African Americans in Sciences and Professional Fields

1783
Former slave James Derham buys his freedom from his physician slave owner, who trains him as a physician; Derham goes on to open his own medical practice in New Orleans

1822
James Hall becomes the first known African American to graduate from an American college of medicine (Medical College of Maine)

1843
Macon B. Allen becomes the first African American to practice law; in 1845, he passes the Massachusetts bar exam and is formally admitted to the bar

1846

Businessman William Leidesdorff opens the first hotel in San Francisco and goes on to become the first African American self-made millionaire

1854
John V. De Grasse becomes the first African American admitted to a medical professional organization (the Massachusetts Medical Society)

1864
Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduates from New England Female Medical College and becomes the first African American woman physician; others to follow include Rebecca Cole (Women’s Medical College, Pennsylvania, 1867) and Susan McKinney (New York Medical College, 1870)

1865
John S. Rock is certified by the U.S. Supreme Court and becomes the first African American to be admitted to practice law before the Court

1867
Robert Tanner Freeman becomes the first African American to graduate from an American school of dentistry (Harvard University)

1870
Jonathan Jasper Wright becomes the first African American judge at the state supreme court level when the South Carolina General Assembly elects him to the South Carolina Supreme Court

1872
Macon B. Allen becomes the first African American judge at the municipal level

Charlotte Ray graduates from Howard University Law School and becomes the first female African American lawyer

1879

Lewis Latimer invents the electric filament bulb; goes on to invent the carbon filament for electric lamps (1882) and publish a work on electric lighting systems (1890)

1890
Ida Gray Nelson Rollins graduates from the University of Michigan Dental School and becomes the first black woman to earn a dental degree in the United States

1893
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful human open-heart surgery, at Chicago’s Provident Hospital

1906

Madame C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) opens a black hair-care business in Detroit and goes on to become the first female African American millionaire

1914

Plant scientist George Washington Carver revolutionizes Southern agriculture by publishing his research on peanuts and sweet potatoes, saving cotton farmers whose crops had failed because of pests and exhausted soil; later, Carver speaks before the U.S. Congress (1921) and serves in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1935)

1915

Marine biologist E.E. Just becomes the first recipient of the NAACP’s annual Springarn Medal, which recognizes achievements by African Americans

1937

William H. Hastie becomes the first African American federal judge when he is confirmed to the Federal dDistrict Court of the Virgin Islands; in 1949, under President Truman, Hastie becomes the first African American on the U.S. Court of Appeals

1939
Jane Matilda Bolin becomes the first female African American judge when New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia appoints her to the city court of domestic relations

1940

Dr. Charles Drew develops a method of processing and storing plasma that becomes crucial in conducting blood transfusions

1966
Constance Baker Motley becomes the first African American woman to be named to the federal bench when she is confirmed as U.S. district judge in southern New York

1967
Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court when the Senate confirms him after President Johnson’s nomination

1978
Guion S. Bluford Jr., Frederick D. Gregory, and Ronald McNair are the first blacks admitted to the NASA astronaut training program; Bluford serves as a mission specialist in the space shuttle program; McNair later loses his life serving as physicist on the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986

1986
Oprah Winfrey becomes the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated television talk show; she goes on to establish HARPO Productions in 1989, becoming the first black woman to own a television production company and one of the wealthiest women in the world

1987
Mae Jemison joins NASA, becoming the first black woman to go into space; she serves as mission specialist on the space shuttle Discovery in 1991 and the space shuttle Endeavor in 1992

Credit: sparknotes

African Americans in Sciences and Professional Fields
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