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Breaking Barriers in 2016: A Year of Firsts Among African Americans

The first black U.S. president might be on the way out, but the year also saw several African American firsts in literature, entertainment, politics and sports.

For example, in 2016, the long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. opened — a mecca housing artifacts and art chronicling the struggles and triumphs of blacks in the U.S.

NBCBLK presents a year of firsts.

ENTERTAINMENT

Ava DuVernay

Ava Duvernay made history in 2012 as the first black woman to win the Best Director award at Sundance Film Festival and is making history again. This summer, it was announced that she will be the first African-American woman to lead a $100 million, live-action feature film "A Wrinkle in Time".

Essence 9th Annual Black Women In Hollywood - Arrivals
ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey arrives at the Essence 9th Annual Black Women event in Hollywood at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 25, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. David Livingston / Getty Images

Channing Dungey

After helping develop some of ABC's most successful shows including many of the network's successful dramas, including "Scandal," "Quantico," and "How to Get Away With Murder," Channing Dungey was named entertainment president, becoming the first African American to lead programming at a major broadcast network.

GOVERNMENT

Jamie Lee Curtis - Washington, DC
Dr. Carla Hayden, center, talks to Jamie Lee Curtis, right, before Curtis read her new children's book "This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From" to students from Moten Elementary School at the Library of Congress on Wednesday September 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. Hayden is the Librarian of Congress. Matt McClain / The Washington Post/Getty Images

Carla Hayden

As the head librarian of Baltimore's public libraries during some of the toughest and most tumultuous times the city has seen, Carla Hayden not only provided a place for people to read, but also find solace and peace in areas of unrest. President Obama this year appointed Hayden, the first woman and African American to lead the Library of Congress.

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Delrish Moss

The town of Ferguson, Missouri appointed their first black police chief Delrish Moss, a move that followed increased federal and national scrutiny after the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of a former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. According to the investigations, Ferguson has not had diversity in the city's top city positions and has had a history of racism.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Delaware never had an African-American woman elected to congress before Lisa Blunt Rochester's win during the 2016 election. Even before then, Rochester had been breaking color barriers as previously she was also the first African American woman to be Delaware's Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Health and Social Services as well as State Personnel Director.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris became only the second black woman and first Indian American woman to join the U.S. Senate since Carol Moseley Braun was appointed over 20 years ago. She previously served as California's first woman, Indian American and African American Attorney General. Harris was inspired to enter into the field of law by her parents, an interracial couple, and their friends who used to march and protest for justice while she was growing up.

LITERATURE/EDITORIAL

The Duchess Of Cornwall Presents The 2016 Man Booker Prize
Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for his novel 'The Sellout', Paul Beatty speaks on stage at the 2016 Man Booker Prize at The Guildhall on October 25, 2016 in London, England. John Phillips / Getty Images

Paul Beatty

For the first time since the organization's founding in 1969, the Man Booker Award started accepting English language writers outside of Europe two years ago and selected their first American writer of any background, Paul Beatty. He won the 2016 prize for his book, "The Sellout." One of the judges said Beatty's work "plunges into the heart of contemporary American society, and with absolutely savage wit — the kind I haven't seen since (Jonathan) Swift or (Mark) Twain."

Elaine Welteroth

Elaine Welteroth became the youngest and first African-American Editor in Chief at Conde Nast for Teen Vogue this year. She'd worked as an editor at top magazines such as Glamour and Ebony since 2008, The 29-year-old is only the second black editor at large in Condé Nast's history. She recenty played herself on an episode of "Blackish."

SPORTS

Athletics - Olympics: Day 15
Allyson Felix of the United States reacts after winning gold during the Women's 4 x 400 meter Relay on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ian Walton / Getty Images

Allyson Felix

Despite early injuries to start off 2016, Allyson Felix managed to become the only track-and-field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals. At the 2016 Rio Olympics she took home bronze in the 400m and a gold in both the 4x100m and 4x400m. Felix took the title of the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history with a total of nine Olympic medals, surpassing former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee,.

Daryl Homer

After winning the silver medal in the men's individual sabre fencing at Rio, Daryl Homer became the first American in 112 years to claim second place in the event. He also became the first U.S. man to medal in the event since Peter Westbrook took home the bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Homer got his entry into the sport through the Peter Westbrook Foundation 15 years ago and has made two Olympic appearances.

International Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley
International Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley. Melissa Bunni Elian / Photo by Melissa Bunni Elian

Maurice Ashley

For the first time since 1984, the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame named their first African-American Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Ashley has spent several years traveling the world as an award-winning player, instructor, commentator, and speaker. Ashley has a popular chess instruction app, has taught celebrities such as Jay Z and Will Smith, and has partnered with several organizations in Ferguson, Brooklyn and beyond to bring chess to students in low-income neighborhoods.

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Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 6
Gold medalist Simone Biles of the United States poses for photographs after the medal ceremony for the Women's Individual All Around on Day 6 of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Rio Olympic Arena on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Simone Biles

Simone Biles became the first African-American and woman to bring home four Olympic gold medals in women's gymnastics at a single game along with a bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The gymnast has claimed the title as the most decorated American gymnast after winning a combined 19 Olympic and World Championship medals. The Associated Press recently named her the 2016 Female Athlete of the Year.

Simone Manuel

Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming and set a new Olympic record with a time of 52.70. While attending Stanford University, she took home two individual National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. In November, Manuel made headlines again after becoming the first person to defeat teammate and Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky in her last 74 finals in a race above 100 meters.

Team USA Women's Hurdle team:

U.S. track and field athletes Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin made history at the 2016 Rio Olympics by sweeping the 100m hurdles. The trio became the first women to sweep medals in American track and field. Rollins took home the gold with a time of 12.48 seconds.

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