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 BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE defeated President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing 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 HarrisBiden to record video message for 'Vax Live' concert Harris says Mexico, US can work together to improve quality of life in Northern Triangle Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says 'it is time to pass the baton on to someone else' 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 NewsomWhy Caitlyn Jenner should not be dismissed San Francisco lawmakers vote to make home of city's first legally married same-sex partners a landmark Woman charged with starting fire that burned 63,000 acres in California 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 MayorkasSinema urges Biden to take 'bold' action at border: 'This is a crisis' Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' America's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do 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: Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water | Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions | Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections 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 Buttigieg'Funky Academic:' Public has been 'groomed to measure progress by firsts' Biden administration in talks with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for India ambassador post: reports Business groups target moderate Democrats on Biden tax plans 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 AustinWill deterrence work, when our foes wage war disguised as peace? Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech White House posts visitor logs for first time since Obama MORE, Biden's pick to serve as Defense secretary, could become the first Black person to lead the Pentagon.

Katherine TaiKatherine TaiVaccine patent waivers face more hurdles despite Biden support On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain EU urges Biden administration to increase vaccine exports 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.