2020's historic firsts and what to watch in the new year

2020's historic firsts and what to watch in the new year
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The rollercoaster that was 2020 produced several events that will be remembered for decades to come.

Americans this year witnessed just the third impeachment trial of a sitting president in U.S. history, the worst pandemic in more than 100 years and a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.

But the past 12 months have also been filled with a number of historic firsts — across politics, sports, entertainment and pop culture — that are sure to leave their own mark on an already notorious year.


Here's a look back at some historic moments this year:

White House race

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE defeated President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE last month to win 306 Electoral College votes to Trump's 232. In the process, Biden became the first nominee in U.S. history to receive more than 80 million votes.

Biden's selection of Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisInaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models Overnight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP senator retires MORE as his running mate in August also broke multiple barriers, with it being the first time a Black woman and an Indian-American had been picked for vice president on a major party ticket.

The pair's electoral victory also represented the first time a graduate of a historically Black college or university (HBCU) and a member of a historically Black Greek-letter organization was elected vice president.

The presidential race accompanied several other history-making moments, too, including one of the country's oldest magazines and its most circulated newspaper weighing in on a White House contest for the first time. Scientific American announced its endorsement of Biden in September, while USA Today backed the former vice president over Trump the following month.

Despite the raging pandemic, the stock market also reached new highs this year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average breaking 30,000 for the first time in November after the election.


Congressional, state and local positions

This year produced a spate of historical firsts at all levels of government — federal, state and local.

In New Mexico, voters elected all women of color to the state's delegation to the U.S. House — something that has only ever happened in one other state, Hawaii.

Voters in Delaware, meanwhile, elected Sarah McBride to the state legislature, and by doing so made her the first transgender woman elected to a state Senate.

In California, Justice Martin J. Jenkins made history last month after being sworn in as the California Supreme Court’s first openly gay justice and only the third African American man to serve on the high court. California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomPortland mayor pepper sprays man after confrontation at restaurant Overnight Health Care: Biden says anyone who wants vaccine may be able to get it by spring | Moderna says vaccine effective on variants, but tests booster shot | California lifts regional stay-at-home order California lifts regional stay-at-home order MORE (D) nominated him for the position in October.

Two New York Democrats, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, became the first openly gay Black men to win election to Congress. Torres, who had served as a New York City councilman, also became the first openly gay Afro-Latino to be elected to Congress.

The GOP also saw a record number of women added to its ranks this year, with at least 31 Republican women slated to serve in the next congressional term.

And some figures helped make history on multiple fronts. In a year that saw a record 27 Black women elected to Congress, Missouri's Cori Bush and Washington State's Marilyn Strickland also became the first Black women in their respective states to be elected to the House.


One of this year’s breakout moments in the entertainment industry was when “Parasite” won best picture at the Academy Awards. The win marked the first time in history that a non-English film received the top award.

Months later, “The Bachelor” broke ground with its selection of Matt James to be its next bachelor, making him the first Black male lead ever on the show.

A record number of Black entertainers also received Emmys in major categories during the September awards show.

Among those was “Watchmen” actress Regina King, who took home an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. She has now tied Alfre Woodard for four Emmy wins, the most for any Black actor.

“Euphoria” actress Zendaya also made history, becoming the youngest person ever to win lead actress for a drama series. Viola Davis is the only other Black woman to have won the award, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Media & Pop Culture

The lists of firsts in media and pop culture has grown into the final month of the year, with Kate Freeman, a financial specialist in Michigan, becoming the first openly transgender contestant on “Jeopardy!” to win the show.   

Earlier this month Time magazine also named scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao, 15, its first-ever “Kid of the Year.” The move came a year after the magazine named environmental activist Greta Thunberg its "Person of the Year." Thunberg, who was 16 at the time, was the youngest person ever to receive the distinction.

Over the summer, Variety published its first issue with a cover shot by a Black photographer, Dario Calmese. The cover featured Viola Davis and was described by the photographer at the time as “a re-creation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s.”

Around that time, Sports Illustrated also made history when it had its first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio, appear in its swimsuit issue. The move came about a year after Sampaio became the first openly transgender model to be hired by Victoria’s Secret.


The 2020 summer Olympics were postponed until next summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the first time the games have been postponed amid a period of peace.


In baseball, Kim Ng made history last month when she was named the new general manager of the Miami Marlins, marking the first time Major League Baseball (MLB) has had a female and Asian GM.

Rachel Balkovec was also brought on by the New York Yankees as a hitting coach, making her the first woman ever to be hired as a full-time hitting coach in professional baseball history.

San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers also made football history by becoming the first woman and openly gay person ever to coach during a Super Bowl.

The NFL announced its first-ever all-Black officiating crew for a game in November. The crew — made up of veteran referee Jerome Boger, umpire Barry Anderson, down judge Julian Mapp, line judge Carl Johnson, side judge Dale Shaw, field judge Anthony Jeffries and back judge Greg Steed — officiated a matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


A number of Black students have been elected leaders of their student bodies at prominent academic institutions across the country this year, paving new ground.

Last month, Noah Harris, a junior at Harvard majoring in government, became the first Black man to be elected by students as president of the Undergraduate Council.


Months before that, Danielle Geathers became the first Black woman to be elected student body president at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber was named brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy in November, becoming the first Black woman in history to serve in the role, which is the highest leadership position in the institution’s student body.

Looking ahead to 2021

Washington is set to witness a number of firsts in government when the incoming Biden administration takes over.

Biden has nominated numerous officials to serve in top positions in his administration and Cabinet, with many of them slated to make history if confirmed.

Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP senator retires The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel This week: Senate stuck in limbo MORE has been selected for Homeland Security secretary, and would be the first Latino to serve in the role if confirmed.

Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Internal watchdog to probe Trump officials who cast doubt on climate science | Kerry on climate talks: 'I regret that my country has been absent' | Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Biden expands on Obama ethics pledge Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate MORE (D-N.M.) has become the first Native American chosen for a Cabinet post, with Biden selecting her to lead the Department of Interior.

Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegExclusive 'Lucky' excerpt: Vow of Black woman on Supreme Court was Biden turning point The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Biden signs order to require masks on planes and public transportation MORE, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., would also make history as the first openly gay Cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate if he is installed in the role.

And retired Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOn The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Overnight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary MORE, Biden's pick to serve as Defense secretary, could become the first Black person to lead the Pentagon.

Katherine TaiKatherine TaiWhy aren't more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Biden's Cabinet? Record number of women to serve in Biden Cabinet The challenge of Biden's first days: staying focused and on message MORE, the House Ways and Means Committee's chief trade lawyer, would additionally make history as the first Asian American and woman of color to serve as U.S. trade representative if confirmed.