Elizabeth Elaine Lemon was born in 1904 on Sapelo Island, in McIntosh County, Georgia. She grew up in the Jim Crow South, and was the granddaughter of people who had been enslaved on the Spalding family's island plantation. She is one example of countless African-Americans from Coastal Georgia and from across the country who succeeded in spite of Jim Crow and systemic racism. She was a trailblazer.
Image courtesy of Ball State University Archives & Special Collections. Retrieved from Ancestry Library Edition, a GALILEO database.
Elizabeth Elaine Lemon was born August 4, 1904, on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Her parents were Thomas Lemon and Lula Walker Lemon. Her family called her “Bell.” (Later in life, she would go by "Elaine.") She attended grades one through five on Sapelo Island.
St. Athanasius Episcopal Church
Elaine Lemon continued her grade school years in Brunswick at St. Athanasius Episcopal School. In the summers, she would take the bus to Savannah and work for families. She graduated with honors from St. Athanasius in 1921 and enrolled in Atlanta University Normal School to become a teacher.
Elaine Lemon worked for the public school system in Winston-Salem, N.C., for six years, from 1923-1929.
She graduated from Ball State Teachers College, now Ball State University.
That same year, she joined the faculty of the Atlanta University Laboratory School as an eighth-grade teacher, and served as Teaching Principal of its elementary school -- Oglethorpe Elementary School.
The philosophy of the progressive school included independent study with a social-problems approach and the belief that students should have a role in choosing the topics to be studied and help plan class projects. The school attracted talented faculty and gifted students who often received state and national recognition in the areas of science and writing.
Renowned artist Hale Woodruff was chair of the Art Department. Martin Luther King Jr., who was in the seventh grade when he entered the school, was one of its most well-known former students. Scholar, author, sociologist, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was on the faculty of Atlanta University during the time that the Laboratory School was open.
Elaine Lemon earned her Master’s degree in Social Science from Columbia University in New York in 1941. She worked various teaching jobs during her summers off and leave time from Atlanta University Laboratory School. She taught religion at the historic Riverside Church near the Columbia campus, and also taught at Tufts College (now Tufts University) in Boston and Chautauqua Institution in New York.
Elaine Lemon worked with the USO during World War II as a director. The nonprofit charity was created in 1941, and brought together six civilian organizations -- the YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler's Aid Society, and the Salvation Army -- to provide services and boost the morale of Americans serving in the Armed Forces.
In 1953, Elaine Lemon was named the first African-American principal of the new $1 million Frederick Douglass School in Gary, Indiana. She served as principal until she retired.
Jet Magazine's Society World column mentioned Elaine Lemon and her world travels with the YMCA World Ambassador Program. In the early 1970s, she visited Switzerland, Ceylon, India, Japan, Taiwan, China, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana. In 1982 she visited the Soviet Union.
Ball State University honored Elaine Lemon for her work at Atlanta University Laboratory School and for her work in schools in Gary, Indiana.
In her final years, Elaine Lemon lived in Savannah in a home she had purchased on Harden Street some time before 1960. In Savannah she was an active member of St. Matthews Episcopal Church. She taught Sunday School and was a member of the St. Augustus Guild and served on the Day Care Center Board.
Elizabeth Elaine Lemon died on New Year's Day in 1999 in Savannah.