University records actually claimed it was another black woman who graduated first, but a CU professor’s research set history straight.
“Someone handed me an article that says she was buried in an unmarked grave, the first African-American woman. And I said ‘Did anybody check this out?’ And I was told ‘Not really.’ And at that moment I said ‘I’m going to see why and what happened here,’” Associate Professor Polly Mclean said.
That sparked a 10 year journey into researching the life of Lucile Berkeley Buchanan by Mclean, who is the first black female professor to earn tenure at CU.
“It took me through 10 states, so many cities that I cannot even imagine to tell you tracking her history down from the time she was born in 1884 on the banks of the Cherry Creek in a barn,” Mclean said.
Buchanan met all her requirements and graduated from CU with a degree in German, but school administrators barred her from walking across the stage to accept her degree. A century later, she’s finally being recognized.
Buchanan went on to teach for 40 years and passed away in Denver in 1989 at 105. Mclean is now sharing Buchanan’s story and says it serves as a valuable lesson for students.
“(Have) perseverence. Never give up,” Mclean said.
Mclean will accept Buchanan’s diploma onstage at a CU graduation ceremony next month. A book about Buchanan’s life will be published later this month.