African American History Timeline: 1970 to 1979

Barbara Jordan in congress
Barbara Jordan in Congress.

Keystone / Getty Images

The decade of the 1970s is known as the beginning of the post-civil rights movement era. With several federal acts of legislation established to protect the rights of all Americans, the 1970s marked the start of a new era. During this decade, Black people made great strides in politics, academe as well as business. 

1970

Black Panther Bobby Seale
Bobby Seale, cofounder of the Black Panther Party in 1966 with Huey Newton, was also one of the Chicago Seven.  Bettman / Getty Images

January: Dr. Clifton Wharton Jr. is appointed as president of Michigan State University. Dr. Wharton is the first African American to head a predominately White university in the 20th century. Wharton is also the first Black person admitted to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, to earn a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, and to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company (TIAA-CREF), a title he assumed in 1987.

February 18: The Chicago Seven, which included Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, are acquitted of conspiracy charges. However, five of the seven—Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman, and Rubin—are convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. They are sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000 each. The convictions are later overturned, in 1972, by the United States Court of Appeals.

May: The first issue of the women’s magazine Essence is published. Half a century later (in December 2020), the magazine is going strong with a circulation of more than 1 million and a readership base of 8.5 million.

June 16: Kenneth Gibson (1932–2019) is elected the first Black mayor of Newark, New Jersey, ousting a two-term White incumbent, and becoming the first Black mayor of a major Northeastern U.S. city. During his tenure, Gibson acquires and uses federal funds to build and rehabilitate thousands of housing units in the city. He serves five terms as mayor, leaving office only after being defeated for reelection in 1986.

August: Businessman Earl Graves Sr. publishes the first issue of Black Enterprise. The magazine continues to thrive half a century later (as of December 2020), growing to a circulation of half a million. The magazine describes itself as the: "...premier business, investing, and wealth-building resource for African Americans. Since 1970, Black Enterprise has provided essential business information and advice to professionals, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and decision-makers."

Playwright Charles Gordone (1925–1995) wins the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the play, “No Place to Be Somebody.” He is the first Black person to hold such a distinction. Gordone continues to write and direct in the 1970s and 1980s, takes part in the Cell Block Theatre Program in New Jersey "which used theatre as a rehabilitation tool for inmates," and teaches at Texas A&M University from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, notes Broadway Play Publishing Inc.

1971

Satchel Paige
Leroy "Satchel" Paige, in a 1952 photo when he pitched for the St. Louis Browns. Getty Images

January 14: George Ellis Johnson's Johnson Products becomes the first Black-owned company to be listed on a major U.S. stock exchange when it begins trading on the American Stock Exchange. Johnson had started the company—famous for its Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen hair dressing products—with only a $500 loan.

February 9: Leroy “Satchel” Paige is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He is the first former Negro Baseball League player to be inducted. After spending more than two decades in the Negro Leagues, he is hired by Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, for whom he wins six games and loses one—an astonishing .857 winning percentage. He also has 61 hits, scores 22 runs, and hits two home runs—also astonishing for a pitcher. At age 42, he is the oldest rookie in the Major Leagues and caps his first MLB season by helping the Indians win the World Series.

March: Beverly Johnson is the first African American woman to grace the cover of a major fashion publication when she is featured on the cover of Glamour.

March 30: The Congressional Black Caucus is established in Washington, D.C. The 13 founding members include:

  • Rep. Shirley A. Chisholm (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. William L. Clay, Sr. (D-Mo.)
  • Rep. George W. Collins (D-Ill.)
  • Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.)
  • Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (D-Mich.)
  • Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Ralph H. Metcalfe (D-Ill.)
  • Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.)
  • Rep. Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. (D-Pa.)
  • Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio)
  • Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.)

Shortly after its founding, President Richard Nixon refuses to meet with the group, which then boycotts his State of the Union address. CBC Chair Diggs writes in a letter to Nixon:

“Our people are no longer asking for equality as a rhetorical promise. They are demanding from the national Administration, and from elected officials without regard to party affiliation, the only kind of equality that ultimately has any real meaning—equality of results.”

December: The People United to Save Humanity (later renamed the People United to Serve Humanity or Operation PUSH) is founded by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. According to BlackPast, the group seeks "to improve the economic status of African Americans in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to founding PUSH, Jackson was head of the Southern Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago."

