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 BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE defeated President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial 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 HarrisHarris discusses pandemic, migration during visit with new Honduran president Biden has done just three local interviews in first year in office Clyburn predicts Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs would get GOP votes 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 NewsomLos Angeles lawmakers vote to support ban on new oil wells Newsom, California lawmakers reach deal on COVID-19 sick pay California bill would require all schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID-19 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 MayorkasSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Hillicon Valley — Biden celebrates 'right to repair' wins DHS warns electrical infrastructure an 'attractive target' for domestic extremists 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 & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden officials announce clean energy plans Biden administration announces actions bolstering clean energy  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 ButtigiegButtigieg targeting rising traffic fatalities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment 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 AustinPentagon chief orders closer focus on preventing civilian deaths in airstrikes Overnight Defense & National Security — Inside Austin's civilian harm directive Pentagon pauses civilian vaccine mandate after federal court ruling MORE, Biden's pick to serve as Defense secretary, could become the first Black person to lead the Pentagon.

Katherine TaiKatherine TaiTo stabilize Central America, the US must craft better incentives for trade Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal US and UK start formal talks over Trump's steel, aluminum tariffs 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.