This timeline honors a few of the Black graduates of UC Berkeley who are pioneers in the fields of arts, sciences, business, and government. These individuals have paved the way for future generations through their groundbreaking contributions to our communities and our world.
1918Walter Gordon ’18, J.D. ’22
A man of many firsts: the first All-American in football at Cal, first African American All-American on the West Coast, first African American to graduate from Berkeley Law, and first African American police officer in Berkeley.Read more >>
1938Lionel Wilson ’38, J.D.
Broke barriers as Alameda County’s first African American judge and Oakland’s first African American mayor, despite the financial hardship and racial injustice he faced while pursuing higher education.Read more >>
1939Archie Williams ’39
An Oakland native and Olympic gold medalist who would eventually train the Tuskegee Airmen.Read more >>
1949Robert Colescott ’49, M.A. ’51
An American figurative painter who became the first African American to earn a solo exhibit in the Venice Biennale—a prestigious exhibition of contemporary art that began in 1895.Read more >>
1955Thelton Henderson ’55, J.D. ’62
Became the US Justice Department’s first Black lawyer in its civil rights division in 1962, the same year he earned his law degree from UC Berkeley.Read more >>
1960Warren Widener ’60, J.D. ’67
Berkeley Law graduate and director of the Berkeley branch of the NAACP who tackled issues of discrimination and advocated for minorities as Berkeley’s first Black mayor.Read more >>
1961Jay Wright ’61, M.A. ’67
A professional baseball player turned essayist, poet, and playwright, Wright became the first Black writer to win the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and is regarded as one of the preeminent American poets of this century.Read more >>
1962Ron Dellums M.S.W. ’62
Dedicated his life to fighting racial injustices through social work and politics. Became the first African American from Northern California to be elected to the US House of Representatives and the first African American to be named chairman of the Armed Services Committee.Read more >>
1968Lee P. Brown M.A. ’68, Ph.D. ’70
Used his background in sociology and criminology to focus on crime prevention, leading him to become the first Black commissioner of police in Atlanta, Houston, and New York City, and eventually to election as Houston’s first African American mayor.Read more >>
1971Carl Franklin ’71, M.F.A.
Actor, screenwriter, producer, and director who has won numerous awards for his directing talents, and has been nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (House of Cards).Read more >>
1975Barbara Lee M.S.W. ’75
First Black woman from Northern California to be elected to State Senate, and the first woman to be elected to serve California’s 13th (formerly 9th) district.Read more >>
1977Terry McMillan ’77
New York Times bestselling author known for her novels Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, which were both adapted for film.Read more >>
1981Cynthia Marshall ’81
First female CEO in the NBA (Dallas Mavericks) and first African American chair of the North Carolina State Chamber of Commerce.Read more >>
1992Sanaa Lathan ’92, M.F.A.
A Tony-nominated actress who has found success on- and off-Broadway, and a two-time NAACP Image Award–winner for her performances in Love and Basketball and The Perfect Guy.Read more >>
1994Golden Brooks ’94, M.A.
Nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category “Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series” for her role in television’s Girlfriends.Read more >>
1996Nadine Burke Harris ’96, M.D., M.P.H.
A pediatrician and leader in addressing toxic stress in youth, recently appointed California’s first-ever Surgeon General.Read more >>