African-American firsts in the 19th Century

Posted in People

African-Americans are a demographic minority in the United States. This demographic has historically faced social and legal obstacles to cultural equality, including racial segregation.

African-Americans' initial achievements in various fields historically establish a foothold, providing a precedent for more widespread cultural change. The shorthand phrase for this is "breaking the color barrier". One commonly cited example is that of Jackie Robinson, who became the first African-American Major League Baseball player of the modern era, after years of resistance to Black players by Caucasian team-owners and the existence of the segregated Negro Leagues.


First African-American to hold a patent: Thomas L. Jennings


First African-American to receive a degree from an American college: Alexander Twilight


First African-American owned-and-operated newspaper: Freedom's Journal


First African-American elected to public office and to serve in a state legislature: Alexander Twilight


First professionally trained African-American doctor: James McCune Smith


First African-American licensed to practice law in the United States: Macon B. Allen (Massachusetts bar)


First African-American university professor: Charles L. Reason


First novel written by an African-American: Clotel; or, The President's Daughter, by William Wells Brown.


First play written by an African-American is published: The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom by William Wells Brown


First African-American field officer in the U.S. Army: Martin Delany


First elected African-American lieutenant governor: Oscar Dunn (Louisiana)


First African-American United States diplomat: Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, minister to Haiti


First African-American to vote in an election under the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting voting rights regardless of race: Thomas Mundy Peterson

January: First African-American elected to U.S. Congress: Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels (Republican, Mississippi)

December: First African-American elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Joseph Rainey (Republican, South Carolina)


First African-American governor (non-elected): P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana

First African-American nominee for Vice President of the United States: Frederick Douglass, Equal Rights Party.


First African-American to earn a doctorate degree: Edward Alexander Bouchet (Yale College Ph.D., physics; also first African-American to graduate from Yale, 1874)


First African-American graduate of West Point and first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. military: Henry Ossian Flipper


First African-American to play professional baseball at the major-league level: Moses Fleetwood Walker.


First African-American woman to hold a patent: Sarah E. Goode


First African-American Roman Catholic priest: Augustine Tolton


First African-American police officer in present-day New York City: Wiley Overton, hired by the Brooklyn Police Department seven years before the 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the city of New York.

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