Lucy Jess Gray
Lucy Jess Gray was born in Paris, Illinois, January 2, 1914, and was one of six children born to Frank and Bertha Manual Blake. She attended elementary, junior high, and high school in Paris and graduated with the Class of 1932. After graduation, she met Mr. Louis Gray of Champaign, Illinois. The two were married and had one son, Steven Frank Gray.
Lucy was a member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church and sang in the choir for over 30 years. She was active in many organizations, such as the Willing Workers Club, the Louanna Riley Missionary Society, serving as a trustee. She worked at the McKinley YWCA and in 1952, was the first African American hired to work in retail at Kaufman’s Clothing Store in downtown Champaign, where she worked for 10 years. She also served as Alternate Delegate to the Champaign County League of Women Voters’ State Convention, held at the University of Illinois, and was a Charter member of the Champaign County Section of the National Council of Negro Women.
Through the years, Lucy received many awards from her 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, Lucy was instrumental in creating Marco-Nelson Park, the first mini-park in Champaign-Urbana located on Park Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Jack Marco and Earnest Nelson donated the land, CCDC provided the money.
Lucy Jess Gray was also an honorary member of the Antique Study Group, which she joined in 1935 as her interest in antiques has been a lifelong passion. For 18 years, she owned and operated Gray's Antiques and Collectibles.
Lucy Jess Gray passed away on September 12, 2013.