2009 a Year of Quiet, Significant Change

James Wright | 12/22/2009, 3:30 p.m.

As far as years go, 2009 was one in which the landscape of political power changed hands and doors opened for minorities and women never before seen in American history. Nonetheless, the year also included high profile cases of domestic abuse and corruption among members of Congress.

The nation's oldest civil rights organization turned 100-years-old and yet one of the most vicious influenza viruses killed thousands, many of whom were children.

Here is the year of 2009, the year of quiet change.

ON JANUARY 15, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris took the oath of office to represent Illinois. He took the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. There was a great deal of controversy regarding his sitting because he was appointed by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich. After legal wrangling in Illinois and on Capitol Hill, Burris became the sixth African American to sit in that body. Later in the year, Burris announced that he would not seek a full term to the seat in 2010.

ON JANUARY 20, Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States. He was sworn in on the west side of the U.S. Capitol with more than a million people on or around the National Mall. Hundreds of millions watched the ceremony throughout the world.

Obama became the first person of African descent to take the oath of office for president as well as the first native Hawaiian to do so. In celebration of the event, there were a record number of inaugural balls and parties held throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

ON FEBRUARY 9, Chris Brown, an African American rapper, turned himself into Los Angeles police for making threats during an ongoing investigation regarding alleged domestic violence charges. Subsequent revelations showed that Brown savagely beat his then girlfriend R&B singer Rihanna. Brown was eventually sentenced to community service and apologized on television and other media, but a wide-ranging national discussion was held on domestic violence and its affects on relationships and the women it impacts.

IN APRIL 2009, the H1N1 epidemic was deemed a pandemic, with its first recording in Veracruz, Mexico. The disease is a more severe form of influenza. It starts with typical flu symptoms such as coughs, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills and fatigue and morphs into shortness of breath, pain in the chest and abdomen, dizziness and a sense of confusion.

The pandemic spread throughout the world with confirmed deaths in most of the Third World and developing countries. A vaccine was quickly developed by U.S. and European medical specialists but priority was given to children, senior citizens, pregnant women and persons with diseases such as diabetes and asthma.

President Obama declared the malady a national emergency in late October, which facilitated hospitals and clinics to go into treatment mode to temper its effects.

ON MAY 26, 2009, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy of U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice David Souter. With his nomination, Sotomayor became the first Latino and the third woman nominated to the high court. Sotomayor's confirmation hearings were held in early July and while there were concerns from some Republican senators about comments that she made to the effect that a Latino could possibly be a better judge than a White male, she was confirmed by the Senate on July 28. With her confirmation, she is the first person of Hispanic descent to sit on the court.She was sworn onto the court on Aug. 8 and cast her first vote on a case on Aug. 17.

JUNE 22, 2009, a Washington, D.C. Metro train crash near the Fort Totten Station in the District of Columbia killed nine people and injured at least 80 during the evening hours. The accident was caused by a moving train that collided with a stationary train. While many noted that this was a local disaster, it drew nationwide attention to the maintenance and management of subways systems throughout the country.

JUNE 25, 2009, Michael Jackson, known as the "King of Pop" and one of the world's most popular entertainers died in Los Angeles. It is interested to note that Farrah Fawcett Majors, considered one of the sexiest women in the 1970s died that day also, but news of her death was completely overshadowed by the death of Jackson, who was 50.

For weeks after his death, Jackson was lauded for his groundbreaking career in the music industry. But there are still unresolved questions surrounding his death. Millions throughout the world watched the July 7 memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

JULY 11-16, The NAACP celebrated its 100th anniversary in New York City. Obama was one of the keynote speakers for the event. The celebration included programs and exhibits of the organization's glorious past and future issues that it will tackle in terms of fighting discrimination and racism for people of color. The real anniversary took place on Feb. 12 but the festivities were postponed so that more attention could be given to it during the national convention.

AUGUST 25, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), 77, died of brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass. Kennedy served in the Senate 46 years, taking the seat of his brother, who was President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy's death was noted with ceremonies in Hyannis Port, Mass. and in Washington with individuals from both political parties lamenting his death but praising his political career, compassion for the less fortunate and his personal growth. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1980 but managed to become one of the most effective U.S. senators in history. At the time of his death, he was working with Obama on passing comprehensive health care coverage.

OCTOBER 9, President Obama is selected as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the fourth U.S. president to be awarded the prize after Jimmy Carter won it in 2002.

Woodrow Wilson picked it up in 1919 and Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for the 1906 prize. President Obama accepted the prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo, Norway. He joins a long list of people of African descent to win the prize, including South African ANC Chief Albert Luthuli, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

NOVEMBER 3, Virginia and New Jersey held their gubernatorial elections and Republicans prevailed in both. Virginia's new governor is Robert McDonnell and New Jersey elected Christopher Christie.

NOVEMBER 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passes the most sweeping health care bill in the country's history. The bill, the Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009, would make obtaining health care easier for millions of Americans who cannot afford it.

The bill passed, 220-215. At press time, the Senate is working on its version of health care reform.

NOVEMBER 13, Former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery, the harshest sentence ever for a member of Congress. Jefferson, first elected in 1990, was the first Black to serve in the U.S. Congress from Louisiana.
Before his legal troubles began in May 2006, with an incident in which $90,000 was found in his freezer according to the FBI, Jefferson served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. In 2008, he was defeated for re-election by Republican Joseph Cao, who became the first Vietnamese-American to serve in the U.S. Congress.

With Jefferson's departure, there are no Blacks representing Louisiana in the U.S. Congress despite having the second highest percentage of Blacks in the nation with 30 percent.

DECEMBER, Two major cities held mayoral contests in which Black men competed with White women in run-offs. In Atlanta, on Dec. 1, State Sen. Kasim Reed edged out Mary Norwood to become the latest in a growing line of Black mayors in that city.
However, in Houston on Dec. 12, Anise Parker defeated African American Gene Locke to become the second woman mayor of Houston and its first openly gay executive.