History Now

Vanessa Williams

The gorgeous Williams born born March 18, 1963 in Tarrytown, NY became the first African-American to be crowned Miss America in 1984. Representing New York,when controversial photos surfaced Williams was forced to resign, and Suzette Charles, the runner-up and also an African American, assumed the title.

Ozzie Newsome

Born March 16, 1956 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama is a former American football tight end for the Cleveland Browns, an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in 2002 the very first African-American to become a NFL General manager. Go Ravens!

Lovie Smith

In 2007, Smith became the first African-American NFL Head Coach to take his 2006 Chicago Bears team to the Superbowl.Born May 8, 1958 in Gladwater, Texas his career football career started with him as a defensive end and linebacker in high school in Big Sandy.

Barrington Irving

Jamaican Barrington Irving, born November 11, 1983 is not only the first black man, but the youngest person to pilot a plane around the world solo in 2007.

L. Douglas Wilder

Born Lawrence Douglas Wilder on January 17, 1931 in Richmond, was the first African-American to be elected as governor of a U.S. state, and the second to actually serve (P.B.S Pinchback first appointed African-American governor in 1872). Wilder served as the 66th Governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994.

Mae Johnson

Nine years later, in 1992 Jemison became the first African-American female astronaut in space.Born in Decatur, Georgia on October 17, 1956 Jemison orbited into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Percy Sutton

Both Jackson and Sutton broke numerous color barriers in radio. Jackson, born in 1915, in Charleston, became the first African-American network radio host.In 1971, Jackson joined Sutton, Manhattan borough president to co-found the first African-American owned and operated radio station, later known as WBLS. Sutton passed away last December at the age of 89.

Debi Thomas

Debra Janine “Debi” Thomas born March 25, 1967 in Poughkeepsie, New York is an American figure skater that became the first African-American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.She is the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist for figure skating for the informal competition, the Battle of the Carmens.

Collin Powell

In politics Colin Powell, born April 5, 1937, is the first of many. In 1989, NYC raised Powell became the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later in 2001 the first African-American to become the 65th Secretary of State.

Franklin Raines

Born in Seattle, Washington, Raines became the first African-American CEO of the Fortune 500 company, the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae in 1999.

Toni Morrison

We love Toni.She became the first African American woman or man to win Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1993. Morrison born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931 is well known for her book Beloved, that was later adapted into film.

Rita Dove

Rita Frances Dove may have been the second African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, but in 1993 she became the first African-American woman to be appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.Born August 28, 1952 in Akron, Ohio, she is apart of small few appointed to the same position in 1999.

Ruth Simmons

Ruth Jean Simmons born July 3, 1945 is the 18th and current president of Brown University and the first black president of an Ivy League institution.Born and raised in Grapeland, Texas Simmons assumed office in fall of 2001. That same year, Time named her as America’s best college president.

Frederick Gregory

Frederick Drew Gregory, born January 7, 1941 is a former NASA astronaut and former NASA Deputy Administrator. He also served briefly as NASA Acting Administrator in early 2005, after becoming the first African-American Shuttle Commander in 1998.

Guion Bluford

Although not the first black astronaut (Robert H. Lawrence holds that title), Bluford became the first black man in space in 1983.Born in Philly November 22, 1942, Bluford was the pilot in the crew of mission STS-8 on the Challenger space shuttle.

Eric Holder

Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. born January 21, 1951 is the 82nd and current Attorney General of the United States and the first African-American to hold the position, under the Obama administration.

Renee Tenison

Again, African-American excel in everything. Renee Tenison born December 2, 1968 in Caldwell, Idaho became the first African-American Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1990.

Aretha Franklin

R-E-S-P-E-C-T her. In 1987 Franklin became not only the first African-American woman, but first woman period to be inducted in the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame.

Tyler Perry

Rags to riches, last to first. Tyler Perry, born September 13, 1969 is an American actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and author. In 2008, Perry became the first African-American to own a movie and TV studio, resulting in him being in the top ten highest-paid men in Hollywood.

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey is the Queen of Talk for a reason. In 1986 she became the first African-American woman in to host her own television show, as well the first black female to own television and film company. Born on January 29, 1954 in rural Mississippi, Winfrey is now one of the richest women in the world.

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November 2008 the Obamas became our first African American US President and first African-American First Lady. Major.

Rev. W. Sterling Cary

From 1972 -1975, W. Sterling Carey was the first African-American president of the National Council of Churches.

