From the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to the 2008 election of Barack Obama, to widespread global protests declaring Black Lives Matter in 2020, African American history in the United States has been filled with both triumph and strife.

Here's a look at some of the notable milestones that took place from the end of the civil rights movement to today.

Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated

April 4, 1968: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is shot and killed at the age of 38 while standing on the balcony of his Lorraine Motel room in Memphis, Tenn. James Earl Ray was later convicted of the crime and sentenced to a 99-year prison term. President Lyndon B. Johnson designates April 7 as a national day of mourning.

April 11, 1968: Just days after King's assassination, Johnson signs the Fair Housing Act of 1968, also called the Civil Rights Act of 1968, into law, prohibiting housing discrimination nationwide based on race, religion, national origin and sex (it was later amended to include disability and family status). The bill had languished in Congress, but King's murder prompted Johnson's urging for approval.

Aug. 29, 1968: Arthur Ashe, at age 25, becomes the first African American man to win the U.S. Open (Althea Gibson was the first woman to do so in 1958). He goes on to win the Australian Open in 1970, Wimbledon in 1975 and was ranked in the world's top 10 players for 10 years.

Oct. 16, 1968: U.S. 200-meter sprint medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze, respectively, raise their black-gloved fists in a Black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. They are suspended for politicizing the Olympics and sent home.

Jan. 21, 1969: New York Representative Shirley Chisholm is sworn in as the first Black woman elected to Congress. Serving seven terms, she was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and Women's Caucus, and ran for president in 1972, the first Black woman to campaign for a major party nomination.

“The next time a woman of whatever color, or a dark-skinned person of whatever sex aspires to be president, the way should be a little smoother because I helped pave it," she wrote in 1973.

Oct. 29, 1969: Fifteen years after Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a per curiam decision in Alexander v. Holmes County (Mississippi) Board of Education, that school districts must put an immediate end to segregation.

Hank Aaron Breaks Babe Ruth's Record

Atlanta Braves Hank Aaron hits 715th career home run breaking Babe Ruth's long standing record April 8, 1974, Atlanta, Georgia
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Atlanta Braves Hank Aaron hits 715th career home run breaking Babe Ruth's long standing record, April 8, 1974.

April 8, 1974: Henry "Hank" Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record and becoming Major League Baseball's all-time home run leader, a record he would hold until he was bested by Barry Bonds in 2007. The Atlanta Brave receives scores of hate mail and death threats, but former President Jimmy Carter tells CNN in 2014 his success helped advance civil rights. "He became the first Black man for whom white fans in the South cheered," Carter says.

Feb. 3, 1977: The eighth and final episode of the landmark miniseries “Roots” airs on ABC. Based on the Alex Haley novel, the finale was watched by 36 million households, making it the most-watched TV episode in U.S. history (broken by the MASH finale in 1983).

Aug. 30, 1983: Col. Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. becomes the first Black American to visit space as part of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew. A former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, he served as a flight engineer and mission specialist and returned to space three more times and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Sept. 17, 1983: New York’s Vanessa Williams is crowned the first Black Miss America at age 20. On July 23, 1984, she gives up her crown following Penthouse magazine’s announcement it would publish nude photos of her.

Jan. 16, 1986: A bronze head-and-shoulders bust of Martin Luther King Jr., by sculptor John Wilson, is unveiled in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, on what would have been King's 57th birthday. It’s the first statue of a Black American to appear in the building. Four days later, on January 20, the first national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is observed.

March 27, 1988: The Rev. Jesse Jackson leads in delegates and popular votes in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination when he wins the Michigan caucuses. He eventually loses the nomination to Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts.

Rodney King Verdict Sparks L.A. Riots

April 29, 1992: Four Los Angeles police officers—three of whom are white—are acquitted of beating Rodney King, a Black man. The attack, videotaped by a bystander and witnessed across the globe, also shows a group of fellow officers watched and made comments. The verdict led to five days of riots in Los Angeles.

Sept. 12, 1992: Engineer and physician Mae Jemison becomes the first Black woman to fly in space, serving as a science mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Oct. 7, 1993: Toni Morrison is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Black woman to earn the honor.

Nov. 3, 1993: Carol Moseley Braun becomes the first Black woman, and only the second Black American, to be elected to the U.S. Senate. The Democrat representing Illinois was the first woman to serve on the Finance Committee, and after losing her bid for a second term, was named the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand by President Bill Clinton and became the second Black woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000.

