8 Influential African American Firsts | Urban Girl Mag
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8 Influential African American Firsts

This is a list of African Americans who have changed the world and who were the first to do it in their fields


Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson was born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Va. In high school he proved himself to be an outstanding student by completing the four year course of study in less than two years. Woodson went on to attend Berea college in Kentucky and then worked as the educational superintendent in the Philippines. Next, Woodson earned his bachelors and masters from the University of Chicago then he received a doctorate from Harvard university in 1912. He was the second African American to earn a Ph. D from there after W.E.B Du Bois. After finishing his college career he committed himself to making sure that African american history was taught in all schools. Due to all his efforts, Woodson was given the title” Father of Black History.” In 1915 Carter G. Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The goal of the association is to place African American historical contributions at attention. The next year he established the Journal of Negro History. He also formed the African American owned Associated Publishers press in 1921 and went on to write more than 12 books. His most adopted book by college institutions is mis-education of the Negro which is centered around African american self empowerment and the western indoctrination system. He also served as a principal for Washington D.C’s manual training school, dean at Howard University and the West Virginia collegiate institute. Wood son persuaded schools and organizations to participate in a program to influence the study of African american history. February 26, 1926 began Negro History Week.He chose February for the initial week long celebration because Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were both born in this month. Then because of its popularity the program was expanded and renamed black history month. To help teachers with studying African Americans he created the “negro history bulletin” for elementary and secondary schools students In 1937. Carter G. Woodson passed away on April 3, 1950. Carter G. Woodson is a influential African american because he went above and beyond for his people. Most importantly without him and his efforts we wouldn’t have black history month.

“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” said Carter G. Woodson


Madame C.J Walker


Sarah Breedlove best known as Madame C.J. Walker was born on Jan 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana. During the 1800s most people did not have plumping. So they did not have a way to wash their hair and that caused scalp disease then hair loss. Sarah began to suffer from hair lose herself and decides to fix this problem for African american women all over the world. So she developed vegetable shampoo, wonderful hair grower and other beauty products. She traveled around the country selling her products and changed her name to Madame C.J. walker. She later she founded Madam C. J Walker Laboratories for her beauty products. She then opened Walker College of Hair Culture where African American women would learn how to style hair. Madame C.J walker went on to become the first women millionaire before she passed away on may 25, 1919. Madame C.J Walker is one of the most influential African Americans because she changed the hair industry forever and she did not keep her success to herself she helped African american women in all types of ways besides opening her school, she founded scholarships and donated money to African american institutions.

“I am merely not satisfied in making money for myself,I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race,” Said Madame C.J Walker


Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2 1908. Thurgood was the star of the school debate team. Marshall’s dad enjoyed watching and listening to court cases and this made him want to become a lawyer. Marshall attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he continued to debate. Then after graduating he decided he wanted to go to the university of Maryland for law school but was not admitted because of his race. So he went to Howard University in D.C instead and finished first in his class. Then he opened a small practice in Baltimore. He heard that another student had been turned away from the university of Maryland because he was African american . So Marshall took the university to court and won the case so after that African Americans were allowed to attend the school. His most Famous case and one of the greatest supreme court decisions of the 20th century was Brown Vs. The Board of education. In 1954 it was illegal in some states for African Americans to attend the same schools as whites. The reason behind this was “ separate but equal” . Marshall disputed segregation in schools and took it to the supreme court. He came out victorious proving that segregation in schools unconstitutional. This was a defining moment in the civil rights movement. Later in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall for the supreme court. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 30, 1967. Thurgood Marshall was the first African american to serve on the supreme court. While serving he won 29 out of 32 cases . He passes away on January 24, 1993. Thurgood Marshall was an influential African american because he helped shape us a country. He fought for equality and stood down for no one. Just think if Thurgood Marshall didn’t break racial barriers in the school system would your life be the same? Would you have the same friends? Would you even be the same person?

“Ending racial discrimination in jury selection can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely,” Said Thurgood Marshall


Maya Angelou

Marguerite Annie Johnson aka Maya Angelou was born April 4th ,1928 in St.Louis Missouri. Growing up Maya experienced many instances of discrimination first hand after being sent to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. At the age of 8 during a visit back to St.Louis Angelou was molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Next he died at the hands of her uncles who brutally beat him. Maya felt like the death was her fault so she didn’t speak for about five years. In high school Maya became the first African american street car conductor. She studied dance and drama then went on to pursue a theater career. Angelou performed in the Broadway production of porgy and Bess, and the off Broadway production calypso heat wave. Then she released her first album miss calypso a little after that. Later she organized and starred in the musical cabaret for freedom and became the southern christian leadership northern coordinator. In the 1960s she worked as an editor and freelance writer living in Egypt and Ghana. After coming back to america she was encouraged to write about her life experiences she even marched with Martin Luther king Jr at the march on Washington in 1963. In 1969 she published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir about her life experiences as a child and young adult. She made history the first African american woman to have a non fiction best seller. This claimed her the title international star. She then wrote the drama Georgia, Georgia in 1972 becoming the first African american woman to have her screenplay produced. In 1977 she got a Emmy award nomination for her role in the mini TV series roots and many other honors. Angelou went on to write multiple auto biographies God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) and A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002). She also published collections of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. One of her most popular poems “on the pulse of morning” was wrote especially for president bill Clinton’s inauguration and she performed it at the ceremony. This marked the first inauguration recitation since Robert frost recited his poem “the gift outright” in 1961 at president john F Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou then went on to win a Grammy for the best spoken word album. In 1995 Angelou was praised for remaining on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years it was the longest-running record in the chart’s history. She received two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category for her 2005 cookbook and 2008’s Letter to My Daughter.She went on to write over 50 books and poetry collections before passing away on may 28, 2014. Maya Angelou is one of the influential African Americans because she broke barriers and inspired so many girls and women around the world.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise
– Maya Angelou “Still I rise


