John Harding Lucas
John Harding Lucas’ dedication to equality has profoundly impacted educational systems in North Carolina and worldwide.
As the author of what came to be called the Lucas Concept, he was instrumental in building an inclusive, diverse environment in the education profession.
Born in 1920 the son of a minister and teacher in Rocky Mount, N.C., he was a student in a segregated school system. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, which was later integrated into Rocky Mount High School in 1969 with the old site becoming a community center.
He enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
“In 1940, with the scarcity of jobs at that time, teaching seemed to offer the opportunity for a stable career,” he said. “Plus, I had success teaching, so I chose to pursue it.”
Lucas taught science and coached multiple sports at Adkin High School in Kinston before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1944. He was deployed to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations, far from his beloved Eastern North Carolina.
“It was a lonesome feeling,” he said. “I wrote a letter generally daily to my wife and family. I happened to be in the Philippines at the time of their independence , which was very historic.”
Returning to North Carolina after being discharged, Lucas resumed his teaching career and pursued a master’s degree in school administration from North Carolina Central University, with the encouragement of his wife, Blondola Powell Lucas.
“She was quite an inspiration,” he said. “She caused me to want to do my best to prove to her she had made a wonderful choice.”
Lucas continued his education at New York University and Duke University.
Lucas served as principal of Orange Street School and Mary Potter High School in Oxford, NC, before being named principal at Durham’s Hillside High School in 1962. He held the post for 24 years. Today, the school’s John H. Lucas Sr. Wellness Center is named in his honor, as is Lucas Middle School in Durham.
While at Hillside, he became a leader in the merger of the all-white North Carolina Education Association and all-black North Carolina Teachers Association. Originally, discussion centered on the white organization absorbing the black one. Lucas proposed an alternative.
“Our interest, in my opinion, was to seek a strong single voice for education with equal opportunity,” Lucas remembered. “My concept was that in order to merge, you should bring two groups together on an equal footing.”
His proposal led to the formation of the North Carolina Association of Educators in 1970. Lucas served as its president from 1974-75. Today, the NCAE continues to bring educators together without regard to ethnicity.
Once successful in executing the merger, Lucas shifted his attention to working as a United States delegate to the World Conference on the Teaching Profession in Ethiopia, Kenya, Ireland, British Columbia, and South Korea. He also served on various state and national committees on education issues.
He retired briefly in 1985 before accepting the Presidency at Shaw University in 1986, working with alumni and supporters to resolve financial and management problems which threatened the 100-year-old institution.
He was elected to the first school board of the newly-merged school system in Durham County and served as its Vice Chairman.
Lucas has received multiple honors for his work on behalf of education and equal opportunity. In 1982 Shaw University awarded him an honorary doctorate in humane letters. He was named a lifetime honorary board member of the National Education Association in 1972 and, in 2009 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National School Board Association. In 2013he received the North Carolina Award for Public Service from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
Now in his mid-90s, he continues to be an active member and leader at White Rock Baptist Church, which named him as Deacon Chair Emeritus, as well as on numerous community, state and national boards.
“I have a strong belief, based on my Christian faith, that if you work hard and follow commandments, seek peace and gentleness, and strive for equality and education,” he said. “If you pursue those basic goals, you feel sad for people who seemingly fall short in not wanting to give their best to society and to the equality of humanity.”
While he is pleased with the progress which has been made in addressing racial issues, he believes much more remains to be accomplished.
“There’s a lot for us to do in moving ahead for a just society, better quality of life, and better employment,” Lucas said. “We are striving for such, but we haven’t reached where we could be. So I think we need to work daily to bring enrichment to all people.”
Creditline: Evan Schmidt