25 remarkable moments in black history from the last 25 years.

03 Feb

Being black is a wonderful thing.

Throughout history, black people have proven our courage, intelligence, and creativity time and time again. But as Black History Month approaches, you may notice the same names and faces representing African-American accomplishment and resilience. No shade to Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Medgar Evers, but there are plenty more examples of black excellence worth noting.

There are even people whose legacies we don’t confine to the limitations of Black History Month who are rumored to be black or biracial (Beethoven, Pushkin, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, to name a few) but because most records of African ancestry were hidden, scrubbed, or mentioned in hushed tones, a lot of that is speculative.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

The beauty of black history is that we’re still making it every single day.

It’s no secret that black “firsts” happen each year, but the sheer number from the last quarter-century is both surprising and inspiring. Some of these individuals are household names while others barely received their 15 minutes of fame. But all are great moments worth commemorating and sharing.

Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.

Take a minute to celebrate and discover these 25 black “firsts” from the last 25 years.

1. First African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress: Halle Berry (2002)

Photo by Getty Images.

2. First African-American pilot to fly solo around the world: Barrington Irving Jr. (2007)

Barrington Irving Jr. waves from his Columbia 400 aircraft named Inspiration. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

3. First African-American appointed surgeon general of the United States: Dr. Joycelyn Elders (1993)

Photo by Kort Duce/AFP/Getty Images.

4. First African-American to win the Masters golf tournament: Tiger Woods (1997)

Tigers Woods hits a putt on the 18th hole to win the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Photo by Steve Munday/Allsport/Getty Images.

5. First African-American U.S. attorney general: Eric Holder (2009) 

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

6. First African-American woman named U.S. attorney general: Loretta Lynch (2015)

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

7. First African-American to reach the peak of Mount Everest: Sophia Danenberg (2006)

8. First African-American named U.S. poet laureate: Rita Dove (1993)

President Obama presents 2011 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to Rita Dove during a ceremony at the White House in 2012. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

9. First African-American chess international grandmaster: Maurice Ashley (1999)

10. First African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Cheryl Boone Isaacs (2013)

Isaacs recently announced changes to diversify its membership in response to the second year of backlash for a full slate of white acting nominees. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

11. First African-American president of an Ivy League institution: Dr. Ruth Simmons (2001)

Simmons accepts the BET Honor for education during the 2010 BET Honors in Washington, DC. Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images.

12. First African-American to earn a gold medal at the Winter Games: Vonetta Flowers (2002)

Vonetta Flowers (left) and Jill Bakken after being awarded gold medals in the women’s bobsled competition during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images.

13. First African-American to earn an individual gold medal at the Winter Games: Shani Davis (2006)

Gold medalist Shani Davis (center) during the 2006 Winter Olympics medals ceremony of the men’s 1,000-meter speed skating in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Photo by Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images.

14. First African-American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison (1993)

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images.

15. First African-American billionaire: Robert Johnson (2001)

Johnson is an entrepreneur and founder of BET. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

16. First African-American woman to serve as mayor for a major U.S. city: Sharon Pratt (1991)

Bill and Hillary Clinton join hands with Martin Luther King III and Washington, D.C., Mayor Sharon Pratt to sing “We Shall Overcome” in 1993. Photo by J. David Ake/AFP/Getty Images.

17. First African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500: Willy T. Ribbs (1991)

Willy Ribbs at the Daytona 500 Speedweeks at the Daytona International Speedway. Photo by Robert Laberge/Allsport/Getty Images.

18. First African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: Lisa Perez Jackson (2009)

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

19. First African-American to launch his own film and television studio: Tyler Perry (2008)

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

20. First African-American named secretary of state: Gen. Colin Powell (2001)

Photo by David Bohrer/U.S. National Archives via Getty Images.

21. First African-American woman named secretary of state: Dr. Condoleezza Rice (2005)

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

22. First African-American to host the Academy Awards: Whoopi Goldberg (1994)

23. First African-American promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre: Misty Copeland (2015)

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images.

24. First African-American to referee a Super Bowl: Mike Carey (2008)

Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

25: First African-American woman in space: Dr. Mae Jemison (1992)

Photo by NASA/Flickr.

Hats off to these role models, charting new courses for black excellence each and every day.

It may seem shocking that after over 400 years in this country, we still see so many African-American firsts. That’s why it’s imperative we commemorate these achievements and not just for one month out of the year.

It’s important for children of all of races to see examples of African-Americans succeeding in different industries and professions. Positive representations and strong role models are vital to kids as they create themselves and craft their identity. By celebrating these individuals and the mark they made in history, we open up a world of possibility to a new generation.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.


There was one more person I wanted to include, but couldn’t find a great picture. Barbara Hillary was the first African-American woman to reach both poles of the Earth. Best part? She was in her 70s when she did it. Go, girl!


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4 responses to “25 remarkable moments in black history from the last 25 years.

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