10 Black History Pioneers you’ve Probably Never Heard of

By Chase Encalade
1) Edward Alexander Bouchet: first African American graduate of Yale, first African American Phi Beta Kappa, first African American to earn a doctorate from an American University

Edward Alexander Bouchet

Edward Alexander Bouchet was born in 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1876, he graduated with a doctorate in physics from Yale. Bouchet looked for a position at a university, but due to the racism of the 1900s he could not acquire one. Instead, Bouchet was hired at the Institute for Colored Youth where he taught science for more than 25 years.

2) Josiah Thomas Walls: Florida’s first African American Congressman

Josiah Walls

The journey to Washington was not an easy one for Josiah T. Walls, but he continued to strive for the office. Walls was born into slavery and forced to serve in the Confederate Army until he was captured and emancipated by the Union Army. He enlisted in the Union Army, and after his discharge, he settled in Alachua County, Florida. After the Reconstruction era, Walls became a prominent figure in Florida’s politics. In 1868, he was elected to the lower house of the State Legislature, and he was elected to the Senate in 1869. Walls was a U.S. Congressman for a total of six years.

3) James Augustine Healy: Ordained as the first African American Roman Catholic priest; pastor of St. James, the largest parish in Boston; nations first African American bishop

James Healy

James Augustine Healy was born in 1830 to an enslaved mother and a slave-owner father in Georgia. Although his father legally owned his mother and his siblings, they acknowledged themselves as a family. Due to racial tensions, his parents sent him up north to a Quaker school in Long Island, New York. In 1849, he graduated as valedictorian of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854 he enrolled in a Parisian seminary where he became the first African American to become a priest. Healy moved to Boston where he became the pastor of St. James, the largest parish in the city. He became the first African American bishop in 1875, when he was ordained by Pope Pius IX.

4) Patrick Francis Healy: first African American to earn a doctorate, first African American president of a major university (Georgetown), first  African American to join the Jesuit Order

Patrick Healy

Patrick Francis Healy was born in 1834 in Georgia and is the brother of James Augustine Healy. His story starts off much like his older brother’s. His parents sent him to New York to get an education and later to Europe to finish studying. In 1850, he joined the Jesuit order, becoming the first African American to do so. Healy graduated with a doctorate in philosophy while in Europe, and was sent to Georgetown University to teach. In 1874, he became the first African American president of the University and kept the position until 1882.

5) Hattie McDaniel: won a best supporting actress Academy Award for her portrayal of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, making her the first African American to win an Oscar

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel was born in 1893, in Wichita, Kansas. Singing was her passion from very early on, and she enjoyed performing in church. In 1925, she did her first radio performance on Denver’s KOA station. Soon after, McDaniel began her acting career, landing small roles as house servants in films such as The Golden West and The Little Colonel. In 1939, she won over the hearts of many as she played the role of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. For this role she was nominated for an Oscar. She was not allowed to sit with her co-stars but was seated at a table against a wall in the very back of the room. Despite the discrimination, McDaniel won the award for best supporting actress, becoming the first African American to receive an Oscar.

6) Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett: first African American diplomat to represent the U.S. government abroad

Ebenezer Don Carlos

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett was born in 1833 in Connecticut. After graduating from the Connecticut Normal School, he taught for 14 years in Pennsylvania at the Institute for Colored Youth. During the Civil War he helped to recruit black soldiers for the Union Army and fought fiercely to free the slaves in the South. He rose in rank in the Army and in 1869, he was appointed United States minister to Haiti by President Ulysses S. Grant. This made Bassett the first African American to serve as a U.S. diplomat.

7) Daniel James Jr.: the U.S. Armed Forces’ first African American four-star general
James Daniel

Daniel James was born in Pensacola, Florida in 1920. He completed high school and enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute. During this time James took up an interest in flying and began taking classes with the Civilian Pilot Training Program, the training program for the Tuskegee Airmen. He flew over 100 missions during the Korean War and was one of the greatest leaders among his peers. This is why in 1975 he was promoted to four star general, becoming the first African American to hold the rank.

8) William Augustus Hinton: Harvard’s first African American professor, writer of Syphilis and its Treatment (1936), the first medical textbook by an African American to be published

William Augustus

William Augustus Hinton was born on December 15, 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. He was the youngest ever to graduate from his high school. Hinton continued school and received his B.S. in medicine from Harvard in 1905. In 1909, he entered Harvard Law School and graduated only three years later. After receiving his diploma, he began working in the Wassermann Laboratory of the Harvard Medical School, and became director of the lab in 1915. In 1936, William Hinton published Syphilis and Its Treatment, becoming the first African American to publish a medical textbook. His success continued when he was promoted from lecturer at Harvard to clinical professor in 1949, making him the first African American professor at the university.

9) Numa P. Adams: first African American dean of Howard’s School of Medicine

Numa Adams

Numa P. Adams was born on February 26, 1885 in Virginia. He received his higher education from both Howard University and Columbia University and received his M.A. in 1912. He returned to Howard, where he became an assistant professor teaching chemistry. When he felt his time was up there, Adams continued on to the University of Chicago medical school, and set up his own practice. However, Adams felt called back to Howard where he had spent so much of his early life. After rising through the ranks of assistant professor and professor, Adams became the first African American dean of the Howard University College of Medicine on June 4, 1929.

10) Edith Spurlock Sampson: one of the first African American women to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, first African American U.S. delegate to the U.N., first elected African American woman judge

Jack Charbonnet

Edith Spurlock was born on October 13, 1901, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Spurlock received her higher education from the New York School of Social Work and later enrolled at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. After passing the Illinois bar in 1935, she began to practice law before the United States Supreme Court. In 1950, President Truman appointed her to the fifth regular session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. This made Sampson the first black woman to be named an official American representative to the United Nations. Due to her newly-found popularity, she was nominated in 1962 to fill an unexpired term as a circuit court judge. She won by an overwhelming majority, making her the first black woman ever to sit as a circuit court judge.

Chase Encalade is a Sophomore English for Corporate Communications major at Christian Brothers University and a staff writer at the Galleon.

Posted by Josh Colfer at 3:13 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

Share This: