28 Modern Black History Makers and Moments
As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s take a look at some modern Black history-makers and moments in history. While remembering those African-Americans who paved the way, there are still so many people who have made history in the past century.
B.B. King also known as the “The King of Blues,” is considered one of the ‘Top 5 Most Influential Blues Guitarists of All-Time,’ according to Blues Rock Review. Born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, he earned the No. 17 spot on Gibson’s list of the “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time.” King, who has released more than 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Even though King passed away in 2015, we can still enjoy his sultry performances, thanks to many videos on Youtube, like the one below. It’s his live performance of ‘The Thrill is Gone’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1993.
Video credit: Eagle Rock via Youtube
Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930. Blinded by childhood glaucoma, Ray Charles is credited as being the father of soul music, according to PBS. Dubbed “the genius,” his musical style fused gospel, blues and jazz. In 1986, Charles was one of the first Black artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The video below is from Charles’ performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 19, 1997.
Video credit: Ray Charles via Youtube
Most of us know about Tiger Woods, but Charles Luther Sifford was an African-American who made golf history. Sifford was born on June 2, 1922, in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1961, he was the first Black person to join the PGA. In 2004, achieved another first when he became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The video below is a tribute to Sifford, who broke the color barrier in the PGA.
Video credit: PGA TOUR via Youtube
Jesse Owens, who was the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, made history at the 1936 Olympics, defying Adolf Hitler’s claims that Aryans would dominate. Born James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama, he became the most successful athlete who participated in the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. He won four gold medals in track & field and broke two world records.
Video credit: Olympic via Youtube
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919. Jackie Robinson made history in 1947 when became the first Black professional baseball player in Major League Baseball. He was named the National League MVP in 1949 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Video credit: Biography via Youtube
One of the first African-Americans to break the color barrier in professional racing was Willy T. Ribbs. He was born January 3, 1955, in San Jose, California. In 1986, Ribbs raced in three NASCAR races. It was in 1991 that Ribbs made history when he became the first Black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Video credit: Sky Sports F1 via Youtube
Ozzie Newsome Jr., a former NFL player, was born March 16, 1956, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Also known as the “Wizard of Oz,” he played for the Cleveland Browns and in 1999 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2002, Ozzie became the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, making him the first African-American to hold that position in the NFL.
Video credit: FOX10 News via Youtube
Wendell Oliver Scott was born on August 29, 1921, in Danville, Virginia. On December 1, 1963, he became the first African-American to win in NASCAR’s premiere series. Scott won a Grand National Series race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. Scott was finally awarded his trophy for the race, posthumously in 2010, after it was originally “misplaced.”
Video credit: NascarAllOut via Youtube
Singer Aaron Neville was born in New Orleans on January 24, 1941. Neville said he was influenced by country music legends Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hank Williams. In 1993 he released his cover of George Jones’ “The Grand Tour,” his first appearance on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
Video credit: Aaron Neville via Youtube
In the 1960s, Charley Pride became one country music’s first Black superstars. He had 36 Number 1 hit songs and sold more more than 25 million albums. Charley Frank Pride was born on March 18, 1934, in Sledge, Mississippi. In 1967 he became the first Black solo artist to perform at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, making him one of the three African-American members of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, becoming the first Black inductee.
Video credit: Grunge via Youtube
Darius Rucker has been described as the “next” Charley Pride. Darius Carlos Rucker was born May 13, 1966 in Charleston, South Carolina. His first solo single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” was released in 2008. With the success of the song, Rucker became the first solo African-American artist to chart a number one country hit in 25 years, since Charley Pride’s “Night Games” in 1983.
Video credit: Wall Street Journal via Youtube
Deford Bailey made history as the first country singer to be introduced on the Grand Old Opry and one of only three Black members. Bailey was born on December 14, 1899, in Smith County, Tennessee. He was given the nickname the “Harmonica Wizard” because of his skill with the instrument, which he learned to play at 3 years old. In 2005 Bailey was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Video credit: fonmacgyver via Youtube
Born June 17, 1983 in Arlington, Texas, Mickey Guyton made history in 2020 as the first Black woman to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards. In the same year, she also received a Grammy nod for her song “Black Like Me,” making her the first African-American female solo artist to receive a nomination in a country category.
Video credit: Mickey Guyton via Youtube
Thelma Bynem, a little-recognized country singer, was born on June 4, 1941, in Leesville, South Carolina. It was 1969, when Bynem, known by her stage name of Linda Martell, made an appearance on the Grand Old Opry. This performance made history, as she became the first the Black female solo artist to play the Grand Ole Opry.
The video below is from Martell’s performance on ‘Hee Haw’ in 1970.
Video credit: Glenn Eric via Youtube
In 1989, Colin Powell made history by becoming the youngest person and the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. He was born April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York, NY. Powell made history again in 2001, when he became the first appointed black Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
Video credit: Biography via Youtube
In 2001, Dr. Condoleezza Rice became the first black woman to serve as the United States’ National Security Adviser. Condoleezza “Condi” Rice was born November 14, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Rice is no stranger to making history. She served as Stanford University’s Provost from 1993 to 1999, making her the first woman and first African-American to hold the position. In 2005, under President George W. Bush, she became the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.
Video credit: Biography via Youtube
At 33 years old, Dr. Ben Carson served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, making him the youngest major division director in the hospital’s history. Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr. was born September 18, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Carson, considered one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2008.
Video Credit: CNN via Youtube
Edward W. Brooke’s election to the U.S. Senate ended an 85-year absence of African–American Senators. Brooks, who was born October 26, 1919, in Washington, D.C., was a member of the Republican Party. In 1966, Brooks became the first African American popularly elected to the United States Senate.
Video credit: CBS Evening News via Youtube
Born February 1, 1894 in Farmington, Missouri, Jesse Ernest Wilkins Sr. served as Undersecretary of Labor for International Labor Affairs in the Eisenhower administration. With his appointment, Wilkins became the first African-American to be appointed to a sub-cabinet position in the United States Government and the first to attend White House cabinet-level meetings.
Video credit: The Film Archives via Youtube
In 1951, Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson became the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She was born in early April of 1926, in Pittsburg, Texas. Dr. Jefferson was also the first Black woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society. She is known for her longtime support and involvement in the “right-to-life movement” in America.
Video credit: Massachusetts Citizens for Life via Youtube
Sarah Breedlove, who was born in Delta, Louisiana, on December 23, 1867, was the child of slaves. After her marriage to Charles Joseph Walker, she became known as Madam C. J. Walker. She became a self-made entrepreneur, founding the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which produced cosmetic and hair care products for African-American women. At the time of her death in 1919, she was the wealthiest Black woman in America.
Video credit: Marking History Channel via Youtube
Maurice Ashley was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica on March 6, 1966. A competitive chess player since college, Ashley became the first African-American International Grand Master in 1999. He became the first Black person inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame when he was admitted in 2016.
Video credit: Mashable via Youtube
Barack Hussein Obama was born August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004 and the U.S. Senate from 2005 until 2008. Obama became the 44th President after he won 365 electoral votes and more than 69 million popular votes in 2008. With his victory, he became the first African-American President of the United States, holding the office for two terms, from 2009 to 2017.
Video credit: Biography via Youtube
Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr., was born November 22, 1942, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bluford, who was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force and earned his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, was selected by NASA – from 10,000 applicants – to become an astronaut. On August 30, 1983, he became the first African-American in space onboard the third flight for the Orbiter Challenger.
Video credit: The Weather Channel via Youtube
Kamala Devi Harris is no stranger to making history. She was born to Jamaican and Indian parents on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California. Kamala was the first African-American and first woman to serve as San Francisco’s District Attorney, the first African-American and first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General, and the first South Asian-American Senator in United States history. Harris is also the first African-American and first woman to become Vice President of the U.S.
Video credit: CNN via Youtube
The first rock ‘n’ roll song was written and performed by African-Americans when it was recorded in 1951. “Rocket 88” was written by Ike Turner and sung by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats. The song is considered by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the first rock and roll song ever recorded.
Video credit: Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats – Topic via Youtube
The first African-American musicians inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and Little Richard. They were a part of the inaugural class admitted on January 23, 1986.
Video credit: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame via Youtube
Richard Wayne Penniman, born on December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, was one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. Better known as Little Richard, the flamboyant performer helped define early rock ‘n’ roll music. He became a household name in the 1950s with hit songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” In 1986 Richard was in the inaugural class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Video credit: 60 Minutes Australia via Youtube