Notable moments in Black history we should remember in 2023

OPINION: The calendars we buy in the store always mark "significant" days that mostly honor and recognize non-Black people, so here is a list of significant dates relevant to us. 

In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the event.(AP Photo, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Welcome to 2023. The years 2020-2022 seem to have flown by in a blur, almost melting into one 36-month year. 

COVID is still raging, and the country is still falling apart, so we have to find and take our bright spots where we can get them. 

While this is an odd-numbered year, there are a lot of significant anniversaries and birthdays worth noting this year. Some you may be already aware of, and some you may not have known, but all are worth mentioning. 

This is by no means a complete list; there are undoubtedly other dates worth noting, but let these get you started as you go on a mission to discover some on your own.

Important anniversaries

Three organizations within the Divine 9 will celebrate milestone anniversaries this year. 

  • Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded 115 years ago on Jan. 15, 1908 on the campus of Howard University. The ladies of this organization will surely show up and show out for this momentous occasion. 
  • Delta Sigma Theta was founded 110 years ago at Howard University on Jan. 13, 1913.
  • On Sept. 19, 1963, Iota Phi Theta was founded at Morgan State University, making this the fraternity’s 60-year anniversary. 

In the first week of January 1923, Rosewood, Florida, a predominantly Black town of about 200 people, was completely destroyed by an angry white mob, and residents who weren’t killed were driven out after a white woman by the name of Fannie Taylor falsely claimed she had been attacked by a Black man. 

On Feb. 11, 1958, Ruth Carol Taylor became the first Black American flight attendant. She was only in the job for six months before she was let go due to the airline’s discrimination against married flight attendants. 

On Jan. 28, 1963, Black American Harvey Gantt integrated Clemson University in South Carolina. This is significant because South Carolina was the last U.S. state to hold out on integration. Gantt would go on to become the first Black American mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina in 1983, another significant milestone. 

On May 2, 1963, A demonstration known as the Children’s Crusade took place in Birmingham, Ala. Thousands of students took to the streets to protest racial segregation. At the order of Bull Conner,  the demonstrators were sprayed with fire hoses and had police dogs turned on them. Those terrifying images showed up on television and in newspapers, angering people around the world. 

James Hood and Vivian Malone were the first Black-American students to enroll at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. The event was marked in history not just because of them integrating the school, but because then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace — in his own little form of “protest” — stood in front of the building and blocked them from entering initially before eventually conceding and letting them in.

Stormy Weather,” a film starring Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Cab Calloway, the Nicholas Brothers and a host of other Black American performers was released on July 21, 1943. 

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. 

In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo, File)

Wendell Scott became the first Black American to win a NASCAR race at Speedway Park on Dec. 1, 1963. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. 

On Oct. 16, 1968, Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos demonstrated their solidarity with their fellow Black Americans by giving the “Black Power Fist” salute after winning medals in the 200-meter dash at the Olympics in Mexico City. 

Lou Gossett Jr. became the first Black American to win best supporting actor for his role in “An Officer and a Gentleman” at the Academy Awards ceremony on April 11, 1983.

Guion S. Bluford became the first Black American astronaut to go into space on Aug. 30, 1983. 

Vanessa Williams, who celebrates her milestone 60th birthday this year on March 18, became the first Black American to be crowned Miss America on Sept. 17, 1983. 

Ronald Reagan signed the bill that made the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday official on Nov. 2, 1983.

Barack Obama became the first Black American to be elected president of the United States on Nov. 4, 2008. 

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally Nov. 5, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Milestone birthdays

Black excellence is all around us, and these folks need to be celebrated on their born day as they reach significant milestones on the road of life. 

Celebrating their 80th birthday this year are singers Sly Stone (March 15) and George Benson (March 22), as well as poet Nikki Giovanni (June 7).

Civil rights worker James Chaney should be celebrating his 80th birthday this year, but unfortunately, he was murdered in Mississippi in 1964, along with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, while working to get Black people registered to vote. 

Ted Lange, known for playing bartender Isaac on “The Love Boat” will celebrate his 75th birthday this year (Jan. 5) along with Carl Weathers, known for playing Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” film series (Jan. 14); Phylicia Rashad, aka Clair Huxtable (June 19); Daphne Maxwell-Reid aka “Lightskin Aunt Viv” (July 13); Bryant Gumbel (Sept. 29);  and Telma Hopkins (Oct. 28).

And while they are no longer with us, these Black heroes would have celebrated their 75th birthdays this year as well: singer and musician Rick James (Feb. 1); Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Aug. 30); Broadway actress, singer and performer Nell Carter (Sept. 13); poet and playwright Ntozake Shange (Oct. 18); and the “Queen of Disco” herself, Donna Summer (Dec. 31).

Singer Chaka Khan (March 23) and actress Lynn Whitfield (May 6) both turn 70 this year. 

Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash turned 65 on the first day of this year. He is joined in that milestone year by “The Songstress” Anita Baker (Jan. 26); iconic rapper turned actor Ice T (Feb. 16); comedian and actor Keenan Ivory Wayans (June 8); actress Angela Bassett (August 16); and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (Oct. 5). 

Both Prince (June 7) who died in 2016 and Michael Jackson (Aug. 29) would have turned 65 this year as well. 

Actor Wendell Pierce, known for his role as Bunk Moreland on “The Wire” and the first Black man to ever play Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway, will turn 60 on his birthday, Dec. 8. 

Aug. 9 would have marked Whitney Houston’s 60th birthday as well. 

LL Cool J (Jan. 14) and Will Smith (Sept. 25) both turn 55 this year, and rapper Nas (Sept 14) turns 50 this year. 

George Floyd should also be turning 50 this year (Oct. 14), but a cop murdered him in 2020. Let’s honor him on his birthday. 

Shanice, aka Shanice Wilson, turns 40 this year (May 14), and she is joined by comedian and actor Kenan Thompson (May 10); twin actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry (July 6); rapper Eve (Nov. 10); singer John Legend (Dec. 28); and singer Tyrese Gibson (Dec. 30).

Once again, this is not a comprehensive list; it’s just enough to get your year started on honoring Black excellence every chance you get this year. 

Happy New Year!


Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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