Lucien Alexis Sr. earned the nickname of the “Negro Einstein” while as a student at Harvard University. Despite facing an extreme set of obstacles, Alexis managed not only to graduate from the prestigious university, but became a famed educator himself.
Alexis was born July 8, 1887 in New Orleans, La. Not much has been recorded about Alexis’ childhood but what is known is that he took work as a railway mail clerk at the age of 20. For seven years, Alexis toiled and saved up enough funds for four years at Harvard. The university did accept him, but asked if he would attend the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before entering Harvard.
The academy became a place where Alexis thrived, and also where he developed a love for foreign languages and the sciences. However, the year at Exeter cost him one year of his Harvard savings. Determined to fulfill his college dream, Alexis graduated “cum laude” in 1917, a year earlier than expected thus staving off the need for outside funds.
In the same year, Alexis entered Officer’s Training School in Des Moines, Ia. And was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of the 367th Infantry in World War I. After the war, met and married Rita Holt. They had one son together, Lucien Jr., who also attended Harvard and is part of its lore as well for reasons other than academics.
Alexis returned to his hometown of New Orleans, working as a teacher and assistant principal of a pair of elementary schools. But it was his appointment as principal for McDonough High School in the city that made him a legendary figure. McDonough was the only public high school for Black people at the time, and it was nestled in a poor neighborhood.
For 30 years, Alexis turned the school into one of the best in the city. He had so much respect that unsavory figures near the school wouldn’t bother any of his students as they traveled through the neighborhood.
During his time as an educator, Alexis continued his life of science and published several scientific articles. Upon retirement, he opened the Straight Business School in the city and his wife ran the facility. Alexis was also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Alexis passed in 1981, outliving his son who died in 1975.