Eugene Antonio Marino

Eugene Antonio Marino becomes the first black Roman Catholic archbishop in the United States as he is named archbishop of the Atlanta in 1988. He was of both African American and Puerto Rican descent, and passed away at the age of 66.

Samuel Lee Gravely Jr.

Bill White

Born January 28, 1934 in Lakewood, Florida, Bill White who played with Jackie Robinson in 1956, became the first African-American to head a professional sports league.From 1989-1994 he served as President of the entire National Baseball League after spending his earlier years as the former St. Cardinals first basemen.

Condelezza Rice

Rice who served under the Bush administration, became the first African-American woman in 2005 to serve as the US Secretary of State. Born November 14, 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama she also was the first African-American woman to be National Security adviser in 2001.

Andrew Young

This Georgia pastor born March 12, 1932 became the first African-American United States Representative to the United Nations from 1977-1979. Born in ‘Nawlins Young was a very dear friend and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Shirley Chislom

You think of African-American women in politics, you immediately think Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm. Born in November 30, 1924 Chisholm became the first black woman in the US House of Representatives in 1969, and in the 1972 Presidential Election the first African-American woman to for Presidency before passing in 2005.

Joseph Searles

On February 12, 1970, Joseph L. Searles III became the first black floor member and floor broker in the New York Stock Exchange. He worked as a floor partner in the firm of Neburger, Loeb and Company.

Max Robinson

Max Robinson was the National Association of Black Journalists, and ABC News World News Tonight co-anchor. 1978 he became the first African-American broadcast network news anchor in the United States, he died of AIDS in 1988 at the young age of 49.

Robert Hayden

Born Asa Bundy Sheffy in Detroit, Hayden was an American poet, essayist, educator. He was appointed the first African-American Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976-1978 and died at the age of 66 in 1980.

Charles Gordone

Charles Edward Gordone was an American playwright, actor, director, and educator. In 1970, he was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and devoted much of his professional life to the pursuit of multi-racial American theater and unity until he passed at the age of 70 in 1995.

Robert Johnson

Say what you may about BET, but it generates profit. In fact in 2001, it made Robert L. “Bob” Johnson founder Black Entertainment Television the first African-American billionaire. Although Johnson in 2005, at the age of 59, turned over the titles of President and Chief Operating Officer of BET, but he’s still ballin’!

Vinnette Justine Carroll

Born March 11, 1922, in NYC, Carroll, became the first African-American to direct on Broadway. Her 1972 gospel musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Hope, was nominated for four Tony Awards.Carroll passed at the age 80, in 2002.

Dr. William V Banks

The first Black-owned TV station, WGPR-TV, went on the air September 1975.The station was organized and founded by a Detroit group headed by Dr. William V. Banks born Geneva, Ky., passed away at the age of 82, in 1985.

Val James

Born February 14, 1957 in Ocala, Florida James is a now a retired professional ice hockey left winger who played 2 seasons in the National Hockey League for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. James was the first African-American to play in the NHL when he debuted with the Sabres in 1981.

Tiger Woods

Say what you want about Eldrick Tont Woods, born December 30, 1975.But in 90s, just when many just thought no black people played golf professionally, Woods became the first African-American to win the Master’s Tournament in 1997.

Bob DouglasBasketball Hall of Fame

Robert L. Douglas became the first African-American inductee in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Born November 4, 1882 he was nicknamed the “Father of Professional Basketball” before passing in 1979.

Dr. Donna P Davis – Physican in the Navy

The U.S. Navy commissioned Davis as a lieutenant in the Navy’s medical corps, making Lt. Davis the first black woman physician in the corp’s history in 1975.

Beverly Johnson

Worldwide Vogue is the fashion bible.Notably the first African-American model to grace the cover of the 1974 August issue was Beverly Johnson. Johnson, born October 13, 1952 in Buffalo, NY currently has diversified her modeling career to actress and businesswoman.

We are often led to believe that when it comes to Black History Month the word “history” is a term reserved for events and people from ages ago. But in a time where we have our first African-American president, it is evident that African-Americans continue to make history daily. Therefore, we do a disservice to ourselves and the future generations to only put emphasis on the handful of commonly mentioned trailblazers we salute every year. Yes, without question, our hats go off to African-American firsts like Madam C.J. Walker, Phillis Wheatley, and Booker T. Washington, but do you know who Max Robinson is? As we celebrate ESSENCE’s rich 40-year anniversary, let’s take a look at the men and women in the the last 40 years who have made history and are noted to be the “first” in areas where African-Americans continue to excel. Read more: