Local woman devoted her life to racial equality

Lee Ann Lucas of Clayton remembers growing up in a loving two-parent household in Dayton. Feeling blessed to have had a stable home environment, Lee Ann’s mentor and role model, her mother Alyce, not only inspired her to dream big, but also encouraged her, through her many positive deeds, to always do better and to help others.

Last August, Alyce D. Lucas celebrated her 90th birthday, surrounded by family and friends. On March 10, she’ll be surrounded by the community as she receives the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award at the YWCA’s Women of Influence Awards Luncheon.

Lucas came to Dayton in 1944 when she moved from Anderson, Indiana, to take a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“I came to work for commissioned military personnel,” Lucas said. “We were integrating the armed services.”

Lucas continued her work at the base until after World War II ended, and many of the civilian staff lost jobs as a result. “I was laid off for six months but called back,” Lucas said. “At that time the City of Dayton started the Human Relations Council and they recruited me to work for them.”

This began Lucas’ long career in the human resources field and this job ignited her passion for equal rights and Affirmative Action. “My job (with the city) was to ensure contract compliance and that companies were truly hiring minorities and women,” Alyce said.

Soon General Motors (GM) came calling and Lucas was recruited to work in the Frigidaire division in a challenging role to help move minorities and women into supervisory roles at the company. “They had 14,000 employees at Frigidaire when I started,” Lucas said. “And only one minority and no women in supervisor positions.”

Lucas remembers encountering great resistance in this mostly male dominated world at the time, but said she agreed to take the job because then Chairman of the Board Richard C. Gerstenberg, backed her 100 percent in her efforts. “I would not have taken the job otherwise,” Lucas said. “We recruited minorities by taking them off the line, but we had to go outside to hire women.”

And it was “extremely difficult,” Lucas remembers and every women brought into the company had to be trained in Flint, Michigan. “I helped start a recruitment program (at GM) especially for women and minorities,” she said.

In the mid 1980s Lucas took an early retirement package from GM and her daughter remembers that retirement for her mother was unlike that of most of her peers.

“My mom had always worked to help the community,” Lee Ann Lucas said. “She was the first black women on WDAO radio in Dayton in the mid 60s and she had a lifestyle program for women who were heads of households. During that time, she was actively involved in calming the West Dayton communities after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Alyce Lucas, then considered a celebrity of sorts to the Dayton black community, went against the advice of local police and drove into the communities asking everyone to stay calm and focus on peace.”

“I had no fear,” Lucas said. “The West Dayton communities knew me and what I stood for. I knew they wouldn’t harm me.”

In 1976, Lucas founded an organization for community minded women called Twentig, Inc., which eventually established an endowment fund with the Dayton Foundation to provide scholarships for African American students interested in pursuing an education in the Arts. Lucas also served on the Montgomery County Children’s Services Board for 22 years and witnessed the closure of Shawen Acres, the county children’s home.

“I was always passionate about the welfare of children,” Lucas said. “I didn’t think the children were properly cared for in the cottages (at Shawen Acres) and was happy when we expanded the foster care program.”

In 1984, then Governor Dick Celeste appointed Lucas to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. “We investigated complaints of race and gender discrimination,” she said. “I read hundreds of cases and I saw the system improve on these matters every year. It did get better.”

An avid golfer most of her life, Lucas was also instrumental in helping to eliminate the “Whites Only” clause from the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) bylaws, which helped open the door for black professional golfers to play in tournaments.

And with her passion for young people, Lucas created “Beautillion,” for young African American males — a scholarship and mentoring program that is now national and part of “Jack and Jill of America, Inc.”

Today Lucas refers to herself as “officially retired,” and enjoys time with her daughter, her friends, and following her favorite basketball team, the University of Dayton Flyers.

“I have two strong and community minded parents,” Lee Ann Lucas said. “My father (Leo A. Lucas) was on the school board for 22 years and was involved in segregation. My mom makes me proud every day. I look up to her because of her tenacity and her lack of fear. I think I inherited this need to challenge people when you see that things are not right.”

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