Firsts

Autherine Lucy Foster

Autherine Lucy Foster

Autherine Lucy Foster

Autherine Juanita Lucy was the first black student to attend the University of Alabama, in 1956. She was born on October 5, 1929 in Shiloh, Alabama and graduated from Linden Academy in 1947. She went on to attend Selma University in Selma, and the all-black Miles College in Fairfield – where she graduated with a BA in English in 1952.

Later in 1952, at the encouragement of and along with a Miles classmate, Pollie Ann Myers, she decided to attend the University of Alabama as a graduate student but, knowing that admission would be difficult due to the University’s admission policies, she and Myers approached the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for help. Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Arthur Shores were assigned to be their attorneys. While they started preparing her case, she worked as a secretary. Court action began in July 1953.  Continue reading

Theodore S. Wright

Theodore S. Wright

Theodore S. Wright

Theodore S. Wright (1797-1847) was an African-American abolitionist and minister who was active in New York City, where he led the First Colored Presbyterian Church as its second pastor. He was the first African American to attend Princeton Theological Seminary (and any United States theological seminary), from which he graduated in 1829. In 1833 he was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and served on its executive committee until 1840.

Theodore Sedgwick Wright was born about 1797 to free parents. He is believed to have moved into New York City with his family, where he attended the African Free School.[1] With the aid of Governor DeWitt Clinton and Arthur Tappan of the New York Manumission Society, and men from Princeton Theological Seminary, Wright was aided in his studies at the graduate seminary. In 1829 he was the first African American to graduate from there, and the first to complete theological studies at a seminary in the United States.

Before 1833, Wright was called as the second minister of New York’s First Colored Presbyterian Church and served there the rest of his life. (It was later known as Shiloh Presbyterian Church and is now St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem.) He followed the founder, Samuel Cornish.  Continue reading

William Hastie

William Hastie

William Hastie

William Hastie had one of the most distinguished careers as an earlier Black political pioneer but today remains unknown to most Americans. As a politician, an educator and a jurist, Hastie made inroads and left a legacy that is hard to match in history.

William Hastie was born on November 17, 1904 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of William, a clerk in the United States Pension Office and Roberta, a school teacher. After the family moved to Washington D.C. in 1916, William attended Paul Lawrence Dunbar high school where he excelled as a student athlete and graduated as the school valedictorian in 1921. He attended Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts where he majored i mathematics. He graduated from the school in 1925 where he finished first in his class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude and the valedictorian of his class. After teaching for two years in Brodertown, New Jersey, he attended Harvard Law School where he was a member of the law review and graduated with an LL.B. in 1930.  Continue reading

James H. Meredith

James H. Meredith

James H. Meredith

James H. Meredith, who in 1962 became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, is shot by a sniper shortly after beginning a lone civil rights march through the South. Known as the “March Against Fear,” Meredith had been walking from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, in an attempt to encourage voter registration by African Americans in the South.

A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, but his admission was revoked when the registrar learned of his race. A federal court ordered “Ole Miss” to admit him, but when he tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. Two days later, Meredith was escorted onto the Ole Miss campus by U.S. Marshals, setting off riots that resulted in the deaths of two students. He returned the next day and began classes. In 1963, Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science.  Continue reading

L Douglas Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder was (the first Black) governor of Virginia from 1990 until 1994. His was a political career of many firsts: the grandson of slaves, he was the first African American elected governor of any state in America.

He was the first black member of the Virginia Senate in the twentieth century. And he was the first African American to win statewide office in Virginia when he was elected lieutenant governor in 1985. A Democrat, he ran briefly for United States president in 1991 and in 2004 was elected mayor of Richmond, serving until 2008.  Continue reading

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