50 Years of Black History: A Time Line

From the civil rights movement to the election of President Barack Obama, Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root's editor-in-chief, presents a time line of the highlights of African-American history. See how far we've come and how far we've yet to go.

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  • 1960


    Feb. 1, 1960, four students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, N.C., begin a sit-in at Woolworth’s Drug Store.

  • 1962


    Oct. 1: James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, escorted by U.S. marshals by order of President John F. Kennedy. Oct. 24: James Brown and the Famous Flames record Live at the Apollo, ranked 24th by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003 in its list of the 500 greatest albums.

  • 1963


    Sidney Poitier wins best actor for Lilies of the Field. Aug. 28: The March on Washington becomes the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S. history, a moment defined by Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. James Baldwin publishes The Fire Next Time.

  • 1963


    Sept. 15: Four girls — Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, ages 11 to 14 — are murdered when the 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed in Birmingham, Ala.

  • 1965


    Feb. 21: Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem by members of the Nation of Islam. Aug. 6: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act; SNCC activist John Lewis and 600 marchers, protesting denial of black voting rights, are attacked by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Aug. 11-21: The Watts Riots leave 34 dead, more than 3,500 arrested; birth of the Black Arts Movement, when LeRoi Jones becomes Amiri Baraka.

  • 1966


    May: Stokely Carmichael becomes chairman of the SNCC and embraces “black power.” The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense is founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Calif.

  • 1967


    Jan. 3, Edward William Brooke III becomes the first black senator (Massachusetts) since Reconstruction. Aug. 31, Thurgood Marshall takes his seat as the first African-American justice of the United States Supreme Court.

  • 1968


    April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

  • 1968


    November: Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

  • 1970


    Charles Gordone wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play No Place to Be Somebody.

  • 1972


    November, Barbara Jordan of Houston and Andrew Young of Atlanta become the first blacks elected to Congress from the South since 1898.

  • 1973


    May 29, Tom Bradley elected mayor of Los Angeles; Oct. 16, Maynard Jackson elected mayor of Atlanta.

  • 1974


    April 8, Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s longstanding record. Nov. 12, in the Bronx, Clive “Hercules” Campbell, aka “Kool Herc,” starts using two turntables and chanting rhymes over the beat, forming the basis of rap.

  • 1975


    Arthur Ashe becomes the first African-American male to win the British Men’s Singles championship at Wimbledon.

  • 1976


    Robert Hayden becomes the first African-American U.S. poet laureate.

  • 1977


    Feb. 3, The eighth and final episode of the mini-series, Roots, based on Alex Haley’s novel, airs, receiving the highest ratings for a single program.

  • 1979


    Jan. 1: Sugar Hill Gang releases “Rappers Delight.” Along with Kurtis “Blow” Walker’s “Christmas Rapping” and “The Breaks,” which went gold, these recordings will be recalled as the formal birth of the hip-hop movement, which would be the dominant popular cultural form in America for the next three decades. 

  • 1982


    Nov. 30, 1982, Michael Jackson releases Thriller; with sales of $110 million, it becomes the best-selling recording of all time.

  • 1983


    April 12: Harold Washington elected mayor of Chicago; Alice Walker’s The Color Purple wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award. March 25: Michael Jackson introduces “the Moon Walk” during a rendition of “Billie Jean” at “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” June 22: The State Legislature of Louisiana repeals the last racial-classification law in the U.S. Aug: 30: Guion “Guy” Bluford Jr. becomes the first black astronaut to fly on the Challenger. Nov. 2: President Ronald Reagan signs the bill establishing a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

  • 1984


    Carl Lewis wins four gold medals at the L.A. Olympics, matching Jesse Owens’ record of 1936.

  • 1984


    Jesse Jackson wins one-fourth of the votes cast in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, and one-eighth of the convention delegates in his first presidential bid.

  • 1985


    The Oprah Winfrey Show is syndicated in more than 120 American cities.

  • 1986


    Jan. 20: First MLK Day celebrated. September: The Oprah Winfrey Show ranked No. 1 talk show and No. 3 in syndication, reaching 10 million viewers daily in 192 cities. Winfrey founds Harpo Productions.

  • 1987


    Michael Jackson releases Bad, which sells 30 million copies.

  • 1988


    July 20: The Rev. Jesse Jackson receives 1,218 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention; Florence Griffith Joyner wins four track-and-field medals at the Seoul Olympic Games. Nov. 4: Comedian Bill Cosby announces $20 million donation to Spelman College.

