Rev. Jesse Jackson founds Operation PUSH, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that supports black empowerment and self-help

Under mayors Tom Bradley, Maynard Jackson, and Coleman Young, the cities of Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Detroit each declare Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday

Harvard University establishes the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, one of the first major African American studies programs


The miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s novel Roots, a saga about seven generations of African and African American families, premieres on television to a record-setting number of viewers and sweeps the Emmy Awards

Jesse Jackson meets with heads of state in the Middle East in an attempt to mediate an Arab-Israeli conflict


Rap music emerges on the popular music scene with the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight

Solidarity Day march of civil rights and labor activists draws 300,000 in Washington, D.C. to protest President Reagan’s conservative stance on affirmative action and school desegregation

Guion S. Bluford Jr. becomes the first African American astronaut to orbit the Earth as a member of the space shuttle Challenger’s crew

Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America

Jesse Jackson makes his first bid for the presidency and receives 3.5 million votes in the Democratic primary; his second bid garners 7 million votes in 1988

NBC’s sitcom The Cosby Show debuts and wins acclaim for its groundbreaking, positive portrayal of an upper-middle-class black family


Gen. Colin Powell serves as the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

David Dinkins becomes New York City’s first black mayor


South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela is released from prison after three decades of incarceration


Clarence Thomas is confirmed as the second African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court


Violent riots erupt in Los Angeles in reaction to the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who beat black motorist Rodney King

Carol Moseley-Braun becomes the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate

President Clinton appoints four African Americans to cabinet positions: Ron Brown as secretary of commerce, Mike Espy as secretary of agriculture, Hazel O’ Leary as secretary of energy, and Jesse Brown as secretary of veterans’ affairs

African American novelist Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Prize in Literature


Million Man March of African American men, led by Nation of Islam head minister Louis Farrakhan, gathers more than 500,000 African American men to Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles district court acquits former NFL football star O.J. Simpson of the dual homicide of his ex-wife and her friend; the verdict polarizes the nation along racial lines


California voters approve Proposition 209, which prohibits the state government from pursuing affirmative-action policies


Government statistics reveal that the HIV/AIDS virus disproportionately affects the African American community

After 37 years, Thomas E. Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry are charged for the murder of four African American girls in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Baptist Chuch in Birmingham, Alabama

U.S. Supreme Court rules in Grutter v. Bollinger that the system of awarding points for race in undergraduate admissions is unconstitutional