Lucy Craft Laney, educator, school founder, and civil rights activist, was born in Georgia on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia to free parents Louisa and David Laney. David Laney, a Presbyterian minister and skilled carpenter, had purchased his freedom approximately twenty years before Lucy Laney’s birth. He purchased Louisa’s freedom shortly after they were married. Lucy Laney learned to read and write by the age of four and by the time she was twelve, she was able to translate difficult passages in Latin including Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.
Laney attended Lewis (later Ballard) High School in Macon, Georgia and in 1869, at the age of fifteen, she joined Atlanta University’s first class. Four years later she graduated from the teacher’s training program at the University. After teaching for ten years in Macon, Savannah, Milledgeville, and Augusta, she in 1883 opened her own school in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. Originally intended only for girls, when several boys appeared she accepted them as pupils. For the first couple of years, only a handful of students attended, but by the end of the second year over 200 African American children were pupils at her school. Three years after the founding of the school, the state licensed it as Haines Normal and Industrial Institute. The school was named after Francine E.H. Haines, a lifetime benefactor of the school who donated $10,000 to establish the Institute. In the 1890s the Haines Institute was the first school to offer a kindergarten class for African American children in Georgia. By 1912 it employed thirty-four teachers, and had over nine hundred students enrolled. The most prominent gradate of Haines Institute was Frank Yerby, the noted author.
In Augusta in 1918, Lucy Laney helped to found the Augusta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was also active in the Interracial Commission, the National Association of Colored Women, and the Niagara Movement. Laney helped to integrate the community work of the YMCA and YWCA. She served as the director of the cultural center for Augusta’s African American community.
Lucy Laney died on October 23, 1933 in Augusta. Because of her work in education, Laney was one of the first African Americans to have her portrait displayed in the Georgia state capital in Atlanta.