1891 – Black inventor Philip B. Downing receives patent for the street letter box, a precursor of the modern-day mailbox.
1922 – Famed actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee is born in Cleveland.
1798 – Abolitionist Levi Coffin, known as the “President of the Underground Railroad,” is born in Guilford County, North Carolina.
1914 – The Omega Psi Phi fraternity, founded at Howard University, is incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia.
1981 – Edward M. McIntyre is elected the first African-American mayor of Augusta, Georgia.
1945 – Tony Award-winning actress and singer Melba Moore is born in New York City.
1949 – Alonzo G. Moron is inaugurated as the first black president of Hampton Institute, later known as Hampton University.
1969 – The Supreme Court orders the immediate end of school segregation.
1981 – William O. Walker, publisher of the Cleveland Call Post, dies in Cleveland at age 85.
1974 – Muhammad Ali regains the world heavyweight championship by knocking out George Foreman in the 8th round of the “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
1954 – The Defense Department announces the elimination of all segregated regiments in the armed forces.
1991 – BET Holdings, Inc. the parent company of Black Entertainment Television, sells 4.2 million shares of stock in an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first African-American company listed on the exchange.
1893 – William Henry Lewis, the first black All-American collegiate football player, makes the team for the second consecutive season while playing for Harvard.
1896 – Early 20th-century actress and singer Ethel Waters, the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award, is born in Chester, Pennsylvania.
1899 – William F. Burr receives patent for the railway switch.
1950 – Earl Lloyd becomes the first African-American to play in an NBA game.
1945 – John H. Johnson publishes the first issue of Ebony magazine.
1946 – Charles S. Johnson becomes the first black president of Fisk University.
1951 – Jet magazine publishes its first issue.
1991 – Clarence Thomas is sworn in as the 106th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
1930 – Haile Selassie is coronated as emperor of Ethiopia.
1983 – President Reagan signs a law designating the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.