October 31

Ethel Waters (October 31, 1896 - September 1, 1977) toured in vaudeville and sang in Harlem clubs at the height of the Harlem Renaissance before beginning an acting career, first appearing in a satirical all-black film, Rufus Jones for President (1933), which featured seven-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr. in the title role. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film Pinky (1949) and in 1950 she won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for her performance opposite Julie Harris in the play The Member of the Wedding. In 1950, Waters starred in the television series Beulah, becoming the first African American actress to have a lead role in a television series.


Julia Lee (October 31,1902 – December 8,1958) began her musical career singing and playing piano in her brother George's band, which at one time included Charlie Parker. In 1944 she signed with Capitol Records, and had a string of R&B hits, including "Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got", "Snatch and Grab It", "King Size Papa", "I Didn't Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)", and "My Man Stands Out". As these titles suggest, she became best known for her trademark double entendre songs, or, as she once said, "the songs my mother taught me not to sing". She was married to Frank Duncan, a star catcher and manager of the Negro National League's Kansas City Monarchs.

Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Johnson (October 31, 1905 – July 7, 1968) was a Harlem crime boss who negotiated with Lucky Luciano to maintain control of the numbers rackets in Harlem. He was arrested more than 40 times and eventually served three prison terms for narcotics-related charges, including 10 years in Alcatraz. In the 2007 film American Gangster, Johnson was portrayed by Clarence Williams III as the mentor of Frank Lucas played by Denzel Washington.

H. Naylor Fitzhugh (October 31, 1909 - July 22, 1992) was one of the first African American graduates of Harvard Business and is also credited with creating the concept of target marketing. He taught at the Howard University School of Business for 31 years and mentored Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Business School in 1969. In 1965, Fitzhugh accepted a marketing position at the Pepsi-Cola Company.

Charles T. Duncan (October 31, 1924 - May 4, 2004) began his Washington D.C. law career with the firm of Reeves, Robinson & Duncan, working on the second brief presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. He was the first general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1961 and later worked for the District of Columbia as corporation counsel, where he oversaw all of the legal affairs of the district and was second in line to the mayor. He was on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in 1994, living in The Hague, and ended his career as a senior trustee for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Rev. W.R. "Smokie" Norful, Jr. (born October 31, 1975) is best known for his 2002 album, I Need You Now and his 2004 release, Nothing Without You, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2004.  He received a second Grammy in 2015 for his song "No Greater Love", Rev. Norful graduated from the historically black University of Arkansas--Pine Bluff with a BA in history and also holds an M.Div. degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is an ordained elder in the A.M.E. church and founded the Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Bolingbrook and Chicago, Illinois, where he currently is senior pastor.  He also has served internationally as worship leader for the connectional youth department of the A.M.E. church. Before being called to the ministry he taught history, ran a Housing Authority after-school educational program, and was a historian for the National Parks Service.


On October 31, 1950, Earl "Big Cat" Lloyd was the first African American to play in an NBA game when he debuted for the Washington Capitals. Chuck Cooper and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton had been drafted with him but because of game schedules did not play until later in the week. After a 10-year playing career Lloyd worked for the Detroit Pistons, being named head coach in 1972.

On October 31, 1954, Martin Luther King Jr. of Atlanta was installed as minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. He was 25 at the time and had recently received his doctorate degree from Boston University. A little more than a year later, on the first day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he was named president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the first of what became many leadership roles in the civil rights movement. According to Rosa Parks, "Dr. King was chosen in part because he was relatively new to the community and so did not have any enemies."

Photo Gallery

On October 31, 1935 John Henry Lewis won the world light
heavyweight crown in St. Louis, Missouri by defeating Bob Olin.

October 31, 1964 -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being greeted in Baltimore on his
return to the US after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. (photo by Leonard Freed)

"First Major San Francisco Appearance. People's Free Benefit Featuring the Lumpen Black
Panther Party.. Come One, Come All. People's Free Benefit" The Black Panther Party (October 31, 1970).

On October 31, 1997 Violet Palmer, a Black woman, became the first woman
to officiate a NBA game, the Dallas Mavericks at the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), Untitled (Man Smoking/Malcolm X), from the Kitchen Table series, 1990, Gelatin silver print, Sheet: 31-1/4 x 30-7/8", Image: 27 x 27", Edition: 5/5, Caroline A.L. Pratt Fund, Photo: Courtesy of Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery from Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection, October 31, 2008-February 8, 2009, at Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama comforts Donna Vanzant,
owner of the North Point Marina in Brigantine, NJ, Wednesday, October 31, 2012.


Jet Magazine, October 31, 1963 -- Josephine Baker

Jet Magazine, October 31, 1963 -- Robert F. Kennedy

The Black Panther (October 31, 1970) 

Jet Magazine, October 31, 1983 -- Iman


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