The year in news started with a capital H – for Hope. Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s 44th president and its first black president. Nearly 2 million people braved frigid temperatures on the National Mall, the U.S. Capitol grounds and along the parade route leading to the White House on Inauguration Day. Another 38 million watched on television.
The new president’s political honeymoon was short-lived, however, as he sought to set a deadline for leaving the war in Iraq, determining the best approach to the war in Afghanistan, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, where accused terrorists and political detainees were being held, and steming the bleeding of the nation’s banking system and mortgage crisis, which in turn led to massive unemployment and home foreclosures. He even met resistance from some of his most ardent supporters.
Earlier this month, members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted a key House committee vote and threatened to abandon support for banking regulations in an effort to get money added to proposed legislation to assist the black community.
The Caucus got $4 billion added to a Wall Street regulation bill and $2 billion to the jobs spending bill. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) inserted $3 billion to the $700 billion financial rescue fund to provide low-interest loans to unemployed homeowners in danger of foreclosure. He added $1 billion for neighborhood revitalization programs, but there were bright spots for the president as well.
In December, he went to Oslo, Norway to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee said the award was aspirational, rather than for achievements by his young administration. The award, the committee said, was “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” as well as his efforts to push for nuclear disarmament and addressing “climatic challenges,” according to the Nobel Committee. The announcement came even though Obama announced he would increase the number of troops in the war in Afghanistan. Beyond the year’s heavy political focus, a plethora of other scandals, struggles, triumphs and transitions marked 2009’s news pages.
Michael Jackson. The embattled King of Pop collapsed at his Los Angeles-area home on June 25, 2009. Attempts to resuscitate him by his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, were unsuccessful. He was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. PDT. In late August, the Los Angeles coroner declared Jackson’s death a homicide, and law enforcement officials are conducting an investigation of Murray, who had administered the powerful prescription drugs propofol, lorazepam and midazolam, which were found in Jackson’s system during the autopsy.
Steve McNair. The former Tennessee Titans quarterback, who led the famous Tennessee Titans’ drive that came a yard short of forcing overtime in the 2000 Super Bowl, was found dead July 4 with multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Police said a pistol was discovered near the body of Sahel Kazemi, a woman with whom McNair – a married father of four – was having an affair. Authorities said Kazemi shot McNair and then herself.
Tiger Woods. The legendary golfer who changed the face of the game – apparently unmoved by the McNair tragedy – was forced to take an indefinite leave from the game as details of at least a dozen sexual affairs began to emerge, following a minor car accident on his Florida estate in the wee hours afters after Thanksgiving night. Sponsors initially said they would stand by Woods, who previously enjoyed a clean-cut reputation, but as details and the number of women who said they were involved with the golfer grew, endorsement deals began slowly to disappear.
Performance Royalty Tax. The Performance Rights Act, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), would require radio stations to pay a fee to everyone who performs on a record – from the composer, the artist(s), background musicians and singers to the person or company that owns the copyright to the song. That would be in addition to fees that broadcasters already pay to artist associations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Supporters say the bill is fair and fees have been imposed for those who broadcast music over the Internet. Opponents note corporations will largely benefit under the law because 50 percent of the money would go to the rights holders of the songs, usually the record labels, 45 percent to the stars and 5 percent to the backup musicians. The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee, but has not come up for a vote in the full House of Representatives.
Morris Brown. This time last year, Morris Brown College, in Atlanta, was on the verge of shutting down. A January 6, 2010 foreclosure date had been set for one of the campus buildings, which was in default over a loan dating to 1996, and the historically black college owed the city about $380,000 in delinquent bills. But an outpouring of support, including a “Yes, We Care” fundraising campaign and some creative planning, has kept the school in the game. According to a statement posted on its Web site in November, Morris Brown is still open, with 104 students currently taking classes on campus and another 20 enrolled in the online Organizational Management and Leadership program that was initiated in the fall of 2009.
Slavery Apology. The Senate passed a resolution in June calling on the U.S. to apologize officially for slavery and acknowledge “the fundamental injustice, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” But members of the Congressional Black Caucus took exception to a disclaimer noting “nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.” The CBC saw that as a hedge against any possible lawsuits seeking reparations, although a similar apology in 1988 for the internment of Japanese-Americans in detention camps during World War II had no such disclaimer.
Tom Joyner. The South Carolina Parole and Pardons Board granted a posthumous pardon in October to the radio host’s great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin. The men were executed in 1915 for a crime they didn’t commit. Joyner had been on a quest to clear his uncles’ names after learning of their story when noted Harvard scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, PhD, announced the results of genealogy research conducted on Joyner’s family as part of Gates’ PBS special, “African American Lives II.” Joyner, with help from Gates and South Carolina attorney Stephen K. Benjamin, put together the petition to exonerate his uncles, who were executed with two other black men for the April 1913 shooting death of John Lewis, 73, a wealthy Confederate veteran. The men were framed by a black man who may well have committed the crime himself – and later said he did it because he knew the Griffin family was wealthy enough to hire a lawyer.
Oprah Winfrey. The media mogul and talk show queen announced in November she would end her syndicated show in 2011, ending 25 years on the air. The show, which quickly displaced Phil Donahue as the king of television talk shows, was the foundation of what became a multibillion-dollar media empire, which includes a magazine and a satellite radio program. Ratings slipped over the past year, in part, some say, to her support of Barack Obama’s presidential run. Winfrey won’t disappear from television, however. She is expected to launch a new talk show on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc.