Smoot uncovers new details of SIU legacy and inaugural black alumnus Alexander Lane
July 23, 2013
A recent commission from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute led Dr. Pamela Smoot to an in-depth look at the life and legacy of Alexander Lane, SIU’s first black alumni.
Smoot, both a faculty member of the Department of Africana Studies and also the Coordinator of Recruitment, Retention & Outreach for the College of Liberal Arts, presented her extensive research of Lane – from early roots in 1860s Mississippi, through his education, to life as a school principal, physician and Illinois State Legislator – during a special event hosted during the 2013 Black Alumni Group Reunion at SIU Carbondale in July.
The preface of Smoot’s paper describes Lane’s success as “a testament to this institution’s earliest efforts to create and sustain a diverse student body, a tradition that has continued since 1869.”
Lane, whose mother allowed a sympathetic Colonel to take her son north to Illinois with him during the Reconstruction period in order to secure his education in a time when southern blacks did not have access to formal academia, was then given a home with an educated and successful young married couple in Perry County. According to Smoot’s research, after completing his degree at then-named Southern Illinois Normal University, Lane went on to become the first principal of Carbondale’s Eastside School for Negroes (later known as Attucks School). After ten years, Lane left his position to study medicine and begin a family.
After graduating from Rush Medical College in 1895, he and his family moved to Chicago to embark on his new career as a physician, where his popularity grew – as well as a new interest in politics. Smoot writes, “He apparently realized that there were no limits to what he could do in spite of his race.” In 1906, Lane was elected to the 45th Illinois General Assembly and took his seat in January of the next year to serve the first of two consecutive terms as state legislator.
Lane died at age 51 in Chicago, having established legacies that are still celebrated a century later. He is buried in Carbondale’s Oakland Cemetery, which Smoot describes as fitting, as “the foundation for his legacy began there.”
Dr. Smoot’s paper concludes:
“For the record, Lane, an educator, physician, and politician, deserves his rightful place in the history of Southern Illinois University Carbondale as an outstanding alumnus; in Illinois political history as a man who sought to become a change agent for his constituents; and in African American history by adding to the literature on African Americans in the professions.
Lane has left a legacy of achievement as one who made a difference in the lives of other people, and a reason for Southern Illinois University Carbondale to celebrate its proud legacy of more than 135 years of diversity.”
In his honor, the Alexander Lane Internship has been established to send at least one student each spring to work with a member of the Illinois General Assembly Black Caucus. Lauren V. Connor, a senior from Maywood Illinois, was awarded the first Alexander Lane Internship by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. She spent her Spring 2013 internship in Springfield mentored by Dr. Linda Baker of SIU Carbondale, who works in Springfield during sessions. Read more about Lauren’s experience in the July 2013 Saluki Times article.