Lucy Jess Gray

She was born in Paris, Illinois, January 2, 1914, one of six children born to Frank and Bertha Manual Blake. I attended elementary, junior high and high school in Paris and graduated with the Class of 1932. After graduation, I met Mr. Louis Gray of Champaign, Illinois and was married. To this union was born one son, Steven Frank Gray.

I became a member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church under the sponsorship of Mr. A.R. Lee and sang in the choir for over 30 years. I was active in the Willing Workers Club; the Louanna Riley Missionary Society and presently serve as a trustee. As an employee of the McKinley YWCA and through its mission "Employment on Merit," I was the first Negro hired to work in retail in downtown Champaign in 1952 at the Kaufman's Clothing Store where I worked for 10 years. Later when the store was sold, I moved with Mr. Myers to the Joseph Kuhn Clothing store and worked there for 18 years. I also worked as Assistant Manager and Buyer for La Boutique in downtown Champaign. In 1955, I served as Alternate Delegate to the Champaign County League of Women Voters' State Convention which was held on the U of I Campus.

Through the years I have received many awards from my Church; The Urban League; the cities of Paris and Champaign; the Burnham City Library Board of Trustees; the McKinley YWCA; the Cunningham Children's Home; and the Champaign County Development Corporation. As a member of CCDC, I was instrumental in creating the first mini-park in Champaign-Urbana located on Park Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, the Marco-Nelson Park. Jack Marco and Earnest Nelson donated the land, CCDC provided the money.

I am an honorary member of the Antique Study Group. I joined in 1935 as my interest in antiques has been a lifelong passion, and for 18 years, I owned and operated Gray's Antiques and Collectibles. As a recent retiree from that business, I still commit my time to various community projects and my Church. I am a Charter member of the Champaign County Section of the National Council of Negro Women.