Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events

Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events

by Jessie Carney Smith Ph.D.
Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events

Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events

by Jessie Carney Smith Ph.D.

Paperback(4th ed.)

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A celebration of achievement, accomplishments, and pride!

The first African American president, U.S. senator, and the first black lawyer in the Department of Education. The first black chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first African American commissioned officer in the Marine Corps. The first black professors in a variety of fields. The first African American advertising agency. The first African American Olympian. The first black pilot for a scheduled commercial airline. The first recorded slave revolt in North America. The first African American cookbook writer.

Revel and rejoice in the renowned and lesser-known, barrier-breaking trailblazers in all fields—arts, entertainment, business, civil rights, education, government, invention, journalism, religion, science, sports, music, and more. Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events, Fourth Edition bears witness to the long and complex history of African Americans!

Expanded, updated, and revised for the first time in over eight years, Black Firsts collects more than 500 all-new achievements and previously unearthed firsts. This massive tome proves that African American accomplishments are wide-ranging and ongoing, documenting thousands of personal victories and triumphs.

  • Who was the first black American depicted on a postage stamp? (1940 Booker Taliaferro Washington)
  • Who was the first African American bookseller? (1834 David Ruggles, New York City)
  • Where was the first black car dealership? (1941 Edward Davis, Detroit, Studebaker)
  • When was the first black-owned company listed on a major stock exchange? (1971 Johnson Products)
  • Who was the first black U.S. senator? (1870 Hiram Rhoades [Rhodes] Revels, Mississippi)
  • Who was the African American columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary? (1989 Clarence Page)
  • Who was the U.S. Supreme Court’s first black justice? (1967 Thurgood Marshall)
  • Who first broke the color barrier to become a flight attendant? (1958 Ruth Carol Taylor)
  • Who became the first black to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point? (1877 Henry Ossian Flipper)
  • Which model was the first black to grace Sports Illustrated cover? (1997 Tyra Banks)
  • Who became the American Medical Association’s first black president? (1995 Lonnie Bristow)
  • What is the oldest surviving black church in America? (The African Meeting House, built in 1806 and known as the Joy Street Baptist Church, in Boston)
  • Who became the first black pitcher to win a World Series game? (1952 Rookie of the Year, Joe Black, of the Brooklyn Dodgers)
  • Who was the first regularly recognized black physician in the United States? (1780s James Durham [Derham])
  • Who was the first black actress to receive an Emmy Award? (1969 Gail Fisher)
  • Who became the first black professional football player? (1904 Charles W. Follis)
  • What was first short story published by a black woman in the United States? (1859 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s “The Two Offers”)
  • Who was the black explorer who joined the Lewis and Clark expedition? (York)
  • Who was the first black lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court? (1880 Samuel R. Lowery)
  • Which two songs by black Americans were the first to be send out of the solar system? (1977 Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” on Voyager I)
  • What famous inventor and agronomist has a national monument named after him in Diamond, Missouri? (1960 George Washington Carver)
  • What movie featured the first black female lead in a Disney animated feature? (2009 “The Princess and the Frog” starred Anika Noni Rose)
  • Who was the first black American to win a gold medal in the women’s all-around final competition? (2012 Gabrielle “Gabby” Christina Victoria Douglas)
  • Who were the Tuskegee Airmen and why are they so famous? (1941 The U.S. Congress established the first combat unit for blacks in the Army Air Corps with a training facility for black airmen, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, located at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama)
  • Who participated in the first armed encounter of the American Revolution and later became the first black to receive an honorary master's degree? (Lemuel Haynes)
  • Who was the author of a book of poetry that won the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a black American? (1950 Gwendolyn Brooks for “Annie Allen”)
  • What was the first black record company? (Pace Phonograph Company established 1921 by Henry Pace)
  • Who was the black hero who sacrificed himself at the Boston Massacre, an event that would help inspire the American Revolution? (1770 Crispus Attucks)
  • Who was the first black entertainer to host his own talk show on national television? (1989 Arsenio Hall)
  • Who was the first African American to lead the NASA space program? (2009 Charles Frank Bolden Jr.)
  • Who was the first black American to win the Nobel Peace Prize? (1944 Ralph Johnson Bunche)
  • Who was the first black American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal? (1908 John Baxter “Doc” Taylor Jr. winner of the 4 X 400-meter relay in London)
  • Which inventor had the first patent granted an African American? (1872 Elijah McCoy)
  • Who was the first African American to win a Grammy Award? (1959 Count [William] Basie)
  • Who is thought to be the United States’ first black millionaire? (1890 Thomy Lafon, New Orleans real estate speculator and moneylender)
  • Who was the first black named Association of College and Research Librarian of the Year? (1985 Jessie Carney Smith)
  • Which black first sang a principal role with the Metropolitan Opera? (1955 Marian Anderson)
  • When was the first black judge appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals? (1966 Spottswood Robinson)
  • Which black artist was the first to be featured in a solo exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art? (1937 William Edmondson)
  • When was the first black mayor of Dallas elected? (1995 Ron Kirk)
  • Who was the first elected black chairman of Republican National Convention? (1884 John Roy Lynch)
  • Who was the first known black to graduate from an American college? (1823 Alexander Lucius Twilight received a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont)

