Fisk University holds several firsts in academic history. In 1930, Fisk became the first HBCU to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It was also the first black institution to be placed on the approved lists of the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Women.
Historic leaders that have held an impression in the African American diaspora have called Fisk University their alma mater. W.E.B. Dubois, one of the leading educators, philosophers and co-founders of the NAACP was an 1888 graduate of Fisk. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University, sent all of his children to the college for their baccalaureate education. Other notable graduates include journalist Nikki Giovanni, John Hope Franklin, Carolyn Reid-Wallace, Hazel O’ Leary, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Niara Sudarkasa, Judith Jamison, Mathew Knowles, Kym Whitley and U.S. Representative John Lewis.