(Note: This story was updated Feb. 3 to add an admission price in the If You Go box.)
If You Go
What: Polly McLean, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Colorado, will speak about Lucile Berkeley Buchanan's life at a Women's History Month event, sponsored by the Boulder History Museum.
When: 2 p.m. Friday, March 14
Where: Boulder History Museum, downtown location, 2205 Broadway
Tickets: $5 for museum members, $10 for non-members
Lucile Berkeley Buchanan graduated from the University of Colorado in 1918, making her the first black woman to do so. But it wasn't until 1993, when a story was published in the late Rocky Mountain News, that the fact became widely known.
The life of this woman was still a mystery when the newspaper story was shown to Polly McLean, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Colorado. Her interest was piqued.
Now, after 10 years of research, McLean has written 17 chapters of a manuscript about Lucile Berkeley Buchanan Jones' remarkable life.
Buchanan attended CU after she had graduated from the State Normal School (now University of Northern Colorado), where she was trained to be a schoolteacher. Still, Buchanan wanted the liberal arts education of a university. She chose to study German at CU.
German might seem an unlikely choice, but McLean says many blacks in America felt an affinity with Germany at that time. Well-known members of the black intelligentsia had visited the European country and believed it was a "spiritual fatherland." At the same time, the University of Colorado was encouraging German as a course of study as our country entered World War I. Buchanan had neighborhood German influences in her childhood, as well.
In her first year at CU, Buchanan rented a room in a private home at 821 Mapleton Ave. The second year, she roomed in a house at 1304 Pine St., which has since been replaced by the parking lot of the Hotel Boulderado.
Buchanan did not "walk" at graduation, according to McLean. Buchanan is not pictured in the CU yearbook of 1918. But she is pictured in a 1918 edition of "The Crisis," where she is noted as a college graduate from Colorado. "The Crisis" was the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded and edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. Photographs of black college graduates throughout the nation were featured in the magazine.
Buchanan married John Dotha Jones, a highly educated black man. She was a lifelong teacher and had a full career, accepting positions at historically black high schools in several states. Buchanan and Jones were soon divorced. They had no children, but she kept his name.
At retirement, she returned to the Denver home in which she was raised.
Lucile Berkeley Buchanan Jones was 105 when she died in 1989; she is buried in Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. Her grave was unmarked until a fellow CU graduate paid for a headstone. That's when her story began to surface.
McLean likens Buchanan to the movie character Forrest Gump, as her life intersected with some of the most important events and people of her day, including the beginning of Negro League baseball, the Jazz Age in Chicago and novelist Richard Wright. McLean suspects it is Lucile's marriage to John Dotha Jones that is fictionalized in Wright's 1963 novel "Lawd, Today!"
Uncovering the details of Buchanan's life was like solving a puzzle for McLean. The research took her to cemeteries and slave plantations. Clues led McLean to census data, military and postal records, historical maps and letters, and it pushed her to travel to four states to learn the story.
McLean's exuberance for her subject is contagious. "It was," she says, "like Lucile had decided, 'My story should be told now.' "
Silvia Pettem and Carol Taylor write about history for the Daily Camera. Email Silvia at email@example.com, Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder 80301.