Thomas L. Jennings

Thomas L. Jennings was born free in 1791 in New York. He was the leader of the abolitionist movement. He began his journey as a tailor and went on to open one of the most popular clothing shops in New York, a lot of people began to ask him for cleaning advice so he started researching cleaning solutions. So he came up with a process called dry scouring. Then when he was 30 years old he received a patent for dry scoring which is known today as dry cleaning. Thomas L. Jennings was the first African american to receive rights to his own invention.

Mae C. Jemison

Mae Carol Jemison was born October 7, 1956 in Decatur, AL. When she was three, her family moved to Chicago so she could get a better education. During her high school years she spent most of her time studying astronomy. Then while attending Morgan Park high school she came to the conclusion that she wanted to be a biomedical engineer. After she graduated in 1973 as a honor student she won the national achievement scholarship and went on to attend Stanford. During college she was the head of the black student union. In 1977 Jemison she received a bachelor degree in science. Then went on to Cornell University Medical College. Later she studied in Cuba, Kenya and worked at Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. Jemison received her M.D in 1981. She was the area peace corps medical officer for sierra leone, Liberia and taught medical research for two and a half years. Once she came back to America, she thought it was time to do something new and applied for acceptance into NASA’s astronaut training program. Initially she did not get accepted because of the 1086 challenger disaster but upon reapplying a year later she was accepted. On June 4, 1987 Mae Jemison became the first African american female to be accepted into the astronaut training program. Then about a year later she became the first African american female astronaut. Then she earned the title science mission specialist. On September 12, 1992 Jemison flew into space with six astronauts. That day she became the first African american female in space. Mae Jemison is an influential African american because she went above the odds and achieved her dreams.

“What we find is that if you have a goal that is very, very far out, and you approach it in little steps, you start to get there faster. Your mind opens up to the possibilities,”said Mae Jemison

Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1983 he graduated from Columbia University. Then he went on to work as a community organizer in Chicago. Obama attended Harvard law School And was the first African American president of the Harvard law review.after graduating He was a civil rights attorney and a professor teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago from 1992 till 2004. A few years after he began teaching as a professor he represented the 13th district for three terms in the Illinois senate in 1997 in 2004 he ran for U.S senate and won. The he started to receive lots of attention for his July democratic national convention keynote address. In 2008 Obama was nominated for president . He defeated John McCain and won becoming the first African american president. Since LBJ’S great society Obama signed more landmark legislation than any other democratic president his most popular legislation was the affordable healthcare act also known as Obamacare. Obama went on to serve two terms and went out in 2017 as one of the most popular and fun presidents. Obama is a influential African american because he is living proof that race doesn’t mean ruling the world is impossible.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” said Barack Obama


Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris was born on May 31, 1924 in Mattoon,Illinois. Harris was always a scholar in school so in 1941 she received a scholarship to Howard University. During her time at the university she was vice chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people student branch. In 1945 Harris graduated from Howard and went on to study industrial relations at the University of Chicago. Then she went to George Washington University’s national law center and graduated at the top of her class in 1960. Upon graduation she spent a year with the department of justice. Then she was lecturer and professor at Howard university. During her free time she was a social activist for lots of causes. Later she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to co- chair the National Women’s committee for Civil rights. Which ran over 100 women’s organizations across the world. In 1965 Harris was appointed U.S ambassador to Luxembourg by President Lyndon B. Johnson. After 2 years she ended her work as an ambassador and went back to teaching at Howard. Then in 1969 she became the first African american woman to be the dean of the Howard university law school. In 1970 Harris was a corporate attorney at a big law firm. While remaining a corporate attorney she served on the boards of IBM, Scott Paper Company and Chase Manhattan Bank with the goal of influencing these organizations toward social change. In 1977 Harris left her law firm because she got selected by President Jimmy Carter for his Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This was a monumental moment in history, making HUD the first Cabinet department to be lead by an African american women. Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman to ever hold a cabinet position. Patricia Roberts Harris worked hard to end discriminatory housing, employment practices and to better and rebuild urban community. She left her position after President Carter Lost his reelection then she went back to where she began teaching at Howard university until she passed away on March 23, 1985. Patricia Roberts Harris is a influential African American because she broke open doors and stopped by no means to make change in struggling communities and stood up for women’s rights.

“Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining-car worker … If my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts can wind up as being part of the system,” said Patricia Roberts Harris




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