African-American Firsts

The legendary Jackie Robinson integrated America's pastime and changed more than the game. CBS/The Early Show

Barack Obama made history last night as he became the first African-American to be the president-elect. But there have been many other great African-American firsts in our history that have captured the attention of the nation.

"It's been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this day, change has come to America," Obama said in his acceptance speech. "And may God bless the United States of America."

Many never imagined they would see an African-American president
in their lifetime, but Americans really stepped up to the plate for change.

Photos: Celebrating History
It was just over 50 years ago that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and 40 some years ago since Martin Luther King, Jr. and others risked their lives in the march for civil rights and the right to vote. There would be no Barack Obama victory without the shoulders of others to stand on.

Thurgood Marshall made history as the lead attorney in Brown versus Board of Education, the Supreme Court's first damning blow to Jim Crow and segregation. Marshall would join that court 13 years later.

"The possibility of a truly color blind judiciary came into being," said Manning Marable, Professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University.

In 1984, Jesse Jackson became the first African-American to win a presidential primary.

"We've come from this grace to amazing grace," Jackson said in his speech at the time.

Political progress and popular culture mirrored each other.

"In the 1950's, blacks generally were portrayed in servile positions on American television. There was one great exception, in that once a week you had this stellar performer, Nat King Cole," Marable said.

"The Nat King Cole Show" highlighted the caliber of a truly talented African-American singer and performer, but acceptance didn't come easy.

After two seasons, Cole pulled the plug, citing a lack of sponsors saying, "I guess Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."

Sydney Portier became the first black movie star, shattering stereotypes in a time when many Americans were proud of their prejudices.

The legendary Jackie Robinson, who will always be remembered as one of the greatest, integrated America's pastime and changed more than the game.

But this first of an African-American president is arguably the most important one of all.

"America, we have come so far, we have seen so much," Obama said.

Sometimes prophesy comes in the form of dreams, and the dreams come true.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "We as a people will get to the promised land."
  • CBSNews

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.