Historical Figures

Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, first graduate

Daughter of former slaves, Lucile Berkelely Buchanan Jones (1884-1989) became, in the midst of racial segregation, the first black woman to graduate from the University of Colorado. Tenacious and determined, she will become a teacher herself.


Daughter of former slaves

Daughter of Sarah Lavina Bishop Buchanan and James Fenton Buchanan, Lucy Berkeley Buchanan was born on June 13, 1884 in Denver, Colorado, nearly twenty years after the abolition of slavery in the United States. Both of his parents were born into slavery, on plantations in Virginia; Sarah is presumably the daughter of Edmund Berkeley, the owner of the plantation.

Married in 1872 in Virginia, Sarah and James gave birth to four daughters, Hattie, Hannah, Laura and a daughter who died shortly after birth, and a son, Fenton Mercer. In 1882, the Buchanan family moved to Denver; they are the first black family to own real estate in their neighborhood. In Denver, five more children are born:Lucy, Sadie, Edith, Nellie and Claribel. Subsequently, Lucy changes her name to Lucile.

First teaching positions

Studying in the midst of racial segregation, Lucile and her sisters and brother go through a journey strewn with pitfalls. In 1899, when Lucile was seventeen, her older sister Laura committed suicide while she was trying to continue her studies to become a teacher. Colorado's premier newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, reflects on the tragedy with the headline:'racial discrimination drives girl to suicide' .

Two years after the tragedy, in 1901, Lucile Buchanan graduated from high school. After graduating, she worked for a while as a substitute teacher at her high school before working for a publishing house. After two years, Lucile, pursuing her sister Laura's dream, embarked on training to become a teacher at the State Normal School of Colorado (now University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley. She was the only black student in her class, and, in 1905, the first to graduate from this institution.

Despite her freshly obtained diploma, Lucile is unable to obtain a teaching position in Colorado. He had to settle in Arkansas, in Little Rock, 1,500 km away, to be hired at Arkansas Baptist College. Armed with this professional experience, she applied again for a teaching position in Denver in 1908, but was again refused.

Graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder

After teaching for three years in the only black high school in the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Lucile Buchanan decided to complete her training by enrolling at the University of Chicago to study Greek, German and English. She spent a year there, before joining the University of Colorado at Boulder to perfect her mastery of German.

In 1918, Lucile was the first black woman to graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. A feat which, in the midst of racial segregation in the United States, is no small feat. Although the University is integrated and non-segregated, it is not mentioned in the yearbook of its promotion. During the graduation ceremony, she is also not allowed to go on stage to receive her diploma. Disgusted with the treatment she receives, Lucile promises herself never to set foot in this university again, a promise she will keep.

Badly married

The year after graduating, Lucile Buchanan took a job teaching at a segregated high school in Kansas City. Engaged, she became an advisor for the local junior branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1925, she created her school's first newspaper, as well as a debating club to encourage her students to take an interest in international events.

The following year, Lucile married John Dotha Jones, an employee of the United States Postal Service , but the marriage turns sour. In 1935, John left the marital home and Lucile filed for divorce. She obtained it in 1940, for adultery, extreme and repeated cruelty, desertion and alcoholism. However, she continued to use her married name until her death.

Teaching career

In 1925 Lucile Buchanan returned to Chicago to teach in the public system; this is where she will end her career. She herself is committed to continuing to learn and improve her teaching skills. In 1937, at the age of 53, she took courses in English literature at the University of Chicago.

Lucile retires at 65, the mandatory retirement age for teachers. She then returned to live in the family home in Denver, with her brother Fenton who died fourteen years later. Lucile's health and eyesight gradually deteriorate; in 1986, she was forcibly taken to a retirement home, where she spent her last years. Lucile Buchanan died in November 1989, at the age of 105.

In 2018, a century after the graduation ceremony where she was barred from the stage, the University of Colorado honored Lucile Buchanan in a ceremony.