Layle Lane (1893-1976)

Layle Lane, 1943
Layle Lane, 1943
Courtesy The New York Age, Fair use image

Labor leader Layle Lane was born in Marietta, Georgia, on November 27, 1893. 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 March on Washington Movement committee member, 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 established a nearby church and school. 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. Layle graduated with degrees in English and History.

After Howard, Lane found it challenging 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 mainly 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 fought for the 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 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 in Washington, D.C., against segregation in the Army. Lane was part of the original 1941 March on Washington committee, 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, march date, and a victory celebration replaced the protest.

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.