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Today in Black History, 8/31/2012

• August 31, 1842 Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, civil and women’s rights leader and publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. After marrying in 1858, Ruffin and her husband became active in the fight against slavery. During the Civil War, they helped recruit black soldiers for the Union Army. Ruffin also supported women’s suffrage and in 1869 co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1884, she founded Women’s Era, the country’s first newspaper published by and for African American women. Ruffin served as editor and publisher from 1890 to 1897. The paper called on black women to demand increased rights for their race. In 1895, she organized the National Federation of Afro-American Women which the next year merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Ruffin served as vice president of the merged organization. In 1910, Ruffin helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1918 co-founded the League of Women for Community Service. Ruffin died March 13, 1924.

• August 31, 1907 Augustus Freeman Hawkins, the first African American to represent California in Congress, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Hawkins earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of California in 1931. In 1935, he was elected to the California State Assembly where he served until 1963. In 1963, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he authored legislation to establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Job Training Partnership Act, the School Improvement Act, and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. Over his career, Hawkins authored more than 300 state and federal laws. Hawkins was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hawkins retired from Congress in 1991 and died November 10, 2007. The Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park and the Augustus F. Hawkins Mental Health Center in Los Angeles, California are named in his honor.

• August 31, 1935 Frank Robinson, hall of fame baseball player and manager, was born in Beaumont, Texas. Robinson broke into the major leagues in 1956 and that year tied the record of 38 home runs by a rookie and was named National League Rookie of the Year. Over his 21 season career, Robinson was a 14-time All-Star and a 1958 Gold Glove Award winner. Robinson was named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1961 and American League Most Valuable Player in 1966, making him the only player in history to win the award in both leagues. In 1966, he was awarded the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year in any sport. In 1975, the Cleveland Indians named Robinson manager of their team, making him the first black manager in the major leagues. Robinson also managed the San Francisco Giants, the Montreal Expos, and the Baltimore Orioles where in 1989 he won the American League Manager of the Year Award. Robinson’s uniform number 20 was retired by the Baltimore Orioles in 1972 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1998. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, the Cincinnati Reds dedicated a bronze statue of him at their ballpark in 2003, and in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. Robinson’s autobiography, “My Life is Baseball” was published in 1968. He also co-wrote “Frank: The First Year” in 1976 and “Extra Innings” in 1988.

• August 31, 1935 Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, author and leader of the Black Panther Party, was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. As a teenager, Cleaver was involved in petty crimes. In 1957, he was convicted of assault with intent to murder and imprisoned until 1966. While in prison, he wrote a number of philosophical and political essays that became the basis for his book “Soul on Ice” which was published in 1968 and was influential in the Black Power Movement. After being released from prison, Cleaver joined the Black Panther Party and became the minister of information. In 1968, Cleaver was involved in a shoot-out with police and charged with attempted murder. He fled the country to Cuba, then Algeria, and finally France before returning to the United States in 1975. After returning to the U.S., Cleaver renounced the Black Panther Party and became a “born again” Christian. In 1978, Cleaver published his second book, “Soul on Fire.” Cleaver died on May 1, 1998.

• August 31, 1936 Marva Collins, educator and author, was born in Monroeville, Alabama. Collins earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in secretarial sciences from Clark College in 1959. She taught school for two years in Alabama before moving to Chicago, Illinois where she taught in the public school system for 14 years. In 1975, Collins founded Daniel Hale Williams Westside Preparatory School to teach low income African American students who the Chicago Public School System had labeled as learning disabled. She successfully ran the school until 2008 when it closed due to insufficient enrollment and funding. Collins has written, “I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching, I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.” Collins has written a number of books, including “Marva Collin’s Way” (1990). In 1981, the biographical television movie “The Marva Collins Story” aired and in 2004 she was presented the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush for work that has “deepened the nations’ understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.” Collins continues to speak to organizations and corporations on her history and methods of teaching.

• August 31, 1945 Donyale Luna, model and actress, was born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit, Michigan. As a teenager, Luna moved to New York City to pursue a modeling career. In 1966, she became the first African American model to appear on the cover of a Vogue magazine when she appeared on the British issue of the magazine. Time magazine described 1966 as “The Luna Year” and called her “unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment.” Luna commanded one of the highest day rates of any model in the 1960s and 1970s. Luna also appeared in several films, including “Camp” (1965), “Skidoo” (1968), “Satyricon” (1970), and “Salome” (1972). Luna died May 17, 1979.

• August 31, 1955 Edwin Corley Moses, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Dayton, Ohio. Moses attended Morehouse College on an academic scholarship and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and physics in 1976. While at Morehouse, Moses essentially trained himself. Between 1977 and 1987, he won 122 consecutive 400 meter hurdles races. He won the Gold medals for the 400 meter hurdles at the 1976 Montreal and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. At the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, he won the Bronze Medal and retired soon after. In 1981, Moses led the establishment of an Athletes Trust Fund program to allow athletes to benefit from government or privately supplied stipends, direct payments, and commercial endorsement money without jeopardizing their Olympic eligibility. That fund is the basis for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Direct Athlete Assistance Program. Moses was the 1980 Track & Field News Athlete of the Year and the next year was the first recipient of USA Track & Field’s Jesse Owen Award. In 1983, he received the James E. Sullivan Award as outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. In 1984, he was co-winner of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award. Also that year, the city of Dayton renamed a street Edwin C. Moses Boulevard in his honor. In 1994, Moses earned his Master of Business Administration degree and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame. Since 2000, he has served as chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an international organization of world class athletes seeking “to promote and increase participation in sports at every level, and also to promote the use of sports as a tool for social change around the world.” In 2009, Moses was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Massachusetts.

• August 31, 1962 The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago declared its independence from the United Kingdom. Trinidad and Tobago is located in the southern Caribbean Sea. It shares maritime boundaries with Barbados to the northeast, Guyana to the south east, and Venezuela to the south and west. The country consists of two main islands and numerous smaller landforms totaling approximately 2,000 square miles. Trinidad and Tobago has an estimated population of 1.3 million with 40% of them practicing Christianity, 22.5% Hinduism, and 9% Islam. The official language is English.

• August 31, 2002 Lionel Leo Hampton, hall of fame jazz vibraphonist and band leader, died. Hampton was born April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky. While still a teenager, he played the xylophone and drums. In 1936, he joined the Benny Goodman Quartet, making it one of the first racially integrated jazz groups to record and play before wide audiences. In 1940, Hampton formed his own big band which was very popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Hampton continued to play until shortly before his death. Hampton was also deeply involved in the construction of various public housing projects and founded the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation. He also served as vice chairman of the New York Republican County Committee and was a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission. Hampton received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1982, was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1984, and inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1988, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment of the Arts and in 1996 he received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President William Clinton. Hampton’s autobiography, “Hamp: An Autobiography of Lionel Hampton,” was published in 1989. The Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho is named in his honor and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is held annually on campus.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.