Black History Month – African American firsts

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Bessie Coleman

This sharecroppers’ daughter had dreams bigger than her home state of Texas could hold. Bessie Coleman became interested in aviation in her early 20s, but as an African American woman, she was denied admission to flight schools. She eventually learned to fly in France. In 1921, she became the first African American female pilot and the first to have an international aviation license.


Jackie Robinson

Most people know Jackie Robinson as the famous baseball player who ushered in a new era for African Americans in the Major Leagues. Not only did he create a presence for Blacks on the baseball diamond, but he also was the first to receive high profile awards. He was the first African American to win the League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1949. His prestige earned him a cover story in Life magazine in 1950 — the first African American to do so. In 1962, just ten years prior to his death, he was the first Black Major League player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.


Nat ‘King’ Cole

He tickled the ivory and sang jazz tunes that became instant classics such as “L-O-V-E”, “Unforgettable” and “When I Fall in Love”. However, Nat ‘King’ Cole tackled a major milestone when his own TV show debuted on NBC in 1956. Though short-lived, The Nat King Cole Show made him the first African American to host a network television program.


Sir Sidney Poitier

Black actors had come before him, but no one carried the poise and fierce intensity of Sir Sidney Poitier. His first film was the iconic 1955 Blackboard Jungle. He went on to be the first African American winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963 for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.


Toni Morrison

Readers and writers for generations have revered the works of Toni Morrison. She’s most widely known for her 1987 book, Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Morrison has received numerous awards during her literary career and became the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Condoleezza Rice

She served her country with grace and elegance during the George W. Bush administration and accomplished many firsts, not only for African Americans but also for women in high government. Rice was the first woman to be the National Security Advisor. Most importantly, she was also the first African American woman to be U.S. Secretary of State.


President Barack Obama – 44th president of the United States of America

Barack Obama is the first African American president of the United States. Obama was formerly a U.S. senator from Illinois. He was born in 1961 in Hawaii, where his parents met as students at the University of Hawaii. Obama’s father is from Kenya and his mother is from Kansas. He graduated from Columbia University and received his law degree from Harvard Law School. Obama previously served in the Illinois state Senate and was an instructor at the University of Chicago Law School. He and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters, Malia and Sasha.


Tyler Perry

Fans of his work know him for his comic role as the sassy, gun-wielding grandmother Mabel “Madea” Simmons”. However, what many don’t know is that actor/director/writer Tyler Perry broke a major color barrier when he rose to success.  Perry is the first African American to own his own television and film studio. With such box office blockbusters as Diary of a Man Black Woman and Madea Goes to Jail under his belt, Perry became one of Forbes top money-makers in Hollywood in 2010.

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