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James A. Healy: The First African-American Roman Catholic Priest

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James Augustine Healy was born on April 6, 1830, in Georgia to a mixed-race slave mother and Irish immigrant father. He was the firstborn of 10 siblings born to Michael Healy and his wife, Eliza Smith, a mixed-race African-American slave. His father was a former Irish soldier who immigrated to America and became a planter.

He was ordained in 1854 as a roman catholic priest and became the first African bishop in the United States. He was the second bishop of Portland, Maine and was named a bishop by Pope Pius IX.

He is one of the children of James Healy who achieved noteworthy success as adults. He attended College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where he graduated as valedictorian of the college’s first graduating class in 1849.

When he was ordained, his African ancestral origin was not widely known outside his mentors in the Catholic Church. This has created the misconception that, Augustus Tolton, a former slave who was ordained in 1886, was the first black Catholic priest in the United States.

In his 25 years of administration, 18 schools, 60 churches, and numerous convents and welfare institutions were established. The membership in the Catholic Church in his jurisdiction also doubled to about 100,000. He died on August 5, 1900.

Black Excellence

Edith S. Sampson: The First African-American Delegate to the United Nations

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Edith Sampson, the daughter of Louis Spurlock and Elizabeth McGruder, was born on October 13, 1898, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was the first black woman to be elected as a judge in the state of Illinois.

In 1924, she opened a law office in Chicago to serve the local black community. In 1927, she became the first woman to earn a Master of Laws from Loyola University’s Graduate Law School.

On 24 August 1950, President Truman, the 33rd of the United States, appointed her as an alternate United States delegate to the United Nations. This made her the first African-American to officially represent the United States at the UN.

She became a member of the UN’s Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee, where she lobbied for continued support of work in social welfare. She died on October 8, 1979.

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Loretta E. Lynch: The First African-American Woman Attorney General of the United States

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Loretta Lynch, who served under President Bill Clinton as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was born on May 21, 1959, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

She attended Harvard Law School and first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and American literature from the school in 1981 and, later, a Juris Doctor in 1984. She married her husband, Stephen Hargrove, in 2007.

President Barack Obama nominated her on November 8, 2014, to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. She was confirmed as the attorney by the Senate by a 56–43 vote On April 23, 2015, making the first African-American woman to achieve the feat.

Lynch was sworn in on April 27, 2015, and went on to serve as the Attorney General from 2015 to 2017.

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Black Excellence

Michelle Robinson Obama: The First African-American First Lady of the United States

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Michelle Obama was born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, to Fraser Robinson and Marian Shields. The American lawyer and writer was the first African-American First Lady, being married to Barack Obama, the 44th U.S. President.

She met Obama at Sidley Austin LLP when they were among the few African-Americans at their law firm. She was to serve as his mentor while he was a summer associate. The couple married on October 3, 1992.

In 1991, Michelle left corporate law to pursue a career in public service. This was to enable her to fulfill a personal passion and create networking opportunities which later became beneficial to her husband’s political career.

She visited soup kitchens and homeless shelters in her early months as the First Lady. In 2009, she was named Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating Person of the year. Michelle co-founded the Joining Forces program in 2011 to expand employment and educational options for veterans. The program also raised awareness about the difficulties plaguing military families.

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