New Information on the First Black Graduate of the University of Colorado

For many years, officials at the University of Colorado believed that in 1924 Ruth Cave Flowers became the first African American to graduate from the university. But it now appears that the first African American to graduate from the university was Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in German in 1918.

Polly McLean, an African American who is an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Colorado, has painstakingly researched historical documents, contacted acquaintances, and traveled to places where Lucile  and her family lived and worked.

Lucile was born in 1884 in Virginia. Her father was a slave who escaped to freedom and served in the 30th U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War. Her mother’s father was Edmund Berkeley, a Confederate colonel who had impregnated a slave. Berkeley was a wealthy man who owned a 1,000-acre plantation.

Lucile’s parents followed the course of the pioneers and set out from Virginia for Colorado in 1881 or 1882. The couple bought five lots of land and built a large home in a predominantly white neighborhood of Denver. It is not known how the couple amassed enough money for the land and home. McLean speculates that Lucile’s white grandfather may have given his daughter some money before she left Virginia.

Lucile’s father became a prominent member of the community. He defeated a white man in an election for street commissioner and served in the post for several years.

After graduating from the University of Colorado in 1918, Lucile married a Columbia University graduate named John Dotha Jones. Jones was later killed in a duel. Lucile moved from Denver to Chicago and through a long career taught at all-black high schools in five different states.

In the course of her investigations, McLean found a trunk which contained Lucile’s belongings. Included in the trunk were love letters, photographs, her graduation robe from the University of Colorado, and a number of books. Among the volumes in the trunk were W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Soul of Black Folks and several books written in Latin and French.

Lucile eventually made her way back to Denver. Blind and apparently without family, she died at a nursing home in Denver in 1989. She was 105 years old.