    With more than 350 photos and illustrations, this information-rich book also includes a helpful bibliography and an extensive index, adding to its usefulness. This vital collection will appeal to anyone interested in America’s amazing history and resilient people.

  • Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781578596881
    Publisher: Visible Ink Press
    Publication date: 01/01/2021
    Series: The Multicultural History & Heroes Collection
    Edition description: 4th ed.
    Pages: 704
    Sales rank: 641,199
    Product dimensions: 7.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

    About the Author

    Distinguished in the library profession and recognized educator, author and scholar Jessie Carney Smith is dean of the library and holds the Camille Cosby Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at Fisk Universityin Nashville, Tennessee. She completed her undergraduate work at North Carolina A&T State Universityand holds master’s degrees from Michigan State Universityand Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Among Dr. Smith’s numerous awards are the National Women’s Book Association’s Award, the Candace Award for excellence in education, Sage magazine’s Anna J. Cooper Award for research on African American women, and the Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Her work includes Black Firsts, Black Heroes, The Handy African American History Answer Book, and with co-author Linda T. Wynn, Freedom Facts and Firsts all published by Visible Ink Press. She resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Read an Excerpt


    Business > Banking

    1888 • The True Reformers’ Bank of Richmond, Virginia, and the Capital Savings Bank of Washington, D.C., were the first black-created and black-run banks. The True Reformers’ Bank, or the Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, was chartered on March 2 and opened for business on April 3. The Capital Savings Bank was organized on October 17, and it was the first black bank to have no fraternal connections. Sources: Twenty-five Years History of the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, 1881–1905, p. 95.

    1889 • The Mutual Bank and Trust Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was the first black bank in the state. It failed during the panic of 1893. Sources: Negro Year Book, 1913, p. 230.

    1890 • The Alabama Penny Savings Bank was the first black-owned bank in Alabama. It opened in Birmingham on October 15 and was in business until 1915. Sources: Negro Year Book, 1913, p. 230.

    1908 • Jesse Binga (1865–1950) was the founder of the first black-owned bank in Chicago, Binga State Bank. It was also the first bank owned, managed, and controlled by blacks in the North. Beginning as a private bank, the institution received a state charter in 1920. When it closed during the Great Depression of 1932, Binga lost his fortune and thousands of black Chicagoans lost their savings as well. Binga was born in Detroit and left a promising business career to travel about Missouri, Minnesota, and Washington. He opened several barbershops and later made a handsome profit from land investments in Pocatello before settling in Chicago in the mid-1890s. By 1910 Binga, also a real estate agent and philanthropist, was Chicago’s leading businessman. Sources: Encyclopedia of Black America, p. 180; Gosnell, Negro Politicians, p. 107; Smith, Notable Black American Men, pp. 75–76.

    1913 • The Atlanta State Savings Bank was the first chartered black banking institution in Georgia. Atlanta Mutual, North Carolina Mutual, Pilgrim Health and Life, and Standard Life insurance companies were among its depositors. Sources: Mason, Going Against the Wind, p. 53.

