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First African American Woman to Graduate from the University of Colorado

Lucile Berkeley Buchanan

Lucy (Lucile) Berkeley Buchanan Jones was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Colorado. Buchanan was born on June 13, 1884, on the second floor of the family’s mule and horse barn in the town of Barnum, southwest of Denver, Colorado. She was the daughter of Sarah Lavinia and James Fenton Buchanan, emancipated slaves from adjoining plantations in northern Virginia. Sarah and James Buchanan were married in 1872. Within ten years of their marriage the couple, and their four Virginia-born children, migrated to Colorado.

When the Buchanan’s arrived in Colorado in 1882, Lucile’s mother, Sarah, bought five lots of land in an unincorporated area outside the Denver city limits from P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Buchanan’s were one of two black families in this predominately first-generation European immigrant community.

In 1903, after graduating from Villa Park High School, she enrolled in the two-year teacher certification program at the Colorado State College for Education at Greeley (now University of Northern Colorado), which she completed in 1905.

In 1915, Miss Buchanan enrolled in the University of Chicago where she studied Greek, German, and English. After studying there for only one year, she returned to Colorado to enroll in the University of Colorado. On June 5, 1918, Miss Buchanan became the first black woman to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado. She majored in German. She left Colorado around 1920 and became a teacher in several all-Black schools such as Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri and the Langston School in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

By 1930, Miss Buchanan had married John Dotha Jones. Their marriage was brief and they had no children. She relocated to Chicago where she became a teacher at the Stephen A. Douglas School on the city’s Southside. She also took graduate courses at the University of Chicago, enrolling in her last class in 1941 at the age of 57. In 1949 Mrs. Jones retired from the Chicago Public School system and returned to the Denver home her father had built for the family in 1905. Lucile Berkeley Buchanan Jones died in Denver on November 10, 1989, at the age of 105 and is buried at Fairmount Cemetery, in Block 52.

By Polly Mclean

Polly McLean is an associate professor of Media Studies in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder.