Jackson and his brothers had come to play amateur night at the Apollo in New York - the temple of black culture. The family was so poor, word was they couldn't even pay their hotel bill.
There are no pictures from that night to document the beginning of perhaps the greatest career in pop music. The Jacksons soon signed with Motown Records and made hit after hit, even playing "The Ed Sullivan" show twice.
Then, suddenly, it was all Michael. He rocketed to the top, breaking barriers all the way.
For that shining moment, Michael Jackson was a hero in the African-American community. The story is, he even took on MTV.
"'Thriller" was the first African-American video that had ever played on MTV. When MTV did not play black, African-American videos, I think he basically created a stance to say that this is a must," says recording artist Usher.
Usher says this moment cemented Jackson's legacy among African Americans. "I think he is by far one of the most impactful artists in music."
Outside the Apollo Theater, thousands of fans came to pay their respects to Jackson. But such a warm embrace has been rare in recent years, according to "48 Hours" correspondent Harold Dow.
It wasn't always that way. For many in the African-American community, the relationship with the pop star became complicated because Jackson, at times, seemed ashamed of who he was.
"I think the African American community had to do some adjusting to Michael Jackson," says Rev. Gregory Jackson, the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack, N.J.
While he grew up a Michael Jackson fan, Rev. Jackson says many people began to have problems with the entertainer when his appearance began to change radically and his skin began to whiten.
"Some people were ashamed, some people even angry… some people saying 'Why would you do this? Why are you trying to dis the bridge that brought you over?" Rev. Jackson says.
When asked if he thought the singer was ashamed of being black, Rev. Jackson responds, "That's a tough one. I think he dealt with some issues in terms of trying to figure out his identity, but I'm not sure if it was the shame of his blackness or… something related to his early childhood and his parenting."
"If you look at him closely from when he started to where he ended… he's probably a little confused," says producer, musician and "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson.
"You know, I think a part of that was just his metamorphosis, just him trying to grow as an artist. But I think some people took offense at it, you know?"