By Elizabeth Darst
Updated March 25, 2002 01:00 AM

For the first time in the 74-year history of the Academy Awards, African Americans won for both top acting honors. “Oh, my God,” said the stunned and tearful Halle Berry, 35, who won for her role in “Monster’s Ball,” reports the Associated Press. “I’m sorry. This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll . . . it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” Denzel Washington, accepting his Best Actor Oscar for “Training Day” (he won Best Supporting Actor for 1989’s “Glory”), acknowledged his debt to the first black actor to win the top award, Sidney Poitier, for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field.” “Two birds in one night, huh? Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney,” said Washington, 47. “I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do.” The 75-year-old Poitier, who received a lifetime achievement award, said, “I accept this award in memory of all the African American actors and actresses who went before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I was privileged to stand to see where I might go,” reports the AP. Though there was a lot of talk about race at Sunday night’s big show, Washington pointed out backstage that the award is ultimately recognition for talent. “There’s been a lot of talk about race . . . this is an award to an actor,” reports the AP. The big winner of the night was “A Beautiful Mind,” with three awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Ron Howard and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly. British actor Jim Broadbent took the statuette for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of John Bayley in “Iris.”