Reference Entry

Lyons, Judson Whitlocke

Benjamin R. Justesen

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Lyons, Judson Whitlocke

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lawyer and public official, was born in Burke County, Georgia, a son of Thomas Lyons and Edy Plummer, who may have been a slave. His birth year, later reported in official biographies as either 1858 or 1860, was most likely several years earlier, in 1854. After the Civil War, he moved to Augusta, where he was educated in the common schools of Richmond County. He graduated from high school at Augusta Institute, which was later moved to Atlanta as Atlanta Baptist Seminary, later becoming Morehouse College.Lyons began his career as a schoolteacher, working during his student years as a summer teacher in both Georgia and South Carolina and later working full-time in Richmond County, Georgia. His 1874 application for a Freedman's Bank savings account lists his age as twenty; also listed are his parents' names and those of his siblings, including an older sister, Alice Batty, with whom he lived in Augusta. During the Reconstruction era, Lyons was an early leader in the Georgia Equal Rights Association, and also became active in Republican Party politics.In 1876 Lyons was chosen as an alternate delegate from Georgia's 8th congressional district to the party's national nominating convention in Cincinnati. Four years later, he became one of the party's youngest voting delegates to the Chicago national convention that nominated James Garfield for president. After Garfield's election, Lyons was appointed as a gauger for the federal Internal Revenue Service in Augusta and Savannah, and later worked on the staff of Georgia's deputy collector of internal revenue.After his exposure to national politics, Lyons chose to become a lawyer, entering the law department at Howard University in Washington, DC, from which he graduated in 1884 with a bachelor's degree in Law, reportedly with high honors. His classmates at Howard included such rising figures as John C. Asbury of Virginia and Andrew F. Hilyer and Jesse A. Lawson of Washington, DC. After returning to Augusta, Lyons was admitted to the Georgia state bar in November 1884 and established a private practice in Augusta. In 1896 he formed a partnership with Henry Moses Porter, who had attended law school at the University of Michigan.Lyons married Jane Hope in 1890. They had four children: daughters Hope, Edith, and Alice, born in Augusta between 1893 and 1897, and one son, Judson W. Lyons Jr., born in Washington, DC, in 1906.Lyons resumed his active participation in Georgia Republican politics, attending every party nominating convention as a district or at-large delegate from 1892 until 1908. In 1896 and 1900, he received the signal honor of being named Georgia's national committee member, the first African American to hold that distinction. As a supporter of William McKinley in 1896, Lyons was among a group of black Republican leaders considered for federal appointments by the new president, and received enthusiastic recommendations from white lawyers and leaders of both parties, at least some of whom expected him to be named as a U.S. consul abroad or in a departmental position in Washington, DC.In April 1897 President McKinley nominated Lyons as postmaster of Augusta, Georgia, causing an angry reaction among local white leaders. After a lengthy controversy, mediated in part by Postmaster General James A. Gary, Lyons agreed to withdraw his candidacy for the postmastership. In late March 1898, days after the death of U.S. Treasury Register Blanche K. Bruce, President McKinley announced Lyons's nomination to that post, for which he was quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate. For years he was an active stump speaker in national Republican circles, serving as a fervent advocate among African Americans for President McKinley's reelection in 1900 and publishing a popular booklet titled “Appointments Which Afro-Americans Have Received from President McKinley: An Official Record That Merits a Careful Reading.” In 1904 he worked for President Roosevelt's election.In 1898 Lyons was named to the first subexecutive committee in charge of work by the new National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization, and served on the national executive committee until 1901. After retiring from the Treasury register's position in 1906, Lyons briefly practiced law in Washington, before returning to Augusta to become president of the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, a distinguished high school for African American students. He was an active member of Augusta's Harmony Baptist Church, as well as a thirty-second-degree Mason, and was the first African American elected to the American Academy of Political and Social Science.Lyons died in Augusta, Georgia, in 1924.

Reference Entry.  775 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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