Lucy Craft Laney is widely recognized as Georgia’s most famous female African American educator. Founder and principal of the Haines Institute for fifty years (1883-1933), she was born on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia. Lucy was one of ten children born in the years before emancipation to Louisa and David Laney. However, her parents were not slaves. Her father was both a Presbyterian pastor and a skilled carpenter who, while previously a slave, had managed to buy his freedom some 20 years before Lucy was born, and had also purchased his wife’s freedom.
Much has been written about Lucy Craft Laney. Deservedly so. But today I would like to share what I’ve been able to find out about her father, though admittedly it’s not much, thus far.
Rev. David Laney is noted by some as the organizing pastor of the oldest black Presbyterian church in all of Georgia, established in 1839, serving that church as pastor before, during and after the war. And there is the stirring note that “When the Civil War came to an end, it was Lucy’s father who rang the bells of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church to celebrate emancipation.”
Rev. Laney was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and their Minutes of General Assembly for 1895 make record of Rev. Laney’s death in October of 1894, at the age of 86. He had been a member of the Knox Presbytery and had been noted on their rolls as honorably retired. Based on his death date and age, it is likely that he was born in 1808. If the records of Knox Presbytery were available, it is possible we might find a brief memorial spread upon the pages of their Minutes. And while a search of those buried at three historical African American cemeteries in Macon [Linwood, Riverside and Rose Hill cemeteries] failed to locate his gravesite, that search was far from conclusive.
Surprisingly, it was so recent as 2018 that a nice account of the church he founded in Macon was read into the Congressional Record, and we conclude today’s post with that history:
From the Congressional Record, 13 November 2018, pages E1510-E1511 [https://www.congress.gov/115/crec/2018/11/13/CREC-2018-11-13.pdf]
HON. SANFORD D. BISHOP, JR. OF GEORGIA IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, Tuesday, November 13, 2018.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honor and pleasure to extend my sincere congratulations to the membership and leadership of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church in Macon, Georgia for 180 years of remarkable service. The congregation of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church commemorated this milestone with a celebration on Sunday, November 11, 2018.
Tracing its roots back to the pre-Civil War era, the Church was organized around 1838 when Pastor Samuel Cassels was instructed to preach and minister to the slaves of the members of the 1st Presbyterian Church’s congregation. The ‘‘African Chapel,’’ a separate facility, was built on Fourth Street (now M.L. King Drive) but remained associated with the 1st Presbyterian Church. With a request for full independence by ‘‘African Chapel’’ members that was granted on May 5, 1866, the present Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church was formed. Joseph Williams, David Laney, and Robert Carter were the first Ministers ordained to serve the church following its formal establishment.
The Church had humble origins due to racial and social stratification in the post-Civil War South. With the end of the Civil War, the bells of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church rang to celebrate emancipation. Under the pastorate of David Laney, most notably, the distinguished Gothic Revival structure of the Church was constructed. The Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church is not only the oldest African-American congregation in the state of Georgia, but also bears the distinct honor of being one of the oldest minority congregations in the country. Named for the street on which it is located, the Church has become the primary place of worship for many generations of the most prominent black families in Macon. It also enjoys the privilege of being listed in the National Register of Historic Places in America, another indication of its importance in the local, state, and national communities.
The story of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church, which began as a small group of slaves worshipping in a small ‘‘African Chapel’’ and has grown into an expansive and successful church, is truly an inspiring one of the dedication and perseverance of a faithful congregation of people who put all their love and trust in the Lord.
Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues in the House to join me in paying tribute to the Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church in Macon, Georgia for its congregation’s enduring commitment despite adversity, to each other and to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for over 180 years. May their actions continue to inspire the community in courage, in dedication, and in faith.
Words to Live By:
As I said above, much has been written about Lucy Craft Laney, but it is interesting to try to search out the story of the father who raised her, taught her and helped to equip her for such remarkable success in life. Godly parents are an incalculable aid and benefit as we start our way in this troublesome world. We owe so much to them, so much that we can never repay. Our best efforts in honoring our parents begin as we take prayerful care to live a righteous, faithful life before the Lord our God.
Larger Catechism, Q. 123. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.