1972

Shirley Chisolm at a rally
Shirley Chisholm at a rally. Getty Images

January 25: New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005) is the first Black person to campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chisholm’s bid is unsuccessful. Chisholm, who had been the first Black woman in Congress when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968, knows she cannot win the nomination, which eventually goes to George McGovern, but she is running to raise issues she feels are important. She is also the first Black person and the first woman to win delegates for a presidential nomination by a major party.

February 16: Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain becomes the first National Basketball Association player to score more than 30,000 points during his career. Chamberlain, known as "Wilt the Stilt," also scored the most points in a game—100—in a contest in 1962. By comparison, the next best single-game performance was by Michael Jordan, 63, nearly 40 fewer points.

March 10–12: The first National Black Political Convention takes place in Gary, Indiana, and about 10,000 Black people attend. The group's founding document, called the "The Gary Declaration: Black Politics at the Crossroads," begins with these words:

"The Black Agenda is addressed primarily to Black people in America. It rises naturally out of the bloody decades and centuries of our people’s struggle on these shores. It flows from the most recent surgings of our own cultural and political consciousness. It is our attempt to define some of the essential changes which must take place in this land as we and our children move to self-determination and true independence."

November 17: Barbara Jordan and Andrew Young become the first African American Congressional representatives from the South since 1898. Young, actually the first Black U.S. congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction, goes on to champion the causes he had as a civil rights activist, including anti-poverty and educational programs. He serves in the Congressional Black Caucus and advocates for pacifism; he objects to the Vietnam War and establishes the U.S. Institute for Peace.

1973

Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. Alex Wong / Getty Images.

Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman establishes The Children’s Defense Fund as a voice for poor, minority, and disabled children. Edelman serves as a public speaker on behalf of the children, as a lobbyist in Congress, and as president and administrative head of the organization. The agency serves as an advocacy organization and a research center, documenting the problems of children in need and searching for ways to help them. The agency is supported entirely with private funds.

May 20: Thomas Bradley (1917–1998) is elected mayor Los Angeles. Bradley is the first African American to hold this position and is reelected four times, holding the position for 20 years. Bradley also ran for governor of California on the Democratic ticket in 1982 and 1986 but is defeated both times.

August 15: The National Black Feminist Organization is formed by Florynce "Flo" Kennedy and Margaret Sloan-Hunter and supported by Eleanor Holmes Norton, then head and attorney of New York's Human Rights Commission. The group, which emerges from meetings these women held at the New York offices of NOW in May and August 1973, seeks to address problems of discrimination faced by Black women due to their race and gender.

October 16: Maynard H. Jackson Jr. (1938–2003) is elected as the first Black mayor of Atlanta with nearly 60% of the vote, and the first to be elected in any major southern city. The New York Times notes that Maynard represents a "seismic shift in political power from Atlanta's white establishment to its growing Black middle class."

1974

Frank Robinson Sliding into Homebase
Frank Robinson, sliding into home base, went on to become the first Black manager in Major League Baseball. Bettmann

January: Coleman Young (1918–1997) is inaugurated as the first Black mayor of Detroit, after a hotly-contested battle. He is re-elected four times and serves as mayor for 20 years. The Detroit Free Press describes his tenure as follows:

"Young held fast to a vision for downtown: It was Young who began redoing the riverfront, constructed housing in the central business district; brought Mike Ilitch and his empire to the Fox Theatre and office building; restored the Opera House and built Joe Louis Arena, among other actions."

April 8: Henry “Hank” Aaron hits his 715th home run for the Atlanta Braves. Aaron’s breaking Babe Ruth's legendary record makes him the all-time leader in home runs in major league baseball. Additionally, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

"He (is) a consistent producer both at the plate and in the field, reaching the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI 16 times and (wins) three Gold Glove Awards en-route to 25 All-Star Game selections."

October 3: Frank Robinson is named the player-manager of the Cleveland Indians and the next spring becomes the first Black manager of any Major League Baseball team. He goes on to manage the Giants, Orioles, Expos, and Nationals.

The Links, Inc. makes the most significant single monetary donation from any Black organization to the United Negro College Fund. They had supported the UNCF since the 1960s, and since that time they have donated more than $1 million.

