Firsts in African-American history
His legacy: He was born into slavery in a rice plantation state (see where) and went from owning a barbershop to earning a seat in the House during the South’s Reconstruction Era. He spoke on behalf of the Committee on Freedmen’s Affairs and advocated for civil rights for African-Americans and Native Americans.
His legacy: He was an ordained minister in the A.M.E. church who served a single year in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seat, a post previously held by a famed pro-slavery statesman. He later became the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College
His legacy: He opened the country’s first interracial hospital where he performed one of the first open-heart surgeries on record. He later became chief surgeon of Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C., and was the first African-American inducted into the American College of Surgeons.
His legacy: He was a politically active journalist who represented the National Negro Labor Party (he lost to the man who inspired teddy bears). Among his platforms were pensions for ex-slaves and voting representation in Washington, D.C.
His legacy: The “Galveston Giant” (named for his hometown) won the heavyweight title after he knocked out Canadian Tommy Burns.Two years later, he prevailed against “the Great White Hope” in the Fight of the Century.
Her legacy: The radio and silver screen veteran (this was her big break) won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as a Southern servant in one of Hollywood’s most iconic films.
His legacy: He’s widely recognized as the player who broke baseball’s “color barrier” (here’s the history-making team). He reached MVP status by 1949 and became a Hall of Famer in 1962. On April 15, 1997, MLB teams retired all No. 42 jerseys in his honor.
Her legacy: This high school and college record-breaker from Georgia (see where) won her medal in the track and field high jump event during the 1948 Summer Olympics. She was the only American woman to win gold that year and was presented her medal by the king of England.
Her legacy: She's known for such poems as "We Real Cool," but her second book of poetry, “Annie Allen,” earned her the most acclaim. In 1968, she was named poet laureate of her home state of Illinois (she grew up here) and was presented the National Medal of Arts in 1995.
His legacy: This statesman played an important role in drafting the United Nations Charter and worked as a UN mediator in war-ravaged nations such as Congo and Yemen. He was the chief architect of armistice agreements between Israel and Arab States in 1949, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Her legacy: She made her U.S. Open debut in 1950, a time when the tennis world was largely segregated. In 1956, she became the first African-American player to win the singles title at the French Open and, after winning at Wimbledon in 1957, the Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year.
His legacy: The jazz pianist and bandleader borrowed from the Kansas City and Harlem sounds to make one all his own. He worked closely with the likes of "Lady Day" and “The First Lady of Song” and booked such prestigious venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Her legacy: She debuted at the Apollo in 1934 and became famous for such ditties as “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” She was one of the pioneers of jazz scatting and went on to eventually win 13 Grammy Awards during her career, including two in 1958.
His legacy: Though this running back for Syracuse University was the first African-American to be named the most outstanding player in collegiate football and the No. 1 draft pick in 1962, he never got to play pro football. Leukemia claimed his life at age 23.
His legacy: He tackled tough racial issues in such films as “Blackboard Jungle” and “No Way Out” and showed his funny side directing “Stir Crazy.” He was knighted in 1974, received an Honorary Academy Award in 2001 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009.
His legacy: Not to be confused with the first African comics hero (who was that?), this character was Marvel’s high-flying, bird-lover from Harlem — aka, Sam Wilson — who debuted in the pages of Captain America.
Her legacy: She switched gears from studying law (which school?) to pursue a modeling career. She broadened the notion of beauty with her August 1974 appearance on the cover of “the fashion bible” (though she reports she was too broke to buy it at the newsstand).
Her legacy: This gospel singer-turned-rock & roll icon was the first woman of any ethnicity to be inducted at Cleveland’s musical mecca. She holds 18 Grammys (and two honorary statues), boasts numerous chart-toppers and sang at the 2008 presidential inauguration.
His legacy: The MVP quarterback led his team (which one?) to its big ’88 victory. He would eventually return to his alma mater to coach its football team, the Tigers.
His legacy: This South Bronx native became a four-star general, national security advisor under Ronald Reagan and the first African-American Secretary of State. He has received two Presidential Medal of Freedom awards and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993.
His legacy: She went into orbit on NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour after serving as a Peace Corps medical officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the mid-’80s.She recalls one of the highlights of her space mission was looking down and seeing her hometown
Her legacy: She won a Pulitzer for her 1986 book of poems, “Thomas and Beulah,” wrote a play that graced the Kennedy Center stage and served as poet laureate from 1993 to 1995. She’s now commonwealth professor of English
His legacy: He is the founder of BET, former majority owner of an NBA franchise and the entrepreneur behind RLJ Companies. In 2001, Forbes put him in the spotlight as the first African-American mogul to break into billionaire status.