African-American History Timeline: 1990 - 1999

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The 1990s were a time of advances and setbacks for African Americans: many men and women broke new ground by being elected as majors of large cities, as members of Congress, and federal cabinet positions, as well as in leadership roles in medicine, sports, and academics. But when Rodney King was beaten by police in Los Angeles and riots broke out after the officers were acquitted, that was a signal that the continuing search for justice was still an ongoing concern. 

1990

  • Playwright August Wilson wins a Pulitzer Prize for the play, The Piano Lesson.
  • Sharon Pratt Kelly becomes the first African-American woman to lead a major city in the United States when she is elected mayor of Washington D.C.
  • Marcelite Jordan Harris is the first African-American brigadier general. She is also the first woman to command a predominately male battalion. 
  • Donna Marie Cheek is the first African-American to be a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team.
  • Carole Ann-Marie Gist is the first African-American to win the Miss USA pageant.

1991

  • Roland Burris is appointed attorney general of Illinois. Burris is the first African-American to hold this position.
  • Rodney King is beaten by three officers. The brutality is captured on videotape and three officers are tried for their actions.
  • The first African-American mayor of Kansas City, Emanuel Cleaver II, is elected.
  • Wellington Webb is elected mayor of Denver. He is the first African-American to hold this position.
  • Clarence Thomas is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The first feature film by an African-American woman is produced and directed by Julie Dash.
  • Walter E. Massey is the first African-American to lead the National Science Foundation.

1992

  • Willie W. Herenton becomes the first African-American mayor of Memphis.
  • The three officers tried in the beating of Rodney King are acquitted. As a result, there is a three-day riot throughout Los Angeles. At the end more than 50 people were murdered, an estimated 2000 injured and 8000 arrested.
  • Mae Carol Jemison is the first African-American woman in space, traveling on the space shuttle Endeavor.
  • Carol Moseley Braun is the first African-American woman elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. Braun represents the state of Illinois.
  • William “Bill” Pinkney is the first African-American to navigate a sailboat around the world.

1993

  • The first African-American mayor of St. Louis, Freeman Robertson Bosley Jr., is elected.
  • Jocelyn M. Elders is the first woman and first African-American to be appointed as the U.S. Surgeon General.
  • Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature for her novel, Beloved. Morrison is the first African-American to hold such a distinction.

1994

  • Corey D. Flourney is elected as president of the Future Farmers of America Convention.

1995

  • Ron Kirk is elected mayor of Dallas. Kirk is the first African-American to hold such a position.
  • The Million Man March is held on October 17. Organized by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the purpose of the march was to teach solidarity.
  • Dr. Helene Doris Gayle is appointed Direction of the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Gayle is the first woman and African-American to hold this position.
  • Lonnie Bristow is appointed president of the American Medical Association and is the first African-American in such a position. 

1996

  • Ron Brown, Commerce Secretary, was killed in a plane crash in Eastern Europe.
  • The first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music is George Walker. Walker receives the award for the composition “Lilies for Soprano or Tenor and Orchestra.”
  • Affirmative Action is abolished by California lawmakers through Proposition 209.
  • Margaret Dixon is appointed as president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
  • When Tiger Woods wins the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., he becomes the first African-American and youngest golfer to win the title.

1997

  • Harvey Johnson, Jr. is the first African-American mayor of Jackson, Miss.
  • The Million Woman March is held in Philadelphia.
  • Lee Patrick Brown is elected mayor of Houston—the first African-American to hold such a position.
  • Wynton Marsalis’ jazz composition “Blood on the Fields” wins a Pulitzer Prize in Music. It is the first jazz composition to receive the honor.
  • African-American men exploited through the Tuskegee Syphilis Study receive a formal apology by President Bill Clinton.

1998

  • Historian John Hope Franklin is appointed by President Clinton to head the President’s Commission on Race. The purpose of the commission is to create a national discussion concerning race issues.
  • The National League of Women Voters elects its first African-American president, Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins.

1999

  • Serena Williams wins the U.S. Open Women’s Singles Tennis Championship at the U.S. Open. Williams is the first African-American woman to reach such an achievement since Althea Gibson won in 1958. 
  • Maurice Ashley becomes the first African-American chess grandmaster.