1975 

Arthur Ashe Hitting Backhand Shot at Wimbledon
Arthur Ashe hitting backhand shot at Wimbledon. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

February 26: The day after Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975), founder of the Nation of Islam dies, and his son Wallace D. Muhammad (1933–2008) succeeds him as leader. The younger Muhammad (also known as Warith Deen Mohammed) would define a new direction for the Nation of Islam, ending the separatist philosophy of his father that had banned whites as "white devils" and changing its name to the World Community of Islam in the West.

July 5: Arthur Ashe (1943–1993) becomes the first Black person to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, defeating overwhelming favorite Jimmy Connors.

Historian John Hope Franklin (1915–2009) is elected president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) for the term 1974–1975. In 1979, Franklin is elected as the president of the American Historical Association. These appointments make Franklin the first Black American to hold such a position.

1976

Barbara Jordan
Nancy R. Schiff / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

July 12: Barbara Jordan, a congresswoman representing Texas, is the first Black woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She tells the assembled delegates:

"We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America."

1977

Minister Louis Farrakhan holding a violin and smiling
Minister Louis Farrakhan smiles at the crowd after performing at The Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan, in 2014. Monica Morgan / Getty Images

January: Patricia Roberts Harris (1924–1985) is the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position when President Jimmy Carter appoints her to oversee Housing and Urban Development. She also is the first woman to lead a law school when she serves briefly as dean of Howard Law School in 1969. At her confirmation hearing for the cabinet post, Harris is asked if she is able to "represent the interests of the poor," according to the National Women's Hall of Fame. She responds:

"I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a Black woman, daughter of a dining-car worker. I am a Black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn't start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think that I have forgotten that, you are wrong."

January 23–30: For eight consecutive nights, the miniseries "Roots" is aired on national television. Not only is the miniseries the first to show viewers the impact of enslavement on American society, but it also achieves the highest ratings for a television program.

January 30: Andrew Young is sworn in as the first Black American to become a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Carter. Young goes on to serve two terms as mayor of Atlanta in the 1980s and serve in leadership positions for various organizations, including the National Council of Churches from 2000 to 2001. He also establishes the Andrew Young Foundation in 2003 to advocate for human rights throughout the African diaspora. 

September: Minister Louis Farrakhan distances himself from Warith Deen Mohammed's movement World Community of Islam and begins to revive the Nation of Islam. A minister and orator, Farrakhan remains influential in American politics and religion for decades and is known for speaking out against racial injustice toward the Black community.

1978

Muhammad Ali Taunting Sonny Liston
Muhammad Ali taunts Sonny Liston. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Faye Wattleton is the first Black woman, and at 35 the youngest individual at the time, to preside over Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She serves in the post until 1992, during which time she directs "the expansion of reproductive health care services for women and families from 1.1 million to about 5 million in 1990," according to the National Women's Hall of fame.

June 26: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the case of the University of California Regents v. Bakke that affirmative action can be used as a legal strategy to deal with past discrimination. The decision has historical and legal significance because it declares that race can be one of several determining factors in college admission policies, but it rejects the use of racial quotas.

September 15: Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) is the first heavyweight champion to win the title three times by defeating Leon Spinks in New Orleans. Ali's conversion to Islam and draft evasion conviction had led to controversy and his exile from boxing for three years. Despite the hiatus, Ali beats Spinks—who had defeated Ali in an earlier contest taking the World Heavyweight title—in a rematch that did not even last the full 15 rounds.

1979

NostalgiaCon '80s Pop Culture Convention
Sugar Hill Gang's Wonder Mike and Master Gee at NostalgiaCon at the Anaheim Convention Center at Anaheim, California on Sept. 29, 2019. Manny Hernandez / Getty Images

August 2: The Sugarhill Gang records the 15-minute-long pioneering hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight.” The first stanza of the song becomes a famous ditty that inhabits the minds of those who hear it:

"I said a hip, hop, a hippie to the hippie
To the hip hip hop, you don't stop
The rockin' to the bang bang boogie say up jumps the boogie
To the rhythm of the boogity beat"
Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "African American History Timeline: 1970 to 1979." ThoughtCo, Jan. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1970-1979-45445. Lewis, Femi. (2021, January 2). African American History Timeline: 1970 to 1979. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1970-1979-45445 Lewis, Femi. "African American History Timeline: 1970 to 1979." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1970-1979-45445 (accessed January 21, 2021).

Watch Now: 7 Famous African Americans of the 20th Century