Alabama History in August

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

August 1, 1704: French colonists in Mobile welcome the Pelican Girls,” twenty-three young women from France who had crossed the Atlantic aboard the Pelican. The ladies had been recruited to move to the young settlement, founded in 1702, in order to marry the male settlers and naturally increase Mobile’s population.

August 2, 1819: The first Alabama constitution is adopted, paving the way to statehood in December. Known today as the Constitution of 1819, to distinguish it from five subsequent constitutions, it was considered a model of democracy at the time. It granted, for example, suffrage to all adult white males without regard to property ownership or other qualifications.

August 3, 1936: Lawrence County native Jesse Owens wins his first gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Owens went on to win four gold medals in Berlin, but German leader Adolf Hitler snubbed the star athlete because he was black. Today visitors can learn more about Owens at the Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum in Oakville, Alabama.

August 5, 1864: The Battle of Mobile Bay begins. U.S. Admiral David Farragut, with a force of fourteen wooden ships, four ironclads, 2,700 men, and 197 guns, assaulted greatly outnumbered Confederate defenses guarding the approach to Mobile Bay. Farragut’s victory removed Mobile as a center of blockade-running and freed Union troops for service in Virginia.

August 5, 1917: Members of the Alabama National Guard Brigade, which had been federalized in 1916, are discharged from guard service so that they can be drafted into the regular army. Once drafted, the guardsmen were assigned to their former units, and one of these, the 4th Alabama, would become the 167th U.S. Infantry Regiment and serve with distinction in France during World War I as a part of the famed 42nd “Rainbow” Division.

August 7, 1882: Isaac “Honest Ike” Vincent is elected to an unprecedented third term as State Treasurer. Thanking the Democratic Convention that had nominated him two months earlier, Vincent promised that he would “endeavor in the future, as I have in the past, to guard and advance your interests as faithfully as I would my own.” January 31, 1883, Gov. Edward A. O’Neal reported to the Legislature that Treasurer Vincent had absconded from office and that state funds totaling more than $200,000 were missing.

August 7, 1946: Lt. Gen. Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith retires from the Marines after a forty-year career. A veteran of World Wars I and II, the Russell County native became known as “the father of amphibious warfare,” and was honored for his years of service by being retired as a full general.

August 8, 1922: Hattie Hooker Wilkins of Selma becomes the first woman to win a seat in the Alabama legislature. One of three Alabama women to run for legislative office that year, Wilkins was the only successful candidate, beating out incumbent J. W. Green for a seat in the House of Representatives. Wilkins served only one term, choosing not to run for re-election in 1926.

August 9, 1814: The Treaty of Fort Jackson is finalized after warring Creeks, under the leadership of William Weatherford, aka Red Eagle, surrender to Gen. Andrew Jackson and cede their lands to the federal government. This event opened up half of the present state of Alabama to white settlement.

August 12, 1937: President Franklin Roosevelt appoints Alabama senator Hugo Black to the U.S. Supreme Court. Black’s nomination was soon confirmed by his Senate colleagues, but before he took his seat on the court that October he was compelled to address the nation by radio in order to respond to controversy about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s. Black served on the court until 1971, retiring just a few days before his death.

August 12, 1959: An earthquake centered in Huntsville, and felt over a 25-mile radius, causes minor damage. Many Huntsville residents at first believed the shock was the result of an explosion or missile test at nearby Redstone Arsenal.

August 15, 1841: Julia Tutwiler is born in Tuscaloosa. Tutwiler, president of what later became the University of West Alabama, worked to secure the admittance of women to the University of Alabama, to reform Alabama’s prisons, and to expand educational opportunities for women.

August 17, 1870: Spanish-American War hero Richmond Pearson Hobson is born in Greensboro. Hobson later represented Alabama in the U.S. Congress and was active in the prohibition movement. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1933 for heroism during the Spanish-American War and became a Rear Admiral in 1934. Hobson died in 1937.

August 17, 1909: With a unanimous vote by the legislature, Alabama becomes the first state to ratify the 16th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When the amendment went into effect on February 25, 1913, it gave Congress the power to collect income taxes.

August 20, 1937: Dixie Bibb Graves takes her seat in the U.S. Senate to become Alabama’s first female senator. Only the fourth woman to serve as a U.S. senator, Graves had been appointed by her husband, Gov. Bibb Graves, to succeed Hugo Black, who had been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

August 20, 1965: Civil rights worker Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminary student from New Hampshire, is shot and killed in Lowndes County. Special deputy sheriff Tom Coleman, an ardent segregationist, admitted to the shooting, but was acquitted by an all-white jury six weeks later.

August 22, 1900: Confederate heroine Emma Sansom dies in Texas. In 1863 sixteen-year-old Sansom helped Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest cross Black Creek near Gadsden as he pursued Union forces led by Col. A.D. Streight. Later in 1863, Sansom was awarded a gold medal by the Alabama legislature for her actions.

August 23, 1864: The Battle of Mobile Bay ends with the Confederate surrender of Fort Morgan. Alabama had seized the fort from federal control in January 1861 and then turned it over to Confederate forces, which, until August 1864, used it to keep the U.S. Navy out of Mobile Bay, while letting blockade runners in.

August 25, 1956: During the ninth month of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the home of Montgomery minister and boycott activist Robert Graetz is bombed. A white West Virginian, Graetz pastored Trinity Lutheran Church, a black congregation. Graetz and his family were away from home when the dynamite blast occurred.

August 25, 1919: George C. Wallace is born in Clio. Four-time governor of Alabama, three-time candidate for U.S. president, George Wallace early in his career epitomized white resistance to Civil Rights demands in the 1960s. Almost killed by a would-be assassin in 1972, Wallace later recanted his segregationist views and was re-elected governor largely due to votes of African Americans.

August 30, 1813: Creek Indians attack Fort Mims in what is now Baldwin County, killing nearly 250 settlers gathered there for protection. The attack caused fear and hysteria among frontier settlers, who quickly raised militia companies to fight the Indians in the Creek War of 1813-1814.

August 30, 1908: Officials of the United Mine Workers (UMW) in Birmingham call off a bitter coal strike, prompting the Birmingham News to declare that the result would be “Prosperity in the Birmingham District.” Workers had walked out of the mines in early July to protest wage conditions, and almost two months of violence ensued. As many as 18,000 black and white workers had joined UMW, but resistance by employers, intervention by Gov. B. B. Comer, and public dissatisfaction broke the strike and debilitated UMW’s strength in Birmingham for years.