  • 1989


    March: Frederick Drew Gregory becomes the first African American to command a space shuttle, the Discovery. Aug. 10: General Colin L. Powell named chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nov. 7: L. Douglas Wilder elected first black governor of any state (Virginia); David Dinkins elected mayor of New York.

  • 1990


    Sharon Pratt Kelley elected mayor of Washington, D.C., the first African-American female to head a major city. August Wilson wins Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson.

  • 1990


    Feb. 11, Nelson Mandela is freed after 27 years in prison; August Wilson wins Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson.

  • 1991


    March 3, Rodney King brutally beaten in San Fernando Valley by L.A. police officers, sparking riots, an investigation and subsequent trial; Feb. 1, Harvard University commits resources to create major, endowed research center in African and African-American Studies; Oct. 15, Judge Clarence Thomas confirmed by the Senate, by a vote of 52-48, as second black associate justice of the Supreme Court, following bitter testimony of sexual harassment by law professor, Anita Hill.

  • 1992


    April 30, The Cosby Show broadcasts final episode of its eight-season run; Sept. 12, Dr. Mae Jemison becomes first black female astronaut; Nov. 3, Carol Moseley Braun is the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate (Illinois).

  • 1993


    Oct. 7: Toni Morrison becomes the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Rita Dove becomes the first black female poet laureate of the U.S.; Dr. Joycelyn Elders becomes the first female, and first black, surgeon general.

  • 1994


    Cornel West moves from Princeton to Harvard, joining the “Dream Team” of African-American scholars.

  • 1995


    Oct. 16, Million Man March, under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan, held in Washington, D.C.

  • 1996


    Oprah Winfrey ranked third on Forbes list of highest-paid entertainers.

  • 1998


    DNA evidence strongly suggests that Thomas Jefferson is likely father of Sally Hemings’ children.

  • 1999


    Michael Jordan retires; during his 13-season career, Jordan wins six NBA championships. November: Encarta Africana released by Microsoft and The Africana Encyclopedia, first conceived by W.E.B. Du Bois, is finally published.

  • 2000


    2000-July, Venus Williams becomes the first black woman to win the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon since Althea Gibson in 1957 and 1958; December, President George W. Bush appoints Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser.

  • 2001


    Forbes Magazine lists Oprah Winfrey, with net worth of $900 million, as No. 280 of the 400 richest people in the United States. Ruth Simmons becomes first black president of an Ivy League university.

  • 2002


    March 24, Halle Berry becomes the first African-American female to win an Academy Award for Best Actress; Denzel Washington becomes second African-American male to win Best Actor.

  • 2003


    Oprah Winfrey becomes billionaire. Dec. 13: President George W. Bush signs legislation to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall.

  • 2004


    Four black men — Kenneth Chenault (American Express), Richard Parsons (Time Warner), Franklin Raines (Fannie Mae) and E. Stanley O’Neal (Merrill Lynch) — have become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

  • 2005


    Jan. 26, Condoleezza Rice becomes first black female secretary of state; Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina hits Louisiana and southern Mississippi, devastating New Orleans.

  • 2005


    2005 tragedy memorialized in 2006 by Spike Lee in HBO documentary When the Levees Broke.

  • 2006


    Jan. 31: Coretta Scott King dies at age 78.

  • 2007


    Deval Patrick is elected governor of Massachusetts.

  • 2008


    Nov. 4, U.S. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States.

  • 2009


    Jan. 30: Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele becomes chairman of the National Republican Committee, effectively becoming the head of the Republican Party. June 25: Michael Joseph Jackson, the “King of Pop,” dies of a drug overdose.

  • 2009


    Nov. 10: President Obama delivers his acceptance speech in Stockholm on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • 2009


    Feb. 2: The U.S. Senate confirms, with a vote of 75 to 21, Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general of the United States. Holder is the first African American to serve as attorney general.

  • 2010


    Feb. 27: A new visitor center opens in New York City, near the rediscovered 17th- and 18th-century burial grounds of Africans, free and enslaved, who helped create the nation’s cultural and commercial capital.

  • 2010


    Nov. 24: Democrat Kamala Harris wins election as California’s attorney general. In doing so, she becomes the first woman, first African American and first Indian American in California history to be elected state attorney general.

  • 2010


    Dec. 8: President Obama signs legislation to pay black farmers and Indian tribes about $4.6 billion to compensate for decades of discrimination suffered at the hands of government entities like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.