African-American History Timeline: 1970 to 1979

Barbara Jordan in congress

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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 for African-Americans. During this decade, African-Americans made great strides in politics, academe as well as business. 


  • 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.
  • The Chicago Seven, which included Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner were acquitted of charges to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
  • In May, the first issue of the women’s magazine Essence is published.
  • Kenneth Gibson is elected the first African-American mayor of Newark, NJ. 
  • Businessman Earl Graves publishes the first issue of Black Enterprise.
  • Playwright Charles Gordone wins the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the play, “No Place to Be Somebody.” He is the first African-American to hold such a distinction.


  • The Congressional Black Caucus is established in Washington D.C.
  • The People United to Save Humanity is founded by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
  • Johnson Products becomes the first African-American owned company to be listed on a major U.S. stock exchange.
  • Leroy “Satchel” Paige is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He is the first former Negro Baseball League player to be inducted.
  • 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.


  • The first National Black Political Convention takes place in Indiana.
  • New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm is the first African-American to campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chisolm’s bid is unsuccessful.
  • Barbara Jordan and Andrew Young become the first African-American Congressional representatives from the South since 1898.
  • Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain becomes the first National Basketball Association (NBA) player to score more than 30,000 points during his career.


  • Thomas Bradley is elected mayor Los Angeles. Bradley is the first African-American to hold this position and is reelected four times, holding his position for 20 years.
  • The National Black Feminist Organization is developed by Eleanor Holmes Norton.
  • The Children’s Defense Fund is established by Marion Wright Edelman.
  • Maynard H. Jackson Jr. is elected as the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.
  • Coleman Young becomes the first African-American mayor of Detroit.


  • Henry “Hank” Aaron hits his 715th home run. Aaron’s record makes him the all-time leader in home runs in major league baseball.
  • The Links, Inc. makes the most significant single monetary donation from any African-American organization to the United Negro College Fund.


  • Following the death of Elijah Muhammad, his son, Wallace D. presides over the Nation of Islam. Under the tutelage of Wallace D. Muhammad, the direction of the Nation of Islam changes its philosophy and name to the World Community of al-Islam.
  • Arthur Ashe becomes the first African-American to win the British Men’s Singles at Wimbledon.
  • Frank Robinson becomes the first African-American manager of a Major League Baseball team when he takes over the Cleveland Indians.
  • Historian John Hope Franklin is elected president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). In 1979, Franklin was elected as the president of the American Historical Association (AHA). These appointments made Franklin the first African-American to hold such a position.


  • Barbara Jordan, a congresswoman representing Texas is the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.


  • Patricia Roberts Harris is the first African-American woman to hold a cabinet position when Jimmy Carter appoints her to oversee Housing and Urban Development.
  • Andrew Young is the first African-American to become a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. 
  • 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 achieved the highest ratings for a television program.


  • Minister Louis Farrakhan revives the Nation of Islam.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the case the University of California Regents v. Bakke that affirmative action can be used as a legal strategy to deal with past discrimination.
  • Muhammad Ali is the first heavyweight champion to win the title three times by defeating Leon Spinks in New Orleans.
  • Faye Wattleton is the first African-American woman to preside over Planned Parenthood.


  • The Sugar Hill Gang records “Rapper’s Delight.”