10 African-American Firsts

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A Brief History

On April 8, 1975, slugger Frank Robinson became the first African-American major league baseball manager when he managed the Cleveland Indians opening day game.  Today we present a list of 10 notable African-American firsts.

Digging Deeper

10. Oprah Winfrey, 2003.

According to Forbes Magazine, Oprah became the first African-American billionaire.  Her power goes well beyond her money, as she has tremendous influence on (mostly women) Americans of all varieties.

9. Hattie McDaniel, 1939.

Hattie won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (Academy Award) for her role in Gone With The Wind, making her the first African-American Oscar winner.  (Note: It was actually awarded in 1940 for the 1939 movie season.)

8. Colin Powell, 2001.

A highly respected US Army general, Powell became the first African-American Secretary of State.  He was followed in that position by Condoleezza Rice, the first female African-American Secretary of State.

7. Arthur Ashe, 1968.

The first African-American man to win a Grand Slam tennis event (US Open), Ashe won 3 of the 4 major tennis titles in his career.  He died at age 49 from AIDS contracted from a heart operation.

6. Hiram Revels, 1870.

Following the Civil War when African-Americans were freed from slavery and given rights as citizens, Revels became the first African-American senator.  He represented the state of Mississippi.

5. Frank Robinson, 1975.

As stated above, the first African-American manager of a major league baseball team.  He also was one of the best hitters in baseball history, and won the Triple Crown (Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI’s) in 1966.

4. Jackie Robinson, 1947.

The first African-American player to play major league baseball in the modern era. He broke the ground that other greats like Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds followed. His courage and character as well as Hall of Fame performance made major sports what they are. He died at only 53 years old.

3. Carl Stokes, 1967.

First African-American mayor of a large American city (Cleveland), notable especially that Cleveland had a majority white population at the time.

2. Benjamin O. Davis.

The first African-American US Air Force general (actually, in any branch of the military).  He had also served as the commanding officer of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  Raised in Cleveland, he also attended Western Reserve College (now Case-Western Reserve) earning a law degree.  He later became Cleveland’s first African-American safety director.

1. Barack Obama, 2008.

The first African-American president of the United States, and of course in 2012 he became the first African-American president to be re-elected.  He is also the first president to have been born in Hawaii.

Question for students (and subscribers): What other events would you put on this list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Skipper, John C. Frank Robinson: A Baseball Biography. McFarland, 2014.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.