    1942 • Channing Heggie Tobias (1882–1961) was elected to membership on the board of directors of the Modern Industrial Bank in New York City and became the first black elected to the board of a major bank. Tobias was born in Augusta, Georgia, and received his early education at the historic Haines Institute. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1902 from Paine Institute (now Paine College) and later taught there. He received his bachelor of divinity degree from Drew Theological Seminary in 1905 and was ordained in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. He later studied at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1913 he became student secretary of the International Committee of the YMCAs. From 1923 until 1946, Tobias served as senior secretary of the Colored Men’s Department of the National Council. He moved to the Phelps Stokes Fund, later serving as its first black director from 1946 to 1953. There he supported the fund’s mission as he worked to improve educational opportunities for blacks. He fought against segregation in the armed services during World War II and discrimination against black nurses during the war, and he sought compliance with the government order that barred racial discrimination in industries that held war contracts. Former secretary of the U.S. Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. nominated Tobias to the Modern Industrial Bank board of directors. Sources: Smith, Notable Black American Men, pp. 1122–25; Current Biography, 1945, pp. 609–12; “Mystery Man of Race Relations,” Ebony 6 (February 1951): 15–21.

    1953 • James Del Rio (1924–) was the first black licensed mortgage banker in the United States and established one of the first black mortgage companies in the country. Del Rio was a successful real estate broker in Detroit. He later served for eight years in the Michigan legislature, until 1973 when he became a Detroit Recorder’s Court judge. Sources: Ebony 18 (February 1963): 55–60; 29 (June 1974): 90–92; Ebony Success Library, vol. 1, p. 93.

    1953 • The Sivart Mortgage Company of Chicago, Illinois, was the first black mortgage banking firm. The firm was established by Chicago businessman Dempsey J. Travis (1920–2009). In 1961 the company was the first black-owned firm approved by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration. Sources: Alford, Famous First Blacks, p. 16; Ebony Success Library, vol. 2, pp. 256–59; Who’s Who among Black Americans, 26th ed., pp. 1243–44.

    1964 • Gateway National Bank was organized in Missouri, becoming the first black-owned bank in the state. It was founded by Clifton W. Gates, M. Leo Bohanon and James Hurt of the local Urban League; Howard Woods of the St. Louis Argus, and several other blacks. Sources: Walker, ed. Encyclopedia of African American Business History, p. 635.

    1965 • The Freedom National Bank was Harlem’s first black-chartered and black-operated bank. It was in business until November 5, 1990, when it was closed by federal regulators amid considerable controversy. Sources: Hornsby, Milestones in Twentieth-Century African-American History, p. 459; Negro Almanac, p. 218.

    1970 • Thomas A. Wood (1926–) was the first black to serve on the board of Chase Manhattan Bank. Wood received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. In 1968 he founded TAW International Leasing, a New York-based firm operating principally in Africa. Sources: Ebony 27 (March 1972): 88–96; Ebony Success Library, vol. 2, pp. 302–5; Encyclopedia of Black America, p. 867.

    1977 • The first woman to become vice president of Continental Bank of Philadelphia was Emma Carolyn [Bayton] Chappell (1941–). She was a teller and loan review specialist at Continental, before moving up to become the bank’s first black and first woman vice president. In 1990 Chappell became the first chair and chief executive officer of the newly founded United Bank of Philadelphia, which opened for service on March 23, 1992. The bank grew, withstood setbacks and by 1995 was named Black Enterprise magazine’s Financial Company of the Year. Through her efforts, Chappell contributed significantly to economic development of Philadelphia’s black community. She was a founder of the Rainbow Coalition and served as treasurer of Jesse Jackson’s campaign for President of the United States. Chappell was born in Philadelphia and was influenced greatly by her pastor, Reverend Leon H. Sullivan (1922–2001) of the Zion Baptist Church, an advocate of black economic development. Chappell graduated from Temple Universityand did graduate work in banking at Rutgers University. Sources: Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 18, pp. 25–27; Smith, Notable Black American Women, Book II, pp. 90–92; Who’s Who among African Americans, 26th ed., p. 229.

    1982 • Mildred Glenn became president of the New World National Bank in Pennsylvania and was the first black woman bank president in the state. New World National Bank is the only minority bank in the state. Sources: Jet 62 (14 June 1982): 47; Walker, ed., Encyclopedia of African American Business History, p. 639.

