But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.
“I want to wear out, not rust out.“
Lucy Craft Laney was born in 1854 in Georgia. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister and domestic worker, Laney learned how to read at the age of 4, attended a high school founded by the Freedman’s Bureau, and was part of Atlanta University’s inaugural graduating class in 1873.
Upon graduating, Laney spent the next 10 years teaching children in Macon, Milledgeville, and Savannah, before settling in Augusta, where she founded the first boys’ and girls’ school for Black children at the behest of the Presbyterian Church and the Freedman’s Bureau.
Enrollment ballooned from six students to over 200. With $10,000 secured by way Francine E. Haines of the Presbyterian Church, Laney built a home for the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta.
For Laney, a good education was the way to progress for Black children. To that end, Laney’s school transcended the “vocational vs. liberal arts” educational debate that dominated the day.
Her school merged both philosophies effectively and established curricula that combined traditional arts and sciences with job-training and vocational programs as she believed Black children needed both. Students learned classic literature, Latin, algebra, and trades. Her institute was the first to establish a kindergarten for Black children in Augusta, and the first nursing institute for Black women in Augusta.
Laney’s work inspired fellow educators and colleagues who endeavored to create their own institutions to support the education of Black students; Mary McCleod Bethune, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
These four Black women, A Forgotten Sisterhood, were friends, collaborators, and eduactivists who built schools as defiant individual and communal acts of self-determination, staring down the racist, sexist, classist systems’ attempts to marginalize them and their efforts to educate Black children and people. An interesting, and perhaps not coincidental note, is that these four Black women had darker skin and perhaps played a role in their journeys as colorism played a role in who was “accepted” or not in the traditional educational systems.
Laney believed education was an integral component of the path for liberation for Black people and that serving the community as educators were both revolutionary and spiritual acts. Laney would exhort others to help support and fund Black schools and education by accepting “the burden of uplift of the less fortunate amongst them” and used Scriptures to motivate and inspire aspiring Black educators, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”
The students who had the privilege of being under Laney’s tutelage (and those Laney had the privilege of teaching) called her a transformative educator and activist. She understood that great teaching is about teaching and inspiring students.
Laney taught various content, gave speeches to rally support for Black education, and managed the school she founded with precision and high expectations—for herself and others. Her students and colleagues said she “knew where every nail was” at her beloved school. She founded and led a school dedicated to excellence for almost 50 years. Laney led by doing.
After Laney’s death in 1933, she was bestowed with several honors. The school was renamed the Lucy Craft Laney Comprehensive High School and the street where the school as located was renamed Laney-Walker Boulevard (for both Laney and Atlanta University co-founder Dr. Charles T. Walker). Numerous schools around the country have been named after Laney, she was inducted into the Women of Achievement of Georgia, and her portrait rests in the Georgia State House.
Laney is an example of an educator who knew the importance of giving back. Rather than use her education to only support herself, she used her education as a mechanism to bring her passions to life. Teaching is more than instructing students to meet a metric.
Teaching is about executing on a passion to empower people, to liberate people—better yet, to help them liberate themselves. Laney’s life is an example of how to use what you have on behalf of others. This is what liberating education looks like.
Lucy Craft Laney; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame. #BlackEducatorsHoF #BlackTeacherPipeline
For more information on Lucy Craft Laney, visit the following site.