At the Lucy Craft Laney Luncheon July 31, National Black Presbyterian Women looked back while also celebrating present leaders and “sheroes.”

Named for the famed African American educator, the Lucy Craft Laney luncheon honored the witness and service of African American women. Catrelia Hunter and Allie B. Latimer were both honored with the Lucy Craft Laney award for outstanding witness and service.

The luncheon was part of the biennial meeting of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, held on Stillman College’s campus.

“We can still do powerful things through Christ, who strengthens us,” said Alfreda Overton, opening the luncheon.

Laney was born in 1854, to former slaves. Her father was a Presbyterian pastor, and Presbyterian influence showed in much of Laney’s work. After teaching for several years, Laney opened her own school — the first in Augusta, GA, for black students — in the basement of a Presbyterian church.

That school later became the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, which received funding from the Women’s Department of the former United Presbyterian Church in the USA. Laney also opened the first kindergarten and nursery school for black students in Augusta.

Laney “knew that she was standing on the shoulders of others who had gone before her,” said keynote speaker Billie Jean Young, an author, actress, poet and artist in residence at Judson College, in Marion, AL.

Laney has a “tremendous legacy,” said Young, who presented a poem urging attendees to listen to the “wake-up call” of society. In Alabama, one out of four children live in poverty, and the Black Belt region of the state — which stretches across the lower part of the state and was named for the dark topsoil abundant there — has a 17 percent unemployment rate. 

“We have to tackle the leftover problems of the last century and the new problems of the 21st century,” Young said, adding that it’s necessary to supply children with hope. “This region has created many notables.”

She encouraged attendees to be brave and to look to Laney for inspiration.

“I challenge you women, Presbyterians, black people, for us to take our legacy seriously,” Young said.

Along with Young’s presentation, attendees also enjoyed music from a women’s ensemble from Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, which is adjacent to Stillman’s campus.

Hunter served as moderator of the Churchwide Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women from 2006-09. She has also served in a variety of academic positions, including acting president of Livingston College in Salisbury, NC, and positions at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, NC, and the University of Illinois.

Historically black universities and colleges have meant a lot to her and her family, Hunter said. “I know very well the benefit and purpose of these institutions,” she said.

A lawyer by training, Latimer is a member of the Board of Trustees at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta. In October, she will be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has also been honored by the Veteran Feminists of America.

“It’s not all about me, it’s all about us,” Latimer said upon accepting her award. “It’s about the common road.”