Who is Lucy Craft Laney?
Lucy Craft Laney was born in Macon in the days of slavery. She was not, however, the child of slaves. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and a skilled carpenter, who had bought his own freedom twenty years before she was born. He had bought his wife's freedom when he married her. Courage and independence were bred into Lucy Laney.
Her early childhood days were spent in the Macon home where her mother worked as a maid for a Miss Campbell, who noticed how much time little Lucy spent with books. Miss Campbell taught her to read at the age of four.
When the Civil War came to an end, her father rang the bells of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church to celebrate emancipation. The Freedman's Bureau and the American Missionary Association founded a high school for black children in Macon, where the Medical Center now stands. Young Lucy attended it until, at the age of fifteen, she was chosen to enroll in the newly founded Atlanta University, where she was a member of the first graduating class in 1873.
For the next ten years, she taught black children in whatever school facilities she could find in Milledgeville, Savannah, and Augusta. The keynote of her teaching seems to have been a boundless faith in children's ability to learn, combined with the highest expectations of what they should achieve. It was in Augusta that she found the warmest support for her endeavors. Friends from the Presbyterian Church and the Freedman's Bureau persuaded her to a new school there. She began in the lecture room of Christ Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Telfair and Tenth Streets, with only six children, but soon there were more than two hundred.
No available facility was adequate, and it was imperative that the school have its own buildings and grounds and boarding facilities. In those days the education of black children depended strongly on church affiliations through which support could be gathered from parts of the country less poverty-stricken than the South. Lucy Laney set out for the Presbyterian General Assembly in Minneapolis, with barely enough money for a one-way railroad ticket. There she found moral support but not money. The Church simply could not afford to fund all of the worthy projects that were requested. But Lucy Laney made a valuable friend in Mrs. F. E. H. Haines, then President of the Women's Department of the Presbyterian Church USA. Mrs. Haines became her advocate and supporter.
Miss Laney returned to Augusta to charter a new school, the Haines Normal and Industrial School. Local donations enabled her to purchase a site and put up the first building. Then the delayed financial help came from the Church. Striking educational achievements soon followed:
* the first kindergarten for black children in Augusta, and one of the first in the South;
* the first Nurses' Training Institute for black girls, later to become the Nurses' School of University Hospital;
* the first football team from a black high school in Georgia;
* a curriculum that combined traditional arts and sciences with job-training and vocational programs;
* a total school program so closely tied to community service that no one could fail to see it as an asset.
Lucy Laney had the courage and the moral stature to hold young people accountable to the highest standards and to bring out their best selves. She once said, "God has nothing to make men and women out of but boys and girls."
She is buried on the grounds of the school that now bears her name, on a major Augusta boulevard that also bears her name. Her portrait hangs in the Georgia State Capitol. She is a permanent example to young people of the value of vision, dedication, and commitment to service.
Georgia Women of Achievement
First Induction Ceremony
March 23, 1992