The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is arguably the most historic “first” in African American history in memory—some might say, ever. Indeed, some people view it as among the most historic events in the nation’s history. Even before his election, Obama had made history as the first African American candidate to win the nomination of a major political party. And with his inauguration, Michelle Obama is now the first African American First Lady, and the Obamas are the first African American “First Family.” Other of Obama’s “historic firsts” range from the inspiring—first inaugural speech by an African American president; to the lofty—first African American president to fly in Air Force One; to the possibly groundbreaking—first presidential blog . . . by anyone! One political cartoonist depicted a TV news crew making their telecast from the White House lawn, with the “breaking news” that Barack Obama had become the first African American president to brush his teeth in the White House, while Obama stands by appealing, “Please, folks, can we give it a rest?” Such excessive enthusiasm will surely fade, but one thing is certain: America’s new president, whose inauguration was attended by more people than have ever packed the National Mall for any event ever, already has his place in history.
Barack Obama’s campaign promised change, and among the changes brought in by the new Obama administration are these African American firsts: Eric Holder has been nominated and confirmed as the first African American attorney general, the nation’s top law-enforcement officer and head of the Justice Department. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the first black woman to hold that post. And outside the Obama administration, and perhaps in response to his electoral success, the Republican Party has named Michael S. Steele to head the Republican National Committee, the first African American to chair the RNC.
For additional sources of online information on events of historical significance to and about African Americans, see our Web page celebrating African American History Month.
- Obama’s “Firsts” May Make History, and Victory
The fact that if elected, Obama would be the first African American president may actually have helped him win the election. This analysis from just before the election points to the sense of history being made and also discusses the political science concept known as the “Bradley effect.” (Source: Washington Times)
- Eric Holder: Profile
Read a brief biography of Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., the first African American ever to hold the position. (Source: CBS News)
- U.N. Ambassador: Susan E. Rice
Learn more about Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Rice is the first African American woman to represent the nation before the world in this capacity. (Susan Rice is not related to Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman ever to be U.S. secretary of state.) (Source: Time Inc.)
- Significant African American Firsts
A list of historic African American firsts, including politics and government, arts and culture, sports, and more (through 2002). (Source: African Americans.com)