August 31

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (August 31, 1842 - March 13, 1924) was responsible for the merger of other African American women's organizations into the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. She had previously founded the American Woman Suffrage Association of Boston with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, and was a member of several other predominantly white women's organizations. Her husband, George Lewis Ruffin, was the first African American graduate of Harvard Law School.


DuBose Heyward (August 31, 1885 - June 16, 1940) was best known for his 1925 novel Porgy, which was adapted by his wife Dorothy into a 1927 play which inspired the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess with music by George Gershwin. He also wrote  the screenplay for the film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1933). Langston Hughes said of Heyward that he saw "with his white eyes, wonderful, poetic qualities in the inhabitants of Catfish Row that makes them come alive."

Thomas Montgomery Gregory (August 31, 1887 - November 21, 1971) was chair of the English Department at Howard when he founded the noted drama troupe, the Howard Players, in 1919. Two years later he organized the college's Department of Drama and Public Speaking, offering some of the first for-credit drama classes in the country. With fellow Howard faculty member Alain Locke he published Plays of Negro Life in 1927, a collection of 22 plays by African American dramatists.

Augustus Freeman "Gus" Hawkins (August 31, 1907 – November 10, 2007) was a prominent politician and figure in the history of Civil Rights and organized labor. First elected in 1975, he was the first African American from California in the United States Congress. Over the course of his career, he authored more than 300 state and federal laws, the most famous of which are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. He was known as the "silent warrior" for his commitment to education and ending unemployment.

Ruby McCollum (August 31, 1909 – May 23, 1992) was sentenced to death in 1952 for the murder of Dr. Leroy Adams who had forced her into a sexual relationship for six years. The verdict was overturned on a technicality and at a second trial she was found insane and committed to a state institution until freed by the Brady Act 20 years later. The case was covered at the time by Zora Neale Hurston and William Bradford Huie, and has recently been the subject of several books examining race, class, and gender in the United States.

KennyWashington (August 31, 1918 - June 24, 1971) was the first black player in the modern-era NFL when he was signed by the LA Rams on March 21, 1946. He had been a college standout at UCLA where he played in a backfield with Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, and Ray Bartlett. After retirement from football he became an officer for the LAPD.

Capt. August “Augie” Martin (August 31, 1919 - July 1, 1968) was the first African American captain of a regularly scheduled U.S. commercial air carrier when he was hired to fly cargo for Seaboard World Airlines in 1955. Martin had trained with the Civilian Pilot Training Program and was a Tuskegee Airman although he earned his wings too late to fly in combat. He was killed in a crash while flying supplies to Biafra on a volunteer mission for the International Red Cross.

Charles L. Gittens (August 31, 1928 - July 27, 2013) was hired as the first African American Secret Service agent in 1956. He served in North Carolina, New York, and Puerto Rico where he was the island's senior agent.In 1971 he was appointed special agent in charge of the Washington DC field office supervising approximately 120 agents. After retirement in 1979 he joined the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations and became deputy director of the criminal division.

Eldridge Cleaver (August 31, 1935 - May 1, 1998) is best known for essays from prison published in Soul on Ice. Paroled in 1966 he became an early member of the Black Panther Party, serving as Minister of Information. After a shootout with the Oakland police he fled to Cuba and later Algeria, returning after 7 years and renouncing his past, having become an evangelical Christian. He also became politically conservative and at his death was a member of the Mormon church.

Frank Robinson (born August 31, 1935) signed with the National League’s Cincinnati Reds after high school. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1956 and Most Valuable Player in 1961. During his career he played with the Orioles, Angels, Dodgers and Indians. In 1975, he became the first Major League African-American manager. He was inducted into the the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Marva Collins (born August 31, 1936) is an American educator who in 1975 started Westside Preparatory School, an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. She was most widely publicized in the 1981 biographical TV movie The Marva Collins Story starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman. She is a graduate of Clark College (now known as Clark-Atlanta University) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Born Peggy Ann Freeman, 6'2" model Donyale Luna (August 31, 1945 - May 17, 1979) was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue (1966). She appeared in several Andy Warhol films as well as playing the witch Oenothea in Fellini Satyricon and in the title role of the 1972 Italian film Salome. She died of a heroin overdose at the age of 33.

Melvin Randolph "Randy" Primas, Jr. (August 31, 1949 - March 1, 2012) was an American politician who served as the first African American Mayor of Camden, New Jersey from 1981-1990. Before becoming mayor, Primas enjoyed a successful business career as the Vice President of Burger King Entities economic development program sponsored by the Black People's Unity Movement.

Edwin Corley (Ed) Moses (born August 31, 1955) won gold medals in the 400 meter hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics. He was instrumental in reforming Olympic eligibility rules to allow athletes to benefit from stipends, direct payments, and commercial endorsement money without jeopardizing their Olympic eligibility. Moses studied physics at Morehouse College and holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and an honorary doctorate from UMass Boston. He is currently chairman of the humanitarian Laureus World Sports Academy.


On August 31, 1917, Madam C. J. Walker hosted the first national convention of her Walker “beauty culturists” at Philadelphia’s Union Baptist Church. More than 200 women from all over the United States gathered to learn about sales, marketing and management at what was one of the earliest professional gatherings of American women entrepreneurs.

On August 31, 1962 Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Eric Williams, a noted Caribbean historian, widely regarded as "The Father of The Nation," was the first Prime Minister, serving from 1956, before independence, until his death in 1981. It is the third richest country per capita in the Americas because of its oil and natural gas reserves, and is known for its Carnival and is the birthplace of steelpan, limbo, and the music styles of calypso, soca, Parang and chutney.

Photo Gallery

Recorded on August 31 and September 6, 1960, "We Insist!" (subtitled "Max Roach"s Freedom Now Suite")
Two white students watch as African American children enter the previously
all-white Rosewood Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, on August 31, 1964
On August 31, 1970, the police raided the Philadelphia headquarters of the Black Panther Party.
Whitney Houston and Oprah Winfrey during an interview at Town Hall in
New York City for "The Oprah Winfrey Show".
President Barack Obama bids farewell to Gen. Lloyd Austin III at Fort Bliss in
 El Paso, Texas, August 31, 2012.


Print of Joseph Cinque appearing in The New York Sun, August 31. 1839.
The Baltimore Afro American, August 31, 1963.
Go Down, Moses!: Daily Devotions Inspired by Old
Negro  Spirituals by Leonidas A. Johnson. $9.03.
417 pages. Publisher: Judson Press (August 31, 1999)
Willie's Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons,
The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making
of a Baseball Legend by John Klima. $18.79.
Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 31, 2009). 320 pages.

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