Black Firsts

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) was the first African American and the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

The first Derby was held at the Louisville Jockey Club on May 17, 1875.

Oliver Lewis, who was just nineteen at the time, was the jockey for a horse called Aristide. Aristide was not expected to win. Chesapeake, a colt from the same stable and owner was favored to win the race.

The plan was for Lewis to set the pace and tire out the other horses, which would then open up the race for Chesapeake.

When the horses came to the last kilometer, Lewis looked for Chesapeake. When he realized the horse was too far back to catch up, Lewis pulled Aristide ahead and won the event.

The Kentucky Derby is the premiere event in the sport of horse racing. Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the first Derby were African American. In the early years, Black jockeys dominated the event and won fifteen of the first twenty-eight races.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker First Black Female Bank PresidentWhen Maggie Lena Walker was just a teen she joined the local chapter of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal society that provided for the needs of African Americans. Walker believed in a strong community. She also believed African Americans should establish institutions within their community to strengthen it and help it thrive.

Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virginia on July 15, 1864 to parents who were formerly enslaved. She attended the Richmond Normal Colored School where she trained as a teacher. After graduating, she taught for three years. At the same time she continued her education and took classes in accounting and business management.

In 1902 Walker founded the St. Luke-Herald newspaper and used the paper to encourage African Americans to grab and hold onto their power by establishing businesses and institutions. The following year she established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as the bank’s first president.

During the Great Depression, when many banks failed, Walker managed to keep St. Luke Penny Savings alive by merging with two other Richmond banks. The new bank was named The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker served as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

Later in her life she became partially paralyzed. Walker refused to let her paralysis stop her and continued working for the bank and her community until her death on December 15, 1934.

In 1979 Maggie Lena Walker’s Richmond home was purchased by the National Park Service and designated a National Historic Site.

Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) was the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge.

She was appointed by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1966 to serve in the Southern District of New York, the largest and busiest federal court in the country.

Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 21, 1921. She earned a degree in economics from New York University. She earned her law degree at Columbia University. While studying at Columbia she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She later became the organization’s Associate Counsel.

Motley worked on all the school segregation cases supported by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund including Brown v Board of Education. She was the only female attorney on the landmark case.

Constance Baker Motley worked with the NAACP for more than twenty years. She was the lead attorney in James Meredith’s successful fight to attend the University of Mississippi. Motley was very active in the Civil Rights Movement. She won nine of the civil rights cases she argued before the US Supreme and Court. She was a judicial hero to many.

Judge Motley later went into politics. In 1964 she became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly.

Marie Maynard Daly

Marie Maynard DalyWho was Marie Maynard Daly?

She was an educator, biochemist, researcher, science pioneer and the first African American woman in America to receive a PhD in chemistry. She was committed to improving heart health and determining factors that led to heart attacks. Additionally, with the lack of diversity in the study of the sciences, she was committed to developing programs that increased the enrollment of African Americans in medical school and in graduate science programs.

Marie Maynard Daly was born in 1921 in Corona, Queens, New York. She loved reading and was particularly fond of books written by scientists. Her favorite was “Microbe Hunters,” a book about the major discoveries of the microscopic world.

Daly’s parents supported and encouraged her love of science. Her father once had hopes of becoming a chemist himself but was forced to drop out of Cornell University for financial reasons.

Maynard Daly attended school in New York City. She studied science at Queens College in Flushing, New York and graduated magna cum laude in 1942. She completed a master’s program in chemistry at New York University followed by a doctoral program at Columbia University. Her studies at Columbia included research on how the body’s chemicals aid in the digestion of food. She graduated from Columbia in 1947 with a PhD in chemistry.

Shortly thereafter she applied and received a grant from the American Cancer Society to examine how proteins are created in the body. Her research led her to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research where she was part of several important medical studies with leading scientists.

In 1955 Dr. Daly joined the faculty of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia where she began collaborating with Dr. Quentin Deming, a physician renowned for his work on how various chemicals influence the heart’s mechanics. Daly and Deming authored numerous articles that were published in medical journals. Their research advanced the understanding of how foods and diet affect the heart and circulatory system and they pioneered studies on the connection between cholesterol and clogged arteries.

Dr. Daly left Columbia in 1960 and joined the faculty of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She continued her collaboration with Dr. Deming as well as her research on underlying causes of heart attacks. She remained at Albert Einstein until her retirement in 1986.

During her career Dr. Daly taught at several universities including historically black Howard University where she taught courses on the physical sciences. After retirement, and in keeping with her commitment to encourage more African Americans to study science and medicine, Dr. Daly established a scholarship fund in 1988 in honor of her father and for the benefit African American science students at Queens College.

Historic Elections

Historic Elections5 Historic Elections

Who Made History?

 

This blog post highlights historic elections and trailblazing African Americans elected to key positions in government. They include the first blacks elected to congress, the first black elected to a governorship and of course the first black president.

Edward Brooke

 

November 1966
Edward W Brooke (1919-2015) of Massachusetts became the first African American elected to the United States Senate by popular vote. He served from 1967-1979. Brooke, a moderate republican led efforts to attach an anti-discrimination amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He also defended the need to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and pushed his colleagues to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.

 

 

Shirley Chisholm


November 1968

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) of Brooklyn, New York became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Chisholm was an activist in her community and carried that spirit with her to the House of Representatives where she fought to increase federal funding to extend hours of daycare facilities. She was also the primary backer of the national school lunch bill and led efforts to override President’s Gerald Ford’s veto of the bill. Chisholm served in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983.

 

Lawrence Douglas Wilder

 

November 1989
Lawrence Douglas Wilder (born 1931) became the first African American elected Governor in the United States. He served four years, from 1990-1994. During his governorship he balanced the state budget and sponsored new construction projects at several Virginia colleges and universities, mental health facilities, and state parks.

 

 

Carol Moseley-BraunNovember 1992 (born 1947)
Carol Moseley-Braun (born 1947) of Illinois became the first African American woman elected to the United States Senate. During her term in Congress she fought for social legislation including federal funding for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. She sponsored a National Park Service Initiative to fund historic preservation of the Underground Railroad. She also convinced the Judiciary Committee not to renew a design patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy because it contained the Confederate Flag. Moseley-Braun’s time in the senate was marred by controversy. She was accused of campaign finance violations and was criticized by the Congressional Black Caucus for taking a private trip to Nigeria to attend the funeral of a dictator’s son.

 

Barack Obama

 

November 2008
Barack Obama (born 1961) was elected 44th President of the United States. During his presidency he addressed the financial crisis and put the United States on the path to financial recovery. He was reelected for a second term in  2012. During his second term he implemented the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Chart to share with students: History Making Elections