washington and Moses Fleetwood Walker–thanks for suggesting.
Anna Grace Said
on February 1st, 2011 at 9:07 pm
What about Michelle Obama? Isn’t she first African-American First Lady?
on February 1st, 2011 at 9:12 pm
There’s something about Salem and Jupiter that I just love. These need a comeback
on February 1st, 2011 at 9:23 pm
Of course–but I was trying to select more unusual names.
on February 2nd, 2011 at 6:34 am
You forgot Oprah Winfrey! Her talk-show was televised nationally in Sept. 1986…so shouldn’t she be listed as being the first African-American to have a nationally televised talk show, not Arsenio Hall?
on February 2nd, 2011 at 11:29 am
The Obamas and Oprah have been added.
on February 2nd, 2011 at 7:20 pm
Ooh. Would be intrigued if you find out more about the name Guion. It’s not clickable.
on February 3rd, 2011 at 10:54 pm
How about Autherine Juanita Lucy? I heard her name on a tv show today. She was admitted to the University of Alabama and was the first black person to be admitted in a white public school or university in Alabama.
on February 4th, 2011 at 1:17 am
Therre were so many people who broke barriers in individual states that I just couldn’t fit them all in. Interesting name, though.
Emmy Jo Said
on February 6th, 2011 at 2:38 am
Oooh, I love so many of these names — Cora, Hiram, August, Moses, Hazel, Gwendolyn, Jewel, Simeon (and those last four are family names).
One thing I found funny: If you go to the entry for the name “African,” it says, “This name is a version of Mandela.” You might want to fix that.
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