Unsung Heroines


Unsung Heroine Ms Lucille Flack Ray

Nominated by Catherine Riley


Cathy Riley and Lucille Ray presenting African-American Spirituals Workshop.

Lucille Ray is an extraordinary Asheville woman. She is an inspired speaker, poet and a wonderful human being! She grew up here and suffered through the trials of segregation, due to her African-American heritage, but has not been embittered by this. Her knowledge of the history of this area is fascinating and she has lectured extensively in this area about the African American experience of her grand-parents, parents, and herself.


Lucille’s great-grandmother bore the children of her slave owner; one of her sons was Lucille’s grandfather, Mr. Stepp. “My Grandpa Stepp was a proud old gentleman. He was talkative; I guess I’m just like him! I remembered his stories from my childhood and I’m living long enough to tell it now.”


Most recently Ms Ray and I have collaborated, going into area schools and speaking with the students about slavery, segregation, integration, racism, tolerance, diversity. We teach the old-time African-American spirituals, using them as a springboard to discuss the history of the African American community in the United States. I am a music teacher in the area, with a long time interest in these old-time spirituals, and I’ve been collecting them for 25+ years in South Carolina and here. Being Caucasian, my presence works perfectly with Ms. Ray’s African-American roots, creating a lovely partnership! My grandfather was a civil rights activist in South Carolina, so I speak of the presence of openminded whites who helped the black communities stand up for what was right, during the civil rights era, and earlier during the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad times.


She was inducted into the First Annual Asheville Living Treasures Society last year! She offers her poetry and song, and eloquently shares wonderful stories of the Ashevile of her childhood. She inspires children to recognize how many opportunities await us in this more open period of our history.


In honor of Black History Month in February (2013) and of Women’s History Month in March, we will present a two-part profile focused on Ms. Lucille Ray in February and Catherine Riley in March.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker