LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - John Gray Lucas's life represented the huge changes that took place in race relations in Arkansas and the rest of the south at the end of the 19th century.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, John Lucas was born on March 11, 1864, in Marshall, Texas. Lucas moved to Pine Bluff , where he attended public schools. He entered the Branch Normal College of Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), but a few months before graduation, he entered the merchandizing business, and it was two additional years before he earned his degree.
In October 1884, he entered the Boston University School of Law and was graduated in 1887, the only African American in a class of fifty-two students and one of seven students graduating with honors.
In December 1886, he was interviewed by the Boston Daily Globe and asked about racial conditions in Pine Bluff. Lucas responded that three of Pine Bluff's eight city councilmen were African Americans and that African Americans held the offices of county coroner and county circuit clerk.
Lucas returned to Arkansas and was admitted to the state bar. He was soon named assistant prosecuting attorney for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. His abilities brought him to the attention of Judge H. C. Caldwell, who appointed him commissioner for the U.S. Circuit Court, Eastern District of Arkansas. He was also elected to the Republican state and county central committees and served on the Republican Eleventh Judicial District Central Committee.
In 1890, he was elected as a state representative from Jefferson County. Entering the Arkansas General Assembly at the very time that a new wave of racism was inundating the American South, he emerged as a leader among the legislature's twelve black lawmakers.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Lucas is especially remembered for the eloquent address he delivered in February 1891 against a Jim Crow separate-coach bill that would mandate racial segregation on Arkansas's railroads.
The Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat, the state's most important Democratic newspapers, characterized Lucas as "a fluent debater," "unquestionably the ablest and most brilliant representative of his race in the state, and it might truthfully be (for his age) in the South," "a born leader of his people" for whom in 1891 there was "certainly a bright future in store."
By 1893, Lucas had left Arkansas and relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he established a lucrative law practice, conducted from his spacious suite of offices at 88 Dearborn Avenue in the downtown Chicago Loop. He gained a reputation as an expert in criminal law and appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on four occasions. By the early twentieth century, the local African-American press was referring to him as "a black millionaire." He became active in Republican politics and obtained appointments as assistant corporation counsel and first assistant recorder of deeds in Cook County.
In 1934, Lucas was appointed assistant U.S. attorney in Cook County, a position he held until the year of his death. He died on October 27, 1944, in Chicago and is buried there in Lincoln Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Olive Gulliver Lucas, and his daughter; a son had predeceased him.
More on Lucas's life: http://on.kthv.com/1eeqCB9
More on the Arkansas General Assembly: http://on.kthv.com/MJtfon