Black History and Women Timeline 1980-1989

Black History and Women in the 1980s

Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner, 1986. Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images

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Angela Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket.  She became Professor of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, a position she held until 1984.

Janie L. Mines graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis. She was the first African American woman admitted to the Naval Academy.

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara was published, winning the American Book Award.

 The novel features the civil rights, feminist and peace movements.

Tennis player Venus Williams born on June 17 in Lynwood, California.


The musical Dreamgirls opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on December 20.  It was later nominated for Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  In 2006 it was the basis of a motion picture.  The story follows a trio of women R&B singers in their achievement of success and celebrity.

Arnette R. Hubbard became the National Bar Association’s first woman president.  The National Bar Association is the oldest national association of African American lawyers and judges.

Singer Beyonce Knowles (Destiny’s Child in the 1990s, then soloist) was born on September 4 in Houston, Texas. Tennis player Serena Williams was born on September 26 in Saganaw, Michigan.

Musician Mary Lou Williams, a jazz pianist, vocalist and composer, died on May 28.  She recorded more than 100 records and wrote music for key bandleaders including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.


Pamela McAlliser Johnson became publisher of the Ithaca Journal, making her the first African American woman to hold that position with a major newspaper.

Alice Walker's The Color Purple was published.  The novel focuses on the lives of African American women in rural Georgia in the 1930s.


The Color Purple won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, making Alice Walker the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Vanessa Williams became first African American selected as Miss America.


Angela Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket for the second time.  

Leontine T. C. Kelly became the first woman bishop of any major American religious denomination, the United Methodist Church.

Willie B. Barrow became executive director of Operation PUSH.  A minister, she had been co-founder with Rev. Jessie Jackson of Operation Breadbasket which became Operation PUSH.  She thus became the first woman to be executive director of a major civil rights organization.

Vanessa Williams resigned her Miss America crown after a scandal involving nude photographs, Suzette Charles, Miss New Jersey, became the second African American Miss America


Patricia Roberts Harris died (lawyer, politician, diplomat).  She had been United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, then the United States Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (renamed Secretary of Health and Human Services) under President Jimmy Carter. She was the first African American woman to serve in the candidate and the first African American woman to be in the line of succession for the United States Presidency.

Gwendolyn Brooks was named US Poet-Laureate (then called Consultant in Poetry), the first African American with that title.


Willie B. Barrow became President of Operation PUSH (see 1984 for more about Barrow and Operation PUSH).

Ella Baker died (civil rights activist) after five decades of civil rights work.

Oprah Winfrey’s The Oprah Winfrey Show went into national syndication.

Spike Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It was released, starring female lead Tracy Camilla Johns.


Carrie Saxon Perry, elected mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, becoming the first African American woman mayor of a large American city.

Toni Morrison published Beloved, a novel about an African American woman who escaped slavery.

Rita Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She was the first woman included.

Dr. Johnetta B. Cole became the president of Spelman College, Atlanta, the first African American woman to hold that position.


Florence Griffith-Joyner became the first American woman to win four medals in one Olympics.

Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Beloved


Oprah Winfrey, first African American woman to host a nationally-syndicated talk show, founded Harpo Productions to produce television shows and movies.

(January 29) Barbara Harris was elected the first woman bishop of the Episcopal Church.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black History and Women Timeline 1980-1989." ThoughtCo, Dec. 30, 2016, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2016, December 30). Black History and Women Timeline 1980-1989. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black History and Women Timeline 1980-1989." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 24, 2018).