Biggest Stories of 2008

Biggest Stories of 2008
ESSENCE.COM Dec, 19, 2008

1 of 15 SCOUT TUFANKJIAN/POLARIS

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected the next president of the United States. Obama will be inaugurated on January 20, 2009, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

See photos of President-elect Barack Obama »

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For allegedly videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl, R. Kelly was charged with 14 counts of child pornography and faced 15 years in prison. The the singer was acquitted of all charges when he finally went to court last spring. He waved at fans as he left the courtroom.

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In a tirade caught on tape by Fox News in July, the Reverend Jesse Jackson criticized Barack Obama, accusing him of “talking down to Black people” and “telling n—s how to behave.” The civil rights activist even went on to say that he wanted to cut [Obama’s] privates off. Jackson later issued an apology for his crude remarks, which Obama accepted.

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Olympic runner Marion Jones came clean in federal court last year, finally admitting to steroid use. The track star was stripped of three gold medals and two bronzes that she won in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and in January, a judge sentenced Jones, mother to two young children, to six months in prison.

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Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was in the hot seat this year, when the Detroit Free Press revealed thousands of sexual text messages between him and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty—messages that contradicted sworn testimony the pair gave in a 2007 police whistleblower trial. After being slapped with eight felony charges, Kilpatrick, in September, took a plea deal and was sentenced to four months in jail, while Beatty took a similar plea in December.

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Three police officers involved in the shooting of Sean Bell—an unarmed Black man who died in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day—were acquitted last April. In protest, hundreds of New Yorkers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and Bell’s fiancée, rallied and blocked traffic at major intersections throughout the city.

Read our exclusive interview with Nicole Paultre Bell »

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David Paterson made history on two counts this year when he became New York’s first Black governor, and the first blind governor of any state, after a prostitution scandal forced the previous state head, Eliot Spitzer, to resign.

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Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday in July. In the same month, President Bush signed a bill to finally remove the Nobel Peace Prize winner from the U.S. terrorism watch list.

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Jennifer Hudson should have been celebrating the release of her self-titled debut album and hit movie “The Secret Lives of Bees,” in October. Tragedy struck instead when her mother and brother were found shot to death in their Chicago home, with her 7-year-old nephew found shot to death days later. Her sister’s estranged husband, William Balfour, was charged with their homicides in December.

View photos of Jennifer Hudson and her family »

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Last spring the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the retired Chicago pastor of Barack Obama, stirred controversy when his fiery April 2003 sermon criticizing U.S. foreign and domestic policy surfaced. Though Obama initially stood by him in a landmark speech on race, the two men cut ties after Wright accused Obama of political posturing.

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The NAACP tapped 35-year-old Benjamin Jealous for president of the civil rights organization, making him the youngest leader in the group’s 99-year history.

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The U.S. financial system underwent a serious meltdown as home foreclosures soared, the stock market plummeted, and the nation’s unemployment rate hit 6.5 percent, the highest in 14 years. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is expected to rise to two times the national average.

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We were awed by the Olympics in Beijing: Swimmer Cullen Jones, the U.S. basketball teams and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt took gold medals, and Jamaica’s women sprinters won all three medals in the 100-meter races.

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Hurricane Gustav barreled through the Gulf region in August, but the area was spared the catastrophic ruin of Katrina. Two weeks later came Hurricane Ike, which killed at least 80 in the Caribbean before flooding Galveston, Texas.

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Former football star O.J. Simpson was sentenced to 15 years in prison, after being convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and assault. The charges against the 61-year-old Simpson stem from a 2007 armed robbery of two sports-memorabilia dealers.

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