We may have had to sit in the back of the bus, but it doesn’t mean we weren’t the first on the bus. Although Black History has been relegated to only one month, some of you may recall it used to be only one week. The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter Woodson and the Association for the study of Negro life announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it marked the birthdays of both former president Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. People, especially those of color may have an issue with Black History Month being only in February but it used to be far less significant.
In this article I’ll touch on some of the first African Americans to have major accomplishments. Who knows, some of you may be surprised as to how Black people have pioneered many things in this country.
Sports: “Tennis Anyone…”
He was the first black male to win Wimbledon. He accomplished this feat in 1975 defeating Jimmy Connors, and he was also the first to win the US open (1968) and the Australian open (1970). He retired in 1980 and passed away in 1993 after a bout with the AIDS virus which he received through a blood transfusion.
Yannick Noah (1960-present) He is the father of NBA all-star center Joachim Noah. Yannick was the first black man to capture the French Open title in 1983 defeating Mats Wilander in straight sets. Althea Gibson (1927-2003) was the first black woman to win Wimbledon, the French and the U.S. open titles in 1957 and ’58.
Jack Johnson (1878-1946). Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion. He won the title in 1908 defeating Tommy Burns in the 14th round in Sydney Australia.
What else is there to say about Robinson. He is one of the most celebrated and revered athletes in any of the four major sports in America. That was punctuated when in 2007 over 200 M.L.B players wore his jersey number 42 to honor him. His struggles with racism and adversity throughout his career are well documented and chronicled. He was the first black baseball player to be elected into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s Home Run record in 1974 despite receiving death threats, hate mail, and extortion letters leading up to that season. Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record in 2007.
Art Schell became the first black NFL coach in 1989; Tony Dungy became the first black coach to guide a team to the Superbowl title in 2006 with the Indianapolis colts. Coincidentally the opposing coach Lovie Smith coached the Chicago Bears in that very same game marking the first time black coaches went head to head in the Super Bowl.
John Thompson became the first black college coach to win the NCAA title. He did this in 1984 guiding the Georgetown Hoyas led by future Hall Of Famer Patrick Ewing over the University of Houston. And Eldrick “Tiger” Woods became the first black golf champion.
In regards to politics there have been a few firsts as well, starting with the most obvious, President Barack Obama. There have been others who have jumped on the political ride first. Carl Stokes became the first black Mayor of a major city (Cleveland, Ohio) back in 1967. L. Douglas Wilder became the first black Governor in 1990 when he took over the state of Virginia. Deval Patrick became the 2nd black Governor overall and the first in Massachusetts in 2006. Thurgood Marshall became the first Supreme Court Justice in 1967 and held it until 1991.
If you think Asians have it on lock as far as dry cleaning, bet you didn’t know who invented dry cleaning did you? Well if you didn’t – which is no crime – it was Thomas Jennings back in 1821. He was also an abolitionist and a tradesman.
Gwendolyn Brooks became the first black Pulitzer Prize winner in 1950 due to her outstanding poetry. Didn’t Dr. Martin Luther King become the first black person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize? Nope. Ralph Bunche got his due in 1950 for mediating the Arab/Israeli truce.
“Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money dolla dolla bill yall”
The 1st black millionaire. This dubious distinction is held by Madame C.J. Walker. The first black billionaires were Robert Johnson founder and former owner of BET, and the first female to do so was Oprah Winfrey in 2003.
“Oh yeah we can sing too, mu’ fcuka we ain’t just for fetchin and steppin now”
Marian Anderson was the first black woman of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Michael Jackson has the highest selling albums worldwide with 400 million copies. Sam Cooke is known as the inventor of soul music and achieved many accolades in his own right.
“And the Oscar Award goes to…..”
Hattie McDaniel was the first black Oscar Winner for Supporting Actress in “Gone With The Wind” 1950. Sidney Poitier received an Oscar for Best Actor in 1961 for “Lillies in The Field” and Halle Berry took home the Oscar for Best Actress in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. Although many people have disputed Halle’s accolades for the role she played in Monster’s Ball citing Berry had done masterful jobs in other movies but didn’t receive any recognition until her role in this film… Her achievement should still be applauded.
“Let’s flyyyyyyyyyyy …up up here we go go ….up up here we go go”
Gunion S Bluford Jr in 1983 became the first black Astronaut to travel in space and also in 1992. Mae Jamison added her name to the list becoming the first black female.
So as you can see there have been many African-Americans to get their hands wet in the realm of sports, acting, politics, etc. And our kudos and hats off to them for breaking down barriers and letting their names be known. Let’s give ’em a Soul Clap.
On that note we as brothers and sisters must celebrate black history not just in February which coincidentally is the shortest month of the year, but every month for the rest of our lives and take pride in who we are and what we should stand for.
Peace and God Bless