28 Outstanding Achievements of African Americans You Probably Don’t Know

Learn more about some of the lesser known, important African American Figures throughout history.


The beginning of February marked the start of 2019 Black History Month. The theme this year is Black Migrations, highlighting the mass movements of Black Americans throughout history.

For some background information, Black History Month originally began in 1926 Negro History Week, which took place in the second week of February and was started by Carter G. Woodson. It wasn’t until 1969 that black educators at Kent State University suggested that the entirety of February be dubbed Black History Month, and the following year, Kent State celebrated its first Black History Month. Over the next 6 years, institutions across the country started participating as well. Finally, in 1976 Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month.

Many names are commonly discussed around this time like Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Barack Obama. However, we decided to shine light on some lesser known, but not of lesser importance African Americans. Here’s the list:

1. John Mercer Langston – He was the first black male lawyer and first local elected official.

2. Thurgood Marshall – Marshall was the first black male supreme court justice and served from 1967 to 1991.

3. Hiram Rhodes Revels – In 1870 he became first African American elected to the senate. He was elected in Mississippi.

4. Shirley Chisholm – Chisholm was the first African American congresswoman in 1968, and the first to make a bid for U.S presidency as a major-party black candidate.

5. Madam C.J. Walker – First female, self-made millionaire through her method she developed of straightening the hair of African Americans by using heated brushes and combs.

6. Hattie McDaniel – In 1940 she was the first African American to to win an academy award for her role in Gone With the Wind.

7. Robert F. Flemming Jr. – He invented the “Euphonica” guitar in 1886. It was vast improvement from a traditional guitar.

8.  Alvin Ailey– He utilized dance to the fight for justice and founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. He is also credited for popularizing modern dance.

9. Misty Copeland– In 2015, she became the first African American to be appointed as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre.

10. Gwendolyn Brooks – She is the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for poetry.

11. Count Basie – He is the first Male African American Grammy winner in 1958.

12. Robert Johnson – He became the first African American billionaire in 2001 as the owner of Black Entertainment Television (BET).

13. Nina Simone – wrote songs addressing racial discrimination against African Americans, like “Mississippi Goddamn”, “Why (The King of Love Is Dead)”, and “Young, Gifted, and Black”.

14. Josephine Baker – an American-born entertainer, singer, dancer, and became a French WWII spy. She was also an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, even though she gave up her US citizenship in 1937. Josephine Baker protested against racism by adopting twelve children of all different races to demonstrate that people can live together peacefully. They were known as her “Rainbow Tribe”.

15. Guion Bluford – He became the first African American to go to space in  1983.

16. Dr. Mae Jemison – In 1992, she became the first African American woman to go to space.

17. Alexa Canady – After completing her residency at University of Minnesota in 1981, she became the first female African American neurosurgeon.

18. Daniel Hale Williams – In 1893, he became the first physician to perform a successful open-heart surgery in the US and founded a hospital with interracial staff.

19. Dr. Charles Drew – In 1940, he invented of the blood bank.

20. Bessie Coleman – In 1921, Coleman became the first African American (and person of Native American descent) to hold a pilot license.

21. Alexander Lucius Twilight – In 1823, he graduated from Middlebury College and became the first African American to be a college graduate.

22. Edward Bouchet – He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D at Yale for Physics.

23. Marlin Briscoe – Playing for the Broncos, in 1968 he became the first black quarterback to start a pro football game.

24. Jack Johnson – Also known as the “Galveston Giant”, he became the first African American to become a heavyweight boxing champion in 1908 and had a winning streak until 1915.

25. Althea Gibson – She was the first African American to play in and win Wimbledon and the United States national tennis championship in 1956.

26. Jesse Owens – a four-time Olympic gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Also, he set a record of 26-8 ¼ in long jump at the 1935 Big Ten Championships

27. Wendell Scott – He was one of the first African American drivers in NASCAR and first to win a race in the Grand National Series, NASCAR’s highest level.

28. Ella Baker – She is a civil rights hero and is credited as the “backbone” of civil rights movement

If you’re interested in learning more, Black Student Alliance (BSA) serves as a great club to expand your world view and give back to the community. Meetings are held in Mrs. Langley’s room during lunch every B day Thursday. Be sure to sign up for their remind by texting @7a9ah6 to 81010  to stay up to date and always know when meetings are being held.