Posted April 30, 2019
African American Women Making a difference in their Communities
African American Women making a difference in their communities: Ernestine LucasIn a detailed 2005 obituary, I read about a woman named Ernestine Lucas. She grew up in Richmond, Indiana and was a graduate of Fisk University. She was a teacher, employed by many different schools throughout her career. She was a seamstress and genealogist and was survived by her husband and children.
I kept this all in mind as I picked through boxes labeled “Ernestine Lucas Papers.” I found a Springfield Public Schools yearbook, with Lucas’s name and smiling face pictured among the other teachers and staff. Scrawled across many of the pages were signatures, well wishes, and expressions of thanks written by students. In another box was a notebook full of precise cursive handwriting; detailed notes on sewing techniques and diagrams on how to measure and draft patterns. When I do a little searching online, I find two books: “From Paris to Springfield: The Slave Connection, Basey-Basey,” and “Wider Window to the Past, African-American History from a Family Perspective.” These books are a testament to the time and research Lucas put in to learning about the genealogical roots of local African American families.
So I was not surprised when in yet another box I find a jumble of books and manila folders stuffed with photocopies of newspaper and magazine articles. Sifting through the folders, I find information on the Tuskegee Airmen, and a young woman by the name of Bessie Coleman. Reading through the articles Lucas had collected, I learn that Coleman was the first African-American female pilot. Facing barriers in the U.S. both due to her gender and race, Coleman earned her pilot’s license in France in the 1920s. Bessie earned her place among many other talented fliers and was famous for performing trick flying and stunts at air shows.
We will likely never know exactly why Ernestine Lucas was collecting this research material. It could have been a point of personal interest or something she wished to learn more about. Maybe a member of her family had also been a pilot. Perhaps she was gathering research for another book. Whatever her plans had been, it seems clear that Lucas was looking to learn more about this specific part of African American history. Perhaps though these papers, Lucas can continue to teach us as well.
This post was written by Wright State University Public History graduate student Amanda Wachowiak. She just completed a capstone project processing and researching archive collections of African American women which are held at the National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.