IE Voice | Black Voice News
On Friday, January 7th members of the Inland Empire community learned of the passing of Dr. Lulamae Clemons. According to her grandson Marlan McClanhan, she passed peacefully at home. She was 104 years old.
In recognition of Dr. Clemons 100th birthday in 2017, Black Voice News Publisher Dr. Paulette Brown Hinds referred to her as a “remarkable woman who was just as fearless at 100 as she has been her entire life.”
With the passing of Dr. Clemons the inland community has lost an icon who leaves a legacy worthy of recognition and praise. In honor of the life she lived and her contributions to the community, we invite readers to learn about this remarkable woman as told in her own voice during an in depth interview with the IE Voice as it was originally published on December 30, 2013. It is reproduced here for your reading convenience.
This Is 96: The Education of Dr. Lulamae Clemons (published December 30, 2013)
In 1917 America celebrated the second inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as president and despite his campaign slogan, “he kept us out of war” within a month of his second term he asked Congress to join the other world powers in battle. That same year suffragists were arrested as they picketed the White House in an attempt to pressure President Wilson into signing an amendment giving women the right to vote. And the woman who would become one of Riverside’s most respected citizens, Dr. Lulamae Clemons, was born.
This week her friends have planned a special celebration on her 96th birthday two days after Christmas. “I’m looking forward to getting a cellphone for my birthday and moving into the 21st century,” she jokes about the momentous occasion. “All I’ll need is a hearing aid and directions on how to use it.”
Whether it’s learning how to work a smartphone in her 90’s, studying nursing in her 20’s, or earning a doctorate degree in her 50s, Lulamae values education, is fearless in her pursuit of knowledge, and has definitely never seen barriers to success and achievement that she didn’t believe she could overcome.
Born in Widener, Arkansas, a small town on the eastern border of the state whose population today is just over 300 residents, Lulamae admits that she still looks in the atlas just to see if the town is still there. Before Lulamae started grade school, her parents decided to move to Pueblo, Colorado on the advice of an Arkansas friend who suggested, “better economic and racial conditions existed for Negroes out West.”
In Pueblo, Lulamae attended a non-racially segregated elementary public school and non-racially segregated Centennial High School which in 1982 inducted her into its Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony was attended by Lulamae’s extended family — brother Lawrence, sister Clara, son Frank, his wife Dorothy, and their four sons. It was one of many accolades that she is proud to have received.
“Being considered for the award was a great surprise,” she says. “There were 13 Black students at the school when I graduated and we all had very few opportunities to participate.” While the Black and White students were involved in separate activities, she says that she never really felt excluded or rejected. “That was their thing and this was our thing,” she explains. Her sense of pride in her heritage and confidence in her abilities carried her from school to school and state to state as she navigated her educational and professional life.
After graduating from junior college in Pueblo, she entered the School of Nursing in Kansas City, Missouri because the hospital nursing programs in Pueblo denied her admission based on her race, telling her that White patients may not accept nor tolerate being nursed by a Negro female.
“In Kansas City there were two hospitals. Number one was the White hospital on the hill and Number two was the Black hospital down the hill. It had an all-Black staff. Black doctors, Black nurses, Black grounds men,” she explains. While she had planned to attend the school with a good friend from Pueblo who waved goodbye at the station instead of boarding the train with her, she quickly made friends with some of the 22 dorm mates also in the nursing program. “There was a broad representation of young women in the program from all over the country and we all shared the same room. I had no choice but to make friends quickly.”
Once she completed the nursing program, she found her first professional employment with a hospital in Detroit owned by a Black physician. It was short employment because one of the physicians encouraged her to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, and heeding his advice, she enrolled in the historically Black Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1946.
Once again, Lulamae was encouraged to continue her education, so she moved from Kansas City to New York where she attended Columbia University’s Teachers College and earned a Master of Arts in Public Health Administration.
Now divorced and the mother of a son in grade school, Lulamae spent a year earning that degree. It is clear that being fearful is not in her nature. “I would work every night and take the train home at 11 pm still wearing my nurse’s uniform. I’d walk three blocks every night to my apartment and was never bothered by anyone. I never thought to be afraid.”
While employed by the New York Association for the Blind, a friend from the National Urban League convinced her to accept an interview for an employment opportunity in Riverside. In 1956 Lulamae landed at the Riverside Municipal Airport and was met by Dr. Ken Weisbrod who escorted her to the Riverside County Office of Education.
Aside from all the encouragement Lulamae had received over the years, she emphasizes that Riverside County Superintendent Ray Johnson was the first White person to ever give her encouraging words after she was publicly ridiculed for being “a Negro” once she accepted the position as the Director of Intergroup Relations.
While employed at the county office, Lulamae earned a Doctorate Degree in Education Administration from the University of Southern California. “Everyone who worked for the county office was told they had to get a certificate in something. I was told I had to get a certificate in Health & Development and was advised to enroll in USC,” she says. “I earned every certificate there was, and since I was piling up credits a friend counseled me to get a doctorate, so I did.”
“Thank God I was blessed to have a committee of three individuals who got along,” she says, “all agreed on my work and I never had to go back and keep revising it. I was truly blessed.”
She then took a position at the University of California, Riverside leading the government sponsored PRIME program that was designed to oversee and counsel districts in the Western United States on integrating their schools before settling into her final position as department administrator of education and training at Kaiser Permanente in Fontana.
Lulamae has traveled extensively visiting five continents and numerous countries, yet her most cherished journey was a month-long trip with her family to celebrate her retirement from Kaiser. The impetus to make the trip across the globe, “to see China’s Great Wall,” is ironic considering she is a woman who, for her entire life, has refused to see barriers or acknowledge obstacles.
Lulamae has been honored as Riverside Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year in 2002, received a Presidential Citation for Distinguished Service to Youth in 2003, named Woman of the Year by Black Voice News in 2005, and earlier this year received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County. However she considers the erection of the Riverside Martin Luther King statue with the help of her friend Rose Mayes as one of her most notable personal achievements as well as the educational accomplishments of her offspring.
If I could be granted any prayer,” Lulamae says with a smile, “it would be to be like Hezekiah in the bible and have God extend my life a few more years… I’d love to be here to see my grandson Marlan finish law school and pass the bar.”
Information on services for Dr. Clemons are pending.