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Lane, Layle (1893-1976)

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Labor leader Layle Lane was born on November 27, 1893, in Marietta, Georgia. She was the fourth of five children of Calvin Lane and Alice Virginia Clark Lane. Lane was vice president of the American Federation of Teachers union and a committee member of the March on Washington Movement, participating in the first proposed March in 1941.

Her father, Calvin, was a freedman of the clergy who built his own house in Marietta, and also established a church and school nearby. Layle’s mother Alice was an educator. Lane graduated from Vineland High School (New Jersey) as its first Black student, and entered Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1913. At Howard, she was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, one of the largest sororities in the nation at the time for professional Black women. She graduated with degrees in English and History.

After Howard, Lane found it difficult to find a teaching job, as employers refused to accept her degree from the institution. She entered and completed the bachelor of science program at Hunter College and graduated in a year. She also attended the Columbia University Teachers College in 1917 and completed the MA program in 1919. From early on in her academic pursuits, Lane held firm to the belief that education was not only a tool to improve one’s standard of living but the most effective way to fight racism.

In 1934 Lane was appointed the first woman and first African American vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Union and held the position for a decade. The AFT was mostly under Communist influence from 1936 to 1941, and Lane, a Socialist, was involved in ousting them. She was also engaged in forcing some Southern chapters of the union to desegregate. Aside from her AFT activities, she was also affiliated with A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the National Committee of Rural Schools that fought for integration of schools, starting in 1954 after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

In the 1920s, Lane acquired a farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, from her brother Harry. She named the property La Citadelle, after a nineteenth-century fortress. On this farm in 1929, Lane created one of the very first camps for black youth in the Northeast. Boys and girls from Harlem, New York, and Philadelphia went there to be educated and hone their talents and skills. Several years into the program, Lane decided to make it a boys-only camp, continuing in its education programs until it closed in the 1950s.

Asa Philip Randolph, a labor leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, decided to organize a march of ten thousand to protest at Washington, D.C., against segregation in the Army. Lane was part of the committee of the original 1941 March on Washington, which was an effective proposed event that forced Franklin D. Roosevelt to end employment discrimination Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 a week before the proposed July 1, 1941 date of the march, and the protest was replaced by a victory celebration.

In 1955 Lane moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she stayed until she passed away in her sleep at the age of eighty-three on February 2, 1976. Her grave is located in a Roman Catholic Church there. A memorial service was held in Doylestown, and three years after her death, the street that ran through the La Citadelle Manor was renamed Layle Lane, believed to be the first street in Pennsylvania to be named after a black woman.

Sources:
Leonard Bethel, La Citadelle. (University Press of America. Lanham, Massachusetts, 2015); Andrew E. Kerstern and David Lucander. For Jobs and Freedom: Selected Speeches and Writings of A. Philip Randolph. (University of Massachusetts Press. Boston, 2014).

Contributor:

University of Washington, Seattle

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