African American History in the 80s

African American History in the 80s

As is appropriate on the 3rd Monday in January each year, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his sacrifice for the equality of every person in America. I can't think of a better way to celebrate than taking a look back at the breakthrough accomplishments of African Americans in the 1980s. These people honored the sacrifice of the many before them by climbing to the top of their profession and proving that Dr King's vision was the right one for America.

  • Janie L. Mines becomes the first African American woman to graduate from the Naval Academy. 
  • Robert L. Johnson launches the Black Entertainment Television (BET) channel out of Washington, D.C.
  • Val James of the Buffalo Sabres becomes the first professional African American player in the Nantional Hockey League.
  • Bryant Gumbel becomes the anchor of The Today Show, the first African American to hold the morning anchor post on a major television network.
  • Michael Jackson releases Thriller, which would become the best selling music album of all time.
  • Louis Gossett, Jr. becomes the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film An Officer and a Gentleman.
  • Roscoe Robinson Jr. becomes the first African American four star general in the United States Army.

  • Guion (Guy) S. Bluford becomes the first African American astronaut to travel in space as a crew member of the Challenger.
  • Nov 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signs the bill establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. day as a federal holiday.
  • Alice Walker's The Color Purple wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 
  • Vanessa Williams is crowned the first African American Miss America.
  • Carl Lewis wins four gold medals at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics tying a record set by Jesse Owens.
  • The Cosby Show begins it's eight season run on television, the most successful series in history featuring a predominantly African American cast.
  • Russell Simmons creates Def Jam Records in Harlem, N.Y.
  • John Thompson leads Georgetown University to the NCAA Division I national basketball championship, becoming the first African-American coach to do so.
  • Eddie Robinson, coach of Grambling State University, becomes the winningest coach in college football history.
  • Oprah Winfrey becomes the first African American woman to host a television show.
  • Spike Lee releases his first film She's Gotta Have It, launching a new wave of interest in African American films and filmmakers.
  • Mike Tyson becomes the youngest WBC boxing champion in history (20 years old) by defeating Trevor Berbick.
  • Run DMC's "Walk This Way" becomes the first rap song to enter the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
  • The first African Americans are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame include Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and Little Richard.
  • Entrepreneur Reginald Lewis, "the Jackie Robinson of deal-making," becomes the first African American CEO of a billion dollar corporation.
  • Fences, a play by August Wilson, wins a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony award.
  • Aretha Franklin becomes the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Debi Thomas wins a bronze medal for figure skating, the first African-American to do so at any Winter Olympic games.
  • Doug Williams becomes the first African American quarterback to start and win the Superbowl.
  • L. Douglas Wilder becomes the first elected governor in the US. He would serve as Virginia's governor from 1990-1994 and also more recently serve as the mayor of Richmond.
  • Ronald H. Brown is elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the first African American to be the head of either major political party.
  • Art Shell becomes the head coach of the Oakland raiders, making him the first African American head football coach in the NFL's post WWII era.
  • Colin Powell becomes the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush administration.

This is a very brief list. Please feel free to comment with other achievements meaningful to you or with your memories of these events as they happened in the 80s.