These African American actresses made history — and paved the way for women in television and film

By: Start TV Staff    Posted: February 12, 2024, 2:44PM Tags: Tags: Black History Month, Actresses who made history

The entertainment industry has become more diverse — opening their doors for women of all races to accomplish things they used to dream about. However, this isn't how the industry began; many women, especially African American actresses, were excluded from gigs, which meant millions of viewers didn't see someone who looked like them grace their television screens.

As time evolved, more African American actresses were presented with the opportunity to showcase their talents, which meant making history was within arm’s reach.

Since it's Black History Month, let's talk about these amazingly talented women who made history and paved the way for many of our favorite actresses today.


Diahann Carroll

Image credit: 20th Century Fox Television| Hancarr Productions| Savannah Productions

History: The first African American actress to star in her own television show.


Plot: Julia Baker is a young African-American woman working as a nurse. Since she's a widower whose husband died in Vietnam, Julia is raising her son alone. (via IMDb)

More about Diahann Carroll: Born Carol Diann Johnson, the actress was a singer, model, and activist. She received a Golden Globe Award for "Best TV Star - Female" for her groundbreaking role as Julia. She also has a Tony Award and nominations for an Academy Award and multiple Emmys.


Gail Fisher

History: The first African American actress to win an Emmy and Golden Globe Award.

Show: Mannix

Plot: Mannix worked initially for Wickersham at Intertect and then struck out on his own, assisted by Peggy Fair (whose cop-husband was killed) and Police Department contact Tobias. (via IMDb)

More about Gail Fisher: Fisher made her first television appearance in 1960. She also said she was the first African American to be in a national TV commercial on camera with lines (it was for All Laundry Detergent).


Whoopi Goldberg

Image credit: Warner Bros| Amblin Entertainment| The Guber-Peters Company

History: The first African American actress to achieve EGOT status.

Popular films:The Color Purple, Sister Act

What is EGOT? It's when a person wins an award at all major award ceremonies (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Goldberg has an award in each.

More about Whoopi Goldberg: Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, the actress is a comedian, author, and television personality. She had her own self-titled talk show in the '90s with 200 episodes.


Isabel Sanford

Image credit: Embassy Television

History: The first African American actress to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She's the second African American actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award, following Gail Fisher.

Show: The Jeffersons

Plot: A rich African American family moves into a luxury apartment building and develops close relationships with other tenants. (via IMDb)

More about Isabel Sanford: Born Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford, the actress, could be seen on All in the Family, The Carol Burnett Show, The Love Boat, Living Single, and more classic shows.


Anika Noni Rose

Image credit: Disney

History: Voiced Disney's first African American Princess (Tiana).

Popular films:The Princess and the Frog, Dreamgirls

More about Anika Noni Rose: The actress was named a Disney Legend in 2011 at the Disney Legends Awards. She was also on an episode of The Good Wife, Elementary and other popular shows.