    1986 • Nathan A. Chapman Jr. (1957–) became founder and chief executive officer of the Chapman Company, the first black-owned investment banking firm in America. Sources: Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 37, pp. 37–39.

    1988 • Richard Dean Parsons (1948–) became the first black American to manage a major lending company, when he became Dime Savings Bank of New York’s chief operating officer. When he engineered a merger between Anchor Savings Bank and the financially troubled Dime Savings to create Dime Bancorp in 1995, he helped to create the nation’s fourth largest savings bank. Sources: Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 11, pp. 185–88; Salzman, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Supplement, pp. 214–15; New Yorker (October 29, 2001): 58–61.

    1994 • Catherine Davis-Cartey became the first black vice president of Michigan National Bank’s private banking division in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Prior to her appointment, she was a relationship manager for high network clients at the bank. Sources: Jet 85 (14 March 1994): 20.

    1994 • Sworn in by treasury secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Alice M. Dear was the first black woman and the second black American to serve as U.S. executive director of the African Development Bank headquartered in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Her responsibilities included oversight of the bank’s portfolio and management of its financial, operational, and administrative operations. Dear, a Gary, Indiana, native, graduated from Howard University. She was a flight attendant for Pan American World Airways and later vice president and marketing officer for New York’s Irving Trust Company where she handled banking services in Africa and the Middle East. In 1981 Dear, a pioneering entrepreneur, opened her own consulting firm and directed a wide range of global businesses. Sources: Jet 86 (16 May 1994): 20.

    1995 • Nashville’s Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Company, the oldest continuously operating minority-owned bank in the country, named Deborah Scott-Ensley its chief executive officer and seventh president. With the appointment, she became the first woman to hold the post at the bank. The Nashville native headed the bank when it closed its downtown office and relocated to the black community near Fisk and Tennessee State universities and Meharry Medical College. There the bank aimed to strengthen its focus as a community-oriented institution. Sources: Metropolitan Times (1 August 1995); Jet 88 (31 July 1995): 19.

    1998 • Norman B. Rice (1943–) became the first black head of the Federal Home Loan Bank board in Seattle. In 1999 Rice, former mayor of Seattle, became president and chief executive officer of the bank. Sources: Jet 93 (30 March 1998): 10.

    1998 • The first black to head the top bank in Detroit, one of the largest banks in the country, was Walter C. Watkins Jr. (1946?–). Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Watkins graduated from Fisk University. In 1977 he received his master’s degree in business administration from Wayne State University. He became branch manager of National Bank of Detroit in 1972, and in 1980 he was promoted to vice president of the Midwest banking division. In 1985 he was named first vice president and in 1988 head of the Eastern group. Watkins served as executive vice president of First Chicago NBD and head of regional banking in Michigan from 1987 until 1998. Since 1998 he has served as bank president. He serves as board member of several corporate and community groups and is a former member of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Fisk University. Sources: Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 24, pp. 178–79.

    2008? • Kimberly Young Lee is the first black woman president and chief executive officer of New Orleans-based Dryades Savings Bank. Federally chartered in 1994, the bank is a leading black-owned financial institution that serves Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. Lee is former vice president of Entergy Corporation in New Orleans. Sources: Jet 113 (4 February 2008): 19.

    2017 • Raphael Bostic was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and became the first African American to lead one of the twelve Federal Reserve’s regional banks. He took over on June 5, overseeing about 1,700 employees in the Atlanta region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Bostic is director of the Bedrosian Center of Governance at the University of California’s Price School. In 2001 he joined the University of Southern California as a professor in the school of policy and development. From 2009 to 2012, Bostic was assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has also worked as senior economist for the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., and won a special achievement award for his work on the Community Reinvestment Act. He holds a doctorate in economics from Stanford University. Sources: “USC Professor Named First African American President of a Fed Regional Bank,” Accessed March 16, 2017.

    Table of Contents

    About the Author

    01. Arts & Entertainment
    02. Business
    03. Civil Rights and Protest
    04. Education
    05. Government: County & State
    06. Government: Federal
    07. Government: International
    08. Government: Local
    09. Journalism
    10. Military
    11. Miscellaneous
    12. Organizations
    13. Religion
    14. Science and Medicine
    15. Sports
    16. Writers


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