Edit Current Bio
UCB is written collaboratively by you and our community of volunteers. Please edit and add contents by clicking on the add and edit links to the right of the content

Elma Benjamin Buckner Lacate

Born on 5-10-1899. She was born in Jamaica, British West Indies. She later died on 9-18-2002.
  • Basic Info
  • Attachments
  • Relations
  • Organizations
  • Accomplishments
  • Schools
  • Employers
Mrs. Yvonne Buckner has written the following "Memoir" about her mother, Mrs. Elma Benjamin Buckner Lacate. She prefaces this account of her mother's life with this statement, "I do hope that this narrative about my mother will be regarded as a more personal account of her life, than just an obituary."

"Bennie was something of a pioneer in the nursing field in Western New York. In the early 1900's, that region was a hotbed of the women's suffrage movement, and late 1800's abolitionist activity. When she often spoke about her growing up years in Jamaica, British West Indies, I could better understand why she was so independent. She spoke, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with joy, about her mother dying when she was 4 years old. She lost forever, the closest person to her, Mary Jane Atkinson, her mother, and was placed with other families that would care for her until John Benjamin, her father, sent her to Panama to live with his sister, Margaret Marcotte. Mother laughed when she talked about their segregation system in Panama, and about how she did not know what they were talking about when they asked her whether she was white, colored or black. She simply didn't know the answer, and likened it to her ignorance when they had an earthquake as she walked by herself to the store miles away and with no one to ask, decided 'Ho, this must be what they call an earthquake'.

She had to make her way by herself, through school, and when she was 18, her half brother, Hamilton Brown sent her to the United States, New York City. Any wonder then that with her history of having to negotiate her early years, mostly on her own, she should be attracted to social protests like the Marcus Garvey movement. Living in Harlem's 'Sugar Hill' district, she joined the Black Star Line to go 'back to Africa'. Her reasoning was that since the movement seemed to be uniting North and South, it was a good social protest to join in on. I am very grateful that she also pursued her interest in 'voice' and joined James Weldon Johnson's school of music in Harlem. She sang her way through most of her deep feelings, revealing to me that there had been a man there that she was in love with. She remembered the song they sang to each other, but was about 97 years old when she first mentioned it to me. As a child, I learned to sing many of her songs and mine, and gauged her mood by which song she was singing on any particular day.

To earn her living, mother shared an apartment with a friend, Tina Campbell, at 323 Edgecomb Avenue near the famous Theresa Hotel in Harlem. She worked in the Garment District, sewing clothes and making and designing hats. This is where hundreds of women had their first jobs, escaping, they thought, the drudgery of housekeeping, only to be underpaid and made to work 14 hours a day. Of course, Mother, turned this into a positive learning experience, and became a milliner in her own right. She made many Easter hats for herself and me when I was growing up in Buffalo, New York.

Being admitted to Freedmen's School of Nursing was the fulfillment of a dream 'to help people'. In 1923, after graduation, Mother was hired in Baltimore as nurse to the 13 children of John J. Raskob, Empire State Building owner. Lillian Jones, another nursing graduate, worked along with her for years. They both bonded with the children and she stayed very close to one especially, Benjamin Raskob, even after she married my father, Robert Crawford Buckner, and moved to Buffalo in 1931. When I was born, in 1933, she called Ben in Baltimore and asked him to be my God Father. He accepted.

Mother lived in Buffalo until 1999, when I packed her clothes and drove her back to Detroit where I have been living since 1969. Among the accomplishments of her life in Buffalo is her being hired by Planned Parenthood of Western New York. She was their first nurse of color and visited patients to teach the 'rhythm method' and family planning. It was a happy time for my brother, Bob, and me because we got to ride around Buffalo in our father's 1938 Hudson automobile and see the sights. Bob was born in 1934 and our sister Ethel was born in 1939. To my regret, both are deceased.

When the Second World War broke out, my mother worked at night to help the war effort. Again, she was among the independent women who worked all night at the Curtis Wright Parachute Factory, and took care of us children all day. Erna Clark, one of two friends who worked with my mother, told me that she always stopped at our house in the morning to have breakfast after leaving work. She said that Bennie was always so placid and serene and that was what she admired in her. Mother returned to nursing in the later 1940's. She worked at Sister's Hospital and later at Millard Fillmore Hospital. She rose through the ranks and was promoted to Supervisor of the Blood Bank, the first colored nurse to hold that position. Mother's independent career earned her a stellar reputation but was a loss for my father who pleaded with her to stay at home and be a housewife.

Lacate Oil PaintingMother began oil painting classes at age 75 and continued well into her 80's. I am quite proud to display her beautiful oil paintings and life long needlework accomplishments.

When I walked into my mother's bedroom at 6:30 am on July 24th, 2002, she was very fretful and agitated. She said 'I have to find my black hat and black shoes! I need to leave, and I can't find my shoes.' Somehow, it seemed appropriate to try to calm her down, so I said, 'OK, I'll be alright.' She often worried that I had not remarried. 'I'll be fine if you need to leave now.' I began to turn the light out, but she stopped me abruptly. 'No, leave it on. It's almost time for me to go! I'm getting tired, she said. 'Let's call it a day!' She was actually readying herself for the final journey that all of us must make. It will be a 'heavenly' experience to see her again someday. There is still much left for me to ask her.

Elma Benjamin Buckner Lacate - May 10, 1899 to September 18, 2002.