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Firsts

Compiled by Benjamin Baker

This page features black Adventists in the United States who were the first blacks or women in their respective fields, positions, or accomplishments.  This website welcomes submissions for this page here

Civil Rights and Social Work

Mary Britton
Mary Britton

Britton (1855-1925) was Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor. Throughout her life she advocated for the civil rights of blacks, women, and the poor. Her activism was immortalized by Paul Lawrence Dunbar in his poem "To Miss Mary Britton," which he wrote after witnessing her give a speech to the Kentucky legislature for the desegregation of public transportation in 1893.

Rosetta Douglass Sprague
Rosetta Douglass Sprague

Sprague (1839-1906) was the daughter of famed abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. After she converted to Adventism around 1889, she continued to operate as her father's assistant and spoke out against racial injustice in the Adventist Church.

Sevell C. Brown III
Sevell C. Brown III

Brown and his brother, Darryl, founded the first Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chapter in Central Florida. For more than fifty years, Brown has organized and led civil rights initiatives.

Mary Britton
Mary Britton

Britton (1855-1925) was Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor. Throughout her life she advocated for the civil rights of blacks, women, and the poor. Her activism was immortalized by Paul Lawrence Dunbar in his poem "To Miss Mary Britton," which he wrote after witnessing her give a speech to the Kentucky legislature for the desegregation of public transportation in 1893.

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Education

Eugene Hardy
Eugene Hardy

Hardy graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1877, believed to be the first black to graduate from high school in the state of Michigan.

Jessie Dorsey Green
Jessie Dorsey Green

Green (1874-1971) cofounded Voorhees College with Elizabeth Evelyn Wright in 1897.

Sydney Freeman
Sydney Freeman

In 2021, Freeman became the first African American man, descended from slaves, to earn full professor at the University of Idaho. He was 36 years old.

Eugene Hardy
Eugene Hardy

Hardy graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1877, believed to be the first black to graduate from high school in the state of Michigan.

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Medicine

Ruth Temple
Ruth Temple

Temple (1892-1984) in 1918 was the first black woman to graduate from Loma Linda University. That same year she opened the first health clinic in the medically underserved community of southeast Los Angeles, becoming the first African American woman to practice medicine in the city.

Mary E. Britton
Mary E. Britton

Britton (1855-1925) began teaching at Berea College in Kentucky in 1871, the first black person to teach white students at the institution. In 1902 she became Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor.

Wayne L. Greaves
Wayne L. Greaves

Infectious disease specialist Greaves was one of the first to warn of the peril of HIV/AIDS for black people. He provided expertise on the epidemic to the CDC, USAID, Planned Parenthood, and several US cities and African nations.

Ruth Temple
Ruth Temple

Temple (1892-1984) in 1918 was the first black woman to graduate from Loma Linda University. That same year she opened the first health clinic in the medically underserved community of southeast Los Angeles, becoming the first African American woman to practice medicine in the city.

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Politics and Law

William J. Hardy
William J. Hardy

Hardy (1823-1888) was elected supervisor of Gaines Township in 1872, becoming the first black elected to office in the state of Michigan.

James Alexander Chiles
James Alexander Chiles

Chiles (1860-1930), a lawyer in Lexington, Kentucky, was forcibly removed from public transportation several times by employees of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad due to his race. He sued the company for damages, and in 1910 the lawsuit reached the US Supreme Court. Chiles was among the first blacks to argue before the Supreme Court, but ultimately lost the case.

Ben Carson
Ben Carson

Carson was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017-2021.

William J. Hardy
William J. Hardy

Hardy (1823-1888) was elected supervisor of Gaines Township in 1872, becoming the first black elected to office in the state of Michigan.

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Science

Robert Shurney
Robert Shurney

Shurney (1921-2007) was a trained physicist and inventor who famously designed the tires for the moon buggy used during the Apollo 15 mission in 1972. In addition, he invented myriad instruments that are still used in space travel.

Milton L. Brown
Milton L. Brown

Brown was the first black to earn a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has over 40 patents in his name and two of his invented drugs are in clinical trials.

Robert Shurney
Robert Shurney

Shurney (1921-2007) was a trained physicist and inventor who famously designed the tires for the moon buggy used during the Apollo 15 mission in 1972. In addition, he invented myriad instruments that are still used in space travel.

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Other Firsts

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen helped desegregate the US military and expand opportunities for black aviators. Martin Leslie Cook and Alfred McKenzie were both members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

C.D. Brooks
C.D. Brooks

Brooks (1930-2016) in 1974 was the speaker-director of Breath of Life Ministries, the first continuously-running black religious television programming.

Lloyd Henry
Lloyd Henry

In 2016, Henry became the first African American to complete an Ironman Globe Finisher.

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen helped desegregate the US military and expand opportunities for black aviators. Martin Leslie Cook and Alfred McKenzie were both members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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