The biggest national stories of 2020 can be summed up in three words: pandemic, politics and protests. The deadly coronavirus crippled the U.S. health care system and economy. It changed how Americans voted, as millions cast mail-in ballots or voted early in the November election. America also grappled with social unrest brought on by police-involved killings. Here are the top 10 stories.
COVID-19 takes toll, Blacks hit hard
When the new year began, few Americans had heard of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, an acronym derived from ‘CO’ (corona), ‘VI’ (virus) and ‘D’ (disease), first detected in Wuhan, China in Dec. 2019. The CDC confirmed the first U.S. case on Jan. 21, 2020. By Feb. 25, the CDC said the virus was headed toward pandemic status. By March 1, the virus had killed six people in the U.S. and more than 3,000 globally. As the virus spread America’s nightmare began, from health fears to stay-at-home orders. Adults 60 and older and those with certain chronic conditions were found to be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they contracted the virus. Black Americans were infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. Eventually, schools, churches, theaters and museums closed. Sporting events, concerts, conventions and weddings were canceled. Hospitals were overrun and overworked health care workers became heroes. Though proven to save lives, mask-wearing became a political statement. As 2020 came to an end, the numbers were devastating: more than 16 million cases and over 300,000 deaths in America due to COVID-19.
Biden ticket wins, Harris makes history
Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris were elected to the highest offices in the land after defeating Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Nov. 3 election. Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, became the first woman of color elected to the position. Biden garnered 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. He was originally behind in the Democratic presidential race but emerged as the frontrunner after Black primary voters in South Carolina propelled him to victory. Biden later said he would have the backs of Black Americans and nominated cabinet members he considered diverse.
Killings of Blacks spark unrest, protests
The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery sparked widespread protests and calls for an end to systemic racism and police misconduct and brutality. Protesters of all ethnicities marched from coast to coast and around the world, especially after Floyd’s death. Floyd, a Houston native, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, was filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck while he uttered, “I can’t breathe.” Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13 in her apartment by Louisville, Ken. by police with a no-knock warrant. Arbery was jogging near Brunswick, Ga. on Feb. 23 when he was chased and fatally shot by a white former police officer and his son. The two men weren’t arrested until May 7 after a video of the shooting emerged.
U.S. economy devastated by pandemic
The economic effects of the pandemic proved to be overwhelming, with minorities, low-wage earners and small business owners suffering the most. An estimated 22 million Americans lost their jobs at the height of the crisis. COVID-19 affected the stock market and wrecked the travel, hotel and restaurant industries. Parents scrambled to find child care after schools and daycare centers closed. Food and housing insecurity soared, as the less fortunate faced hunger and homelessness. In March, Congress passed a $2-trillion stimulus bill allocating funding for direct payments to Americans (including $1200 to individuals and $500 per child), small business loans and unemployment benefits. As the year came to an end, Americans waited anxiously as Congress debated a second relief bill.
Vaccine rollout brings hope, doubts
Scientists developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. In mid-December, shipping companies began delivering Pfizer’s vaccine to nearly 150 U.S. distribution centers, with health care workers and nursing home residents given first priority. The rollout was part of the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed program. There were also concerns about the vaccine’s acceptance among African Americans. A Pew Research Center study found that fewer than half of Blacks polled would consent to get the vaccine. Skeptics cited a general mistrust of the health care system and pointed to the Tuskegee syphilis study (1932-1972) approved by the U.S. government, in which 400 Black men with the disease were observed but not treated.
Trump experiences tough year
President Trump began 2020 confident of re-election due in large part to a strong economy and low unemployment rate. COVID-19 changed the economic outlook, however, and Trump’s critics questioned his handling of the pandemic. Trump downplayed the virus, touted unproven remedies and mocked people who wore masks. The White House itself experienced several COVID-19 outbreaks among staffers. On Oct. 3, Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the disease. Trump checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he received experimental treatment and announced himself cured. His sons Barron and Donald Jr. also contracted the disease. Trump later refused to admit that he lost to Biden and made baseless claims about voter fraud. He continued to insist that the election was stolen after the Supreme Court rejected a controversial Texas challenge to Biden’s victory.
Civil rights icon John Lewis dies
Georgia Congressman George Lewis, a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement, died July 17 at age 80 after battling pancreatic cancer. Lewis joined with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to help plan the 1963 March on Washington. Two years later, Lewis helped lead the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march intended to go from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. White police blocked the way on the bridge out of Selma, attacking the peaceful marchers with clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Lewis suffered a cracked skull. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1987.
Calls for police reform increase
African Americans demanded police reform to address racial injustice, with some activists calling for the defunding of police departments. A Gallup poll found that 22% of Black Americans favored abolishing police departments, while 90 percent wanted specific reforms aimed at improving police relations and punishing abusive behavior. The African American Mayors Association released a PEACE Pact to reform policing nationwide, which included advocating for federal policy changes, creating robust community engagement and enacting budgets that reflect community values.
Record number of women elected to Congress
Women gained at least 14 Congressional seats in the 2020 election, setting a new record for female representation. On Jan. 3, 2021, at least 141 women, including 51 women of color, will be sworn in. (Races such as the Georgia Senate runoff have yet to be decided). Women will be at least 27% of the House and 24% of the Senate. Cori Bush, a progressive activist, became the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress. Democrat Nikema Williams, a Georgia state senator, won the House seat held by the late John Lewis.
Georgia Senate runoff closely watched
The November election produced two crucial Georgia runoffs on Jan. 5 that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, is challenging Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican appointed last year by Gov. Brian Kemp. Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff face off for Perdue’s seat. Republican leaders including Trump and Pence traveled to Georgia to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue. Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Warnock and Ossoff virtually and President-elect Joe Biden planned a campaign trip to the state.