NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
August “Gus” Swain made significant contributions to the social work profession, to social work education, and to underserved populations. His dedication to equality led him to become one of the founders of the Riverside National Bank, the first predominately African American-owned and operated bank west of the Mississippi. In addition, Swain was a key player in forming the Wesley Square Rent Supplement Housing Project Foundation-a $3.5 million project that was the largest of its kind in the South in the 1960's for low-income families.
In 1953, Swain became the first African American to receive a master's degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin, where an endowed scholarship has been established in his name. Despite adversity due to racism and discrimination, he showed courage and persistence in completing his goal of becoming a professional social worker and paving the way for other African Americans to reach the same goal.
For several decades, Swain has served in private, public, nonprofit, for profit, academic, and volunteer settings. Swain worked as a caseworker in Houston and Austin; as a Social Work Education Specialist in the National Institute of Mental Health; as a consultant to numerous agencies, groups, and educational institutions; as a professor of Social Work at the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and University of the District of Columbia; as Field Instructor for the Worden School of Social Service and the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin; and as an organizer and leader of Social Work professional organizations at the local, state, and national levels. In all of his professional positions, Swain collaborated with others, showed compassion for clients and co-workers, forged new projects, and assisted minority students in achieving their educational goals.
Swain received numerous awards over the years, including Local and State Social Worker of the Year; NASW Lifetime Achievement Award; The University of Texas Distinguished Alumni Award; The Hutson-Tillotson Distinguished Alumni Award; University of Texas August N. Swain Endowed Scholarship ; and the Charles W. Wright Distinguished Alumni Award.
Swain described himself as one who works “outside of the box” in an effort to truly help others in any way possible, despite challenges that he meets. For the length of his career and in his personal life, Gus Swain exemplified a true “pioneer” in social work and served as a role model for future generations of social workers.