Growing up in Paradise
TIVOLI – “Williamsport was a wonderful place to grow up,” said city native and resident Lucille Evans who has been in attendance at the Tivoli Christian Women’s Group for about eight years. “I continue to come, I enjoy this friendly group,” Evans said.
“Around 2010, I was asked to speak on the African-American culture in the city as seen from a black woman’s perspective,” she said. Returning on Aug 21 to speak again, the subject expanded to include among other things, the death of an ancestor and being a part of the Bethune-Douglas Center.
Recently, Evans wrote an article printed in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which referred to the Green Book, a travel guide for blacks indicating places they were allowed to eat and lodge.
“There were three tourist homes in my area, so I was able to met several black entertainers and dignitaries. They included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who B. D. Mitchell reported came into his living room and made himself at home by kicking off his shoes.” she said.
Of her relatives, she gave the account of a great-grandfather, Thomas Hughes, the city’s first black police officer. In 1853 at age 12, Hughes came from Virginia via the Underground Railroad. He would eventually serve 21 years with the Williamsport Police Department until September 1905 when he was called to the Opera House to contain a drunken brawl.
“He handcuffed himself to the instigator and proceeded to take him to the station when others in the group attacked him. Unable to fend them off with only one hand, he fell to the ground and was mercilessly beaten. Recovering at his home during the next five days he vomited blood and died. The coroner attributed his death to natural causes, however, more evidence were brought forward and after the community’s insistence, it was determined death was due to injuries while on duty. His name has been added to the wall in Washington D.C. along with 14,000 police killed in the line of duty,” Evans said.
As a result of Hughes death, the city procured a horse-drawn patrol wagon to more safely transport criminals. The street on the police stations west side south off West Third Street, has been named “Officer Thomas Hughes Lane.”
The history of Lucille’s ancestry also includes a great-uncle who’d served in the Civil War. Sometime after coming to Williamsport, he would walk a group of black children to school where they were refused admittance. “He did this over and over again,” the speaker said.
During World War II, both of Lucille’s parents were in the military. Born soon thereafter, Lucille lauded the Bethune-Douglas Center as a wonderful place. “They had everything, not only for children but adults too. Though most think the Center was for blacks, others came as all were welcome.”
A special individual to the speaker was the late Lila Fisher, a black woman who taught segregated classes in a room within the Park Avenue Elementary School. Though taught separately, playground activities were integrated. Following Fisher’s death, Lucille was charged with cleaning out the teacher’s home. “It took me two and a half years, but I found lots of good things,” she said.
Attendance at the recent meeting included Evan’s ‘Sisters in the Church,’ of Love Unlimited at 734 W. Third Street. A member of the group, Evette Arthur, sang two spirituals, “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
Regardless of challenges faced over the years by her family and community, Evan’s continues to insist, “It was a wonderful experience growing up in Williamsport, I didn’t know I lived in paradise.”