Honoring Black history: Learn about these 20 inspirational accomplishments.

Celebrating Block History

From Thurgood Marshall to Beyoncé, below we offer just a small sampling of the many accomplishments and contributions Black Americans have made throughout this country's history.

Politics and Law

1. Thurgood Marshall was the first Black American ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court and served from 1967 to 1991.

2. Barack Obama made history when he was sworn in as the first Black president of the United States in 2009 and is one of the most influential people of the 21st century.

3. Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist, women’s rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was also an author of This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer.

4. Black American fashion designer Ann Lowe designed creations for America’s most elite families, including the Kennedys, Roosevelts, and Rockefellers. Her most famous creation was Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress for her marriage to future President John F. Kennedy.

Entertainment and Literature

5. Phillis Wheatley became the first published Black American poet in 1774 with her collection of Poems on Various Subjects, a work of distinction that looked to many literary classical traditions.

6. In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black performer to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of the enslaved Governess, Mammy, in Gone with the Wind. While the film has been criticized for romanticizing slavery, McDaniel’s achievement made Hollywood history.

7. Musical genius Sylvia Robinson produced the hit rap song “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, introducing hip hop to a global audience with a single that sold over 14 million copies.

8. Beyoncé is the most-nominated female artist in Grammy history, with 88 nominations to date.2 Her husband, Jay-Z, is the most-nominated male artist.


9. John Arthur “Jack” Johnson became the first Black American heavyweight boxing champion in 1908. He continued to fight up to the age of 50 and many consider him to be one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.3

10. In 1945, track and field athlete Jesse Owens set an incredible five world records within 45 minutes while still a student at Ohio State University. He would go on to become the most decorated athlete at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, winning four gold medals.4

11. Michael Jordan is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and one of the world’s most recognizable athletes. The list of the 14-time NBA All-Star’s accomplishments is seemingly endless, including the most scoring titles in NBA history.5

12. Simone Biles has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, making her the most decorated gymnast in American history, and one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Science and Technology

13. Chemist and scholar Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. became the first Black American to be trained as an astronaut.

14. In 1992, Dr. Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to go into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. During her eight-day mission she worked with U.S. and Japanese researchers and was co-investigator on a bone cell experiment.

15. Born on a cotton plantation to formerly enslaved parents, Madam C.J Walker learned chemistry while working as a cook for a pharmacist. This gave her the skills to found a haircare company that saw her become America’s first female self-made millionaire.

16. Garrett Morgan invented the three-way traffic signal and was the first Black American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio.

17. George Washington Carver developed over 300 products from peanuts, among them, cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils, and cosmetics.

Architecture and Exploration

18. Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker is credited with helping to design the blueprints for Washington, DC.

19. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a frontier trader, trapper, and farmer of Haitian descent, is generally regarded as the first permanent settler in Chicago. The place where he settled near the mouth of the Chicago River around the 1780s is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, now located in Pioneer Court.

20. Arctic explorer Matthew Henson was among the first people to reach the North Pole and made seven separate voyages to the Arctic.


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Media contact

Lacey Siegel
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937