Last year, Viola Davis became the first-ever black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Not only that, but Davis—honored for her starring role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder—was only the seventh black woman ever nominated in the category in the history of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

At this Sunday's Emmy Awards ceremony, Tracee Ellis Ross will also find herself in rare company. The hilarious actress has earned an Emmy nod for playing Rainbow Johnson on ABC's Black-ish, making her the first black actress in 30 years to be nominated in this category—which only a single black actress has ever won.


Here's a look back at the four trailblazing comedic talents who came before.

Diahann Carroll

Julia (1969)

Julia (Diahann Carroll) and her son Corey (Marc Copage).


From 1968 through 1971, Carroll starred as the title character, a nurse and single mother, on this progressive-for-its-time NBC series.

She reflected on the cultural significance of Julia in a 2013 interview with Ebony: "…it was something that I had not seen in my childhood, and that was the star of a show being not only a woman, but a black woman. I was very happy to be that representative."

Carroll became the first-ever black woman nominated for an Emmy in this category in 1969, but lost to Hope Lange in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. The actress who eventually played Dynasty's beloved Dominique Devereaux did win a Golden Globe for Best TV Star in 1968, and was among the first celebrities immortalized as a Barbie with the release of the "Julia" doll the next year.


Isabel Sanford

The Jeffersons (1979-1982, 1983-1985)

The Jeffersons: George (Sherman Hemsley) and Weezy (Isabel Sanford).


To date, Isabel Sanford—best known for playing matriarch Louise "Weezy" Jefferson on CBS' All in the Family and its spinoff The Jeffersons—is the only African-American woman ever to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, a category in which she was nominated a total of seven times. She took home that award in 1981, and also garnered five Golden Globe nods throughout the course of The Jeffersons' 11-season run.

Nell Carter

Gimme a Break! (1982-1983)



On this NBC sitcom, Carter played Nell Harper, a housekeeper to a widowed police chief who also served as a mother figure to his three daughters.

The actress was also an accomplished singer—she occasionally performed on Gimme a Break! with guest stars like Sammy Davis, Jr., in addition to singing the show's theme song—who won both a Tony and an Emmy for appearing in the original Broadway production and later TV broadcast of the musical Ain't Misbehavin'.

Phylicia Rashad

The Cosby Show (1985-1986)



Clair Huxtable is one of the most iconic TV moms of all time, and it's no surprise that Phylicia Rashad was recognized twice by the Television Academy for her performance as the attorney and mother of five on The Cosby Show.

Although Rashad has yet to win an Emmy, she made history as the first black actress to win a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, for starring as Mama in the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun.

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.