Reflecting on Black History: What a Difference 50 Years Makes!

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( Here we go, grab your popcorn as we will take a look down memory lane to check out some big moments in the past half-century of Black History. We’re taking a groovy ride through some standout steppingstones along the long and winding road to equal opportunity.

Reflecting on Black History: What a Difference 50 Years Makes!

We’ll revisit some boundary-busting musical mavericks like Linda Martell and Beyoncé. As well as ceiling-shattering astronauts like Guion Bluford and Victor Glover. Their barrier-breaking achievements show how far we’ve come – yet also how far this zigzaggy journey toward equity still stretches ahead.

Progress ain’t linear, that’s for darn sure. More like a wandering dirt road through the countryside, with twists and turns all over the place. But mile by mile, we’re inching closer to that shining city on the hill. So buckle up for an ear-opening road trip through the highs and lows of the last 50 years!

Queen Linda Martell Rules the Charts…For a Hot Minute

Wind back the clock to 1969, when the OG trailblazer Linda Martell became the first Black female country artist to crack Billboard’s Top 100. Her infectious toe-tapper “Color Him Father” captured hearts and shot all the way up to #22 on the country chart. Not too shabby!

For a hot minute there, it really seemed like Martell had busted open massive new doors for Black women in country music. A promising new generation of diverse country queens felt within reach. But sadly, the industry slammed those doors shut again really quick.

After Linda’s breakthrough, another half century passed before a Black female solo artist topped the country chart. A few crossover tracks squeaked through now and then. But Nashville’s powers-that-be kept gospel-tinged Black voices boxed out of the genre’s highest echelons, particularly women striking out on their own. A crushing setback on the road toward inclusion.

Beyoncé Smashes Another 50 Year Drought

Let’s fast-forward to the present, when the one and only Beyoncé Knowles-Carter recently laid down another musical milestone. Her hypnotic house/country hybrid jam “Break My Soul” rocketed all the way to the top spot-on Billboard’s country chart earlier this year.

The buzz was palpable. Beyoncé earned a triumph Linda Martell surely never imagined would take 50+ years to repeat. But here Queen Bey was, at last ending the five-decade drought. With her trademark honey vocals and genre-busting sound, Beyoncé swung the sledgehammer once again – this time, cracking country music’s glass ceiling. Small wonder why her chart-topping debut country album; with the current #1 hit single: “Texas Hold’em!” is still at the top of the Country charts. You go girl!

You could practically hear the shards raining down as she reigned over the chart. But this long-overdue accomplishment also reminds us how much further we have to go. Milestones can’t be multi-generational. Progress crawls along slowly, beloveds…but it ain’t dead. And Beyoncé is out here today, living proof that steady change is underway!

From Small Steps on Apollo to Giant Leaps on the ISS

Alrighty, let’s switch gears and blast off into the cosmos! We’ve got more “firsts” to revisit – this time, from pioneering Black astronauts venturing where few men or women for that matter, had gone before.

It was 1969 when Guion Bluford became the first African American NASA astronaut, just months after the momentous Apollo 11 moon landing. Talk about impeccable timing! But they didn’t allow Mr. Bluford or other Black space travelers anywhere near the moon yet. Not so fast. Opportunities beyond small steps were scarce.

It wasn’t until 1983 that trailblazer Guion finally rocketed into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger’s debut flight. At last – one small step for man, one giant leap for Bluford! His foot was firmly through the door. But progress from there was painfully slow. Minority astronauts remained stuck in lower earth orbit for decades to come.

Let’s fast-forward again to 2020, when astronaut Victor Glover; a proud member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc; got to fly on the pioneering first operational mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. This time headed all the way to the International Space Station for a record-setting six-month science mission!

After decades of incremental gains, this was a quantum leap forward. The esteemed Glover spent half a year working aboard humanity’s orbital outpost – an achievement no Black astronaut had yet accomplished. And soon, Glover will take another monumental leap: In NASA’s upcoming Artemis program, he is set to become the first Black man to walk on the surface of the moon since Apollo 17’s last lunar mission back in 1972. That is 50 years between milestones, hey y’all! The door opened even wider and will never be closed thanks to the pioneering professionals and committed people representing our noble cause that speeds on it way!

The Zigzaggy Road to Progress: How Far We’ve Come, and How Far We Have Yet to Travel

Are you picking up on the pattern here? It’s always two steps forward, one step back…and repeat. These back-to-back musical and space milestones, decades apart from one another, illustrate well the zigzaggy, nonlinear road we continually travel toward inclusion and equal opportunity, while contending with the “anti-woke” crowd.

It is easy to feel frustrated that achievements finally within reach today seemed inconceivable just one generation ago. Linda and Guion undoubtedly stood on the shoulders of giants from generations before them, too. The march toward justice is a winding path—full of switchbacks and course corrections, but we can’t allow that to discourage us.

As well, we can’t allow the winding road to discourage us. We must embrace that lasting change happens in fits and starts – it has always been this way. And we all have a role to play in whispering, “Keep going…we’re getting closer…”

Even when progress feels achingly slow, each cracked ceiling creates a wider path for those who will come next. One day, future generations will look back on Beyoncé, Glover and others blazing trails right now as their champions who pushed things forward against the odds.

Their shoulders are getting tired, now it’s our turn to stand up and lift each other higher. Mile by mile, we will get there. But doggone, it takes time, grit, faith, and determination. Eyes on the horizon!

On a personal note, fifty years ago there were no college Ph.D. graduates in this writer’s family. Fast forward to 2016 as Kathryn Cherise Buford walks across that platform and is “hooded” as a Ph.D. graduate at the University of Maryland; with honors, you go girl! In a familiar James Brown Christmas song, Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto! An ad lib line goes: “Never thought I’d be singing a song…with tears in my eyes!” Thankful to God for allowing her dream, and mine to come to fruition…50 years from the day that my praying mother spoke it into existence!


So those are my meandering reflections on some shining steppingstones along this long, winding road toward justice. These incredible stories and achievements go to show how far as a society we have already come, yet also how far these timeless journeys stretch onward—but we will get there together.

Past milestones light the way – so we must keep walking…even when the road gets rocky. ?We cannot let the winding path discourage us. Mile by mile, we will get there. Onward we go! Never looking back!


This writer and Victor J. Glover are both members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

Associate Editor; Stanley G. Buford

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