Skip to Main Content
African American Department Collection and State Library Resources
African Americans in Maryland - Firsts and Facts
Joshua Johnson (Johnston) (c. 1765-c. 1830), of Baltimore was a portrait painter in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Books, Literature and Writing
Josiah Henson (1789-1883), born a slave in Charles County, Md., and later a preacher and author, is thought by many to have been the inspiration for the character of Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), a Shakespearean actor, was born in Harford County. The Shakespearean Memorial Theater in Stratford-on-Avon in England has a chair designated in his memory.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), abolitionist, poet, author and popular lecturer was born in Baltimore.
Morgan State University was chartered as Centenary Biblical Institute by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1867.
Maryland equalized the pay of black and white teachers by 1941, based on a suit argued by Thurgood Marshall.
Entertainment and Sports
James Herbert “Eubie” Blake (1883-1983), born in Baltimore, wrote his first piano rag—Sounds of Africa (later Charleston Rag)—in 1899.
Cabell “Cab” Calloway (1907-1994) was raised in Baltimore and sang with a local vocal group called the Baltimore Melody Boys.
Ray Charles “Sugar Ray” Leonard (1956-), who spent his childhood in Palmer Park, Maryland, was the first boxer ever to win titles in five different weight classes.
Charles S. Dutton (1951-), formerly lead actor in the 1991-1995 television sitcom “Roc,” is originally from Baltimore.
Hasim Rahman (1972-), the 2001 heavyweight boxing champion, is from Baltimore.
Freddy Adu (1989-) of Potomac, Maryland, signed a contract in 2003 to play soccer with D.C. United, making him the youngest athlete to play as a professional in more than 100 years.
Government and Politics
William H. Butler, Sr. (c.1842-1892) the first elected black official in Maryland, was elected to be alderman of Annapolis' third ward in 1873.
Harry Sythe Cummings (1866-1917), was the first black elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1890.
Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset (1893-1965), the first black woman elected to a state legislature when she won a Pennsylvania election in 1938, was born in Princess Anne, Maryland.
Clifton Wharton Sr. (1899-1990), the first black diplomat to head a U.S. delegation to a foreign country, was born in Baltimore.
Harry A. Cole (1921-1999), Emory Ryan Cole, and Truly Hatchett became the first African Americans elected to the Maryland General Assembly (1954).
Verda Welcome (1907-1991), became the first black woman elected to the Maryland State Senate (1963).
Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. (1911-1984), a lawyer and civil rights lobbyist for whom the Baltimore city courthouse is named, was often called the “101st Senator.”
Parren J. Mitchell (1922-2007 ), Maryland’s first black U.S. congressman, served from 1971-1987.
Michael S. Steele (1958-), lieutenant governor of Maryland from January 2003 - January 2007, was the first African American elected to a statewide office.
Health and Medicine
Provident Hospital was established in Baltimore by leading black physicians in 1894.
Vivien T. Thomas (1910-1985) assisted a Johns Hopkins surgeon, Dr. Alfred Blalock, in developing the life-saving cardiac surgical procedure for “blue” babies in 1944.
Mathias de Sousa, the first black in Maryland, arrived aboard the Ark in St. Mary’s City in 1634.
Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817-c. 1866), abolitionist and clergyman, was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Harriet Ross Tubman (c. 1820-1913), leader of Underground Railroad rescues, was born into and escaped from slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1849.
In 1859 John Brown (1800-1859) raided Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, from a Maryland farm.
Elijah Quigley of Towson was the first African American in Maryland to vote since 1810 (1870).
Law and Legal Issues
Maryland was the first border state to grant freedom to its black population in 1864. The state also passed a stringent Black Code limiting travel and court testimony of African Americans.
Harry Sythe Cummings (1866-1917) graduated in 1889 from the University of Maryland Law School, one of the first two black men to do so. In 1890 he became the first African American elected to the Baltimore City Council.
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Maryland and graduated from Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School.
Gloria St. Clair Hayes Richardson (1922-) organized civil rights demonstrations and demanded immediate integration in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1963.
Samuel Eli Cornish (1795-1858), who founded the first African American newspaper in the United States, served as a missionary to slaves on the Eastern Shore in 1819.
John Henry Murphy, Sr. (1840-1922), who was born a slave in Baltimore and served in the Union Army, founded the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper in 1892.
Mary Elizabeth Lange (c. 1784-1882) established the first order of black Catholics in the United States, the Oblate Sisters or Sisters of Providence, in Baltimore in 1829.
James W.C. Pennington (1809-1870), a pastor in the African Congregation Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and the author of The Fugitive Blacksmith (1849) and other works, was born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Charles Randolph Uncles (1859-1933), born in Baltimore, became America’s first black Catholic priest when he was ordained in December 1891.
Father Divine (c. 1880-1965), a charismatic religious leader, was born George Baker in Rockville, Maryland, and moved to Baltimore at 20.
Pauli Murray (1910-1985), a lawyer, poet, and minister who was the first African American woman ordained an Episcopal priest in 1977, was born in Baltimore.
Science, Technology, and Military
Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) built what is possibly the first wooden striking clock made in Maryland. From 1792 until 1802 he published Banneker’s Almanac.
Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) assisted Major Andrew Ellicott, a friend and neighbor, in the survey of Washington, DC.
Dorsey Decatur (1840-1914) and Christian A. Fleetwood (1840-1914) were among the earliest African American recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Matthew Henson (1866-1955), born in Charles County, Md., was the co-discoverer of the North Pole on April 6, 1909, and the first known black man to reach the North Pole.
Astronaut Robert L. Curbeam (1962-), who was born in Baltimore and graduated from the Naval Academy, served as a mission specialist on Shuttle Discovery in 1997.
Maryland had a larger number of free blacks than any state in the Union in 1830; 30% of the free blacks lived in Baltimore.