My Georgia History

Lucy Craft Laney

Over the years,  a lot of great people have been born, or lived, in Augusta, Georgia.  Ms. Lucy Craft Laney is one of them. Now you’ve seen her name on street signs, Laney Walker Avenue.  You’ve seen her name on a school, Laney High School.  But who was she, and what did she do?

Lucy Laney was born in Macon, Georgia, on April 13, 1854.  She was born seven years before the Civil War.  It was the time of slavery, but she was born free.  Lucy was born seventh, of ten children.  Her parents were, Reverend and Mrs. David Laney.  Reverend Laney had purchased his freedom back in 1834. He was a Presbyterian Minister and was also a quality carpenter. David Laney held side jobs in carpentry, while he was a pastor.  He had saved enough money, so that when he met his wife, he could buy her freedom. Since they were both free, their children were born free.

Lucy Laney spent her childhood days in her family home, in Macon.  Her mother worked as a maid for Ms. Campbell. Many times Lucy would accompany her mother to work.  Ms. Campbell noticed how much time little Lucy spent with books.  Ms. Campbell taught Lucy to read at the age of four.  Lucy lived in Macon through the Civil War.  When the war came to a close, 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.  Lucy Laney attended the school until she reached the age of fifteen. At that time, she was chosen to enroll in the newly founded Atlanta University.

Lucy Craft Laney moved from Macon to attend classes at the new Atlanta University.  She was a member of the first graduating class in 1873.  She traveled around the country, teaching for the next ten years.  However, 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 start a new school.  Lucy Laney began the school in the lecture room of Christ Presbyterian Church.  She only had six children when she started, but soon had 200 students. Lucy Laney knew she needed her own building.  The Presbyterian Churches were having a convention in Minneapolis that year.  Lucy Laney only had enough money to go one way, but she went.  She approached the Convention, asking for funds for her school.  They told her they didn’t have the money, but they did buy her ticket back to Augusta.

While she was at the Convention, she met and made a good friend in Mrs. P.E.H. Hanes.  Mrs. Haynes was president of the womens department of the Presbyterian Church USA.  Well, Lucy Laney came back to Augusta.  With local support, she started building the first building.  Then the delayed financial help came from the church.  Mrs. Haynes had become her advocate and supporter. Miss Laney chartered the new school, the “Haynes Normal and Industrial Institute.”  Educational achievements soon followed.  Lucy started the first kindergarten class for black children in Augusta.  The first nurses training institute for black girls, and a curriculum that combined traditional arts and sciences with job training. Miss Laney once said “God has nothing to make men and women of, but boys and girls .”  In 1991, her house on Phillips Street was opened as a museum to the public.  Today, Ms. Lucy Craft Laney is buried in front of the school that bears her name.

She was a great educator, a great Georgian.  She was Miss Lucy Craft Laney.

Written by Mark Woodard

Research resources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  • The Place We Call Home. The Augusta Chronicle

 

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