Oct. 16, 1995: Organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, hundreds of thousands of Black men rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to hear a day full of speeches addressing racism and issues in the Black community. Held in partnership with the NAACP, the event also features Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou and others.

Oct. 25, 1997: Approximately 750,000 Black women respond to the Million Man March with a gathering of their own—the Million Woman March, held in Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Speakers include Jada Pinkett Smith, Malcolm X's daughters Atallah and Ilyasah Shabazz, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and others.

Jan. 20, 2001: Colin Powell is appointed the first Black secretary of state by George W. Bush, receiving unanimous confirmation and eventually serving four years in the position.

Jan. 26, 2005: Condoleezza Rice takes office as the first Black woman secretary of state, also serving under George W. Bush for four years.

Barack Obama Elected First Black President

Barack Obama Elected First Black President, November 4, 2008
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic president-elect Barack Obama waves to supporters flanked by his wife Michelle and daughters Malia Ann, right, and Sasha, ahead of making his presidential acceptance speech at a rally in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, on November 4, 2008.

Nov. 4, 2008: Barack Obama is elected the 44th president of the United States, becoming the nation's first Black American to lead the nation. A Harvard Law School graduate, Illinois state senator and U.S. senator serving Illinois, he is reelected in 2012.

Feb. 26, 2012: George Zimmerman shoots Black high school student Trayvon Martin, claiming self defense. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder April 11, and on July 13, a jury finds him not guilty. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is first used following the acquittal.

July 17, 2014: Eric Garner dies after being put in a chokehold by New York City police, following suspicion he was selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island. Video is captured with Garner saying "I can't breathe," which becomes a rally cry for criminal justice and police brutality reform. A grand jury chooses not to indict officer Daniel Pantaelo, but Garner's family later settles a lawsuit against the city for $5.9 million.

Aug. 9, 2014: In Ferguson, Mo., Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen, is shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson, setting off weeks of protests. A grand jury, on November 24, chooses not to indict Wilson, spawning more protests and rioting. In November, Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old playing with a toy gun, is killed by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. No officers are charged in the shooting.

Sept. 24, 2016: The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens as the newest Smithsonian Institution museum along Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. Established by Congress in 2003, it's home to 36,000-plus artifacts chronicling African American culture, history and life.

Sept. 1, 2016: Colin Kaeperick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, takes a knee during the national anthem for the first time before a game with the San Diego Chargers. He pledges to donate $1 million to help stop police brutality and the oppression of Black people and people of color. Several other players join him in the protest amid mass criticism, including that of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Black Lives Matter Movement Begins, Kamala Harris Elected VP

Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
A large-scale ground mural depicting Breonna Taylor with the text 'Black Lives Matter' is seen being painted at Chambers Park on July 5, 2020 in Annapolis, Maryland.

2020: In a three-month span, three Black Americans are fatally shot, spurring protests across the nation and the globe. On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, is out jogging when he is chased and gunned down in Georgia by a white father and son. On March 13, Breonna Taylor, 26, a Black woman who had been asleep in bed, is killed by Louisville, Kentucky police during a botched no-knock raid. And on May 25, George Floyd, 46, dies after being pinned to the ground with a knee pressed to his neck by a Minneapolis police officer for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The killings result in global demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as changes to both federal and state policing laws.

Jan. 20, 2021: Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first female vice president, also making her the first Black and South Asian American to hold the position. The daughter of immigrants—an Indian mother and Jamaican father—she previously served as the first Black female attorney general of California and was the second Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.


Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Stanford's The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute

History of Fair Housing,

Besting Ruth, Beating Hate: How Hank Aaron Made Baseball History, CNN

Martin Luther King Jr. Bust, Architect of the Capitol

When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots, NPR

A look back at the Million Man March, 25 years later, CNN

Obama Wins Election, The New York Times

‘I can’t breathe’: Five years after Eric Garner died in struggle with New York police, resolution still elusive, The Washington Post

Colin Kaepernick: Timeline of the QB’s football and post-NFL days since he first knelt in 2016, Chicago Tribune

Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History, The New York Times

HISTORY Vault: Black History

Watch acclaimed Black History documentaries on HISTORY Vault.