Not very much is known of Lucien Alexis’ early childhood in New Orleans, but what is known are the achievements he would make in later years to come. Born on July 8, 1887 to Louis Victor and Alice Saucier Alexis, he was educated in the local schools where he excelled academically. Alexis was determined to attend Harvard University. Not having the finances to do so, he began working in 1907(at the age of twenty) as a railway mail clerk, saving for the education he so desperately desired.
By the time he reached twenty-seven, he had set aside enough money for four years of college. He applied and was accepted at Harvard but was asked to attend (for one year) Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, a prestigious preparatory high school. While at Exeter, he lived in the home of Mr. H.F. Quimby and soon developed a keen interest in foreign languages and the sciences. By now he had only enough money for three years upon entering Harvard, so he managed by graduating “cum laude” a year early (1917). It was there, at Harvard, that he earned the nickname: “The Negro Einstein.”
That same year, Alexis entered Officers’ Training School in Des Moines, Iowa and was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant and assigned to the 367th Infantry on October 15, 1917. World War I was raging in Europe and Alexis sailed for service in France on June, 1918. Two months before departing, Alexis married Rita Holt in Gulfport, Mississippi and together they would have one son, Lucien Victor Alexis Jr.
Upon returning to New Orleans, Alexis took up the profession of teaching. He was assigned to McCarthy Elementary in 1921 and appointed Assistant Principal in 1923 at Willow Elementary. But his greatest reward came in 1926 when he became principal of McDonogh#35, the only public high school opened for the education of colored students in the city of New Orleans. For the next nearly 30 years, he would leave an indelible mark on this institution which is still being echoed by many of his formal students up to the present day.
“It was not unusual to spot our principal walking up and down the corridors of the Rampart Street School reading scientific works printed in German. Noted for his mastery of Latin, he often found time to instruct advanced classes in the subject.” (Class of 1936)
Other graduates affectionately tell stories of his successful administration but also his dreadful “army”. Being a former military man, Lucien was said to be strict but fair as well as famous for his method of disciplining students. Students who violated his dress or discipline code were forced to join Alexis’ “army” and ordered to march up and down the second floor of the school building.
Respect for Mr. Alexis soon extended beyond the school grounds and into the community. Since McDonogh#35 was located on South Rampart and Girod Streets, the students had to pass through a neighborhood of sleazy bars, houses of prostitution and various other vices. Often the girls were meddled by men on the way going and coming from school. Fortunately, once it was known that you were an “Alexis” girl, you were never meddled again. They respected Mr. Alexis and knew to show respect to his students.
The “Negro Einstein” did not give up his interest and love for science once he became principal. For five years he engaged in serious scientific study and soon published a 40 page brochure outlining his principles of a new theory which he termed his “ethonic” theory.
From 1929 to 1937, he published the following scientific articles: Fundamentals in Physics & in Chemistry, The Thermo-Electric Formula, The Riddle of the Magnetic Field, An Empirical Disclosure of the Fallacies of Relativity, A Counter-Deduction from Bent Alpha Tracks, Radiations-Their Loci of Travel and Their Loci of Origin, The Co-Origin of Gravity&Cosmic Rays, Simple Formulae for Measuring Atoms, Their Speed, and the Speed of Light.
Upon retirement, the brilliant educator and published author opened Straight Business School on North Claiborne near Esplanade Avenue and Mrs. Alexis basically ran it. Lucien Alexis also was president of the Supreme Industrial Life Insurance Company, founder and executive director of the School of Post-Modern Science in New Orleans, and a charter member of Sigma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Alexis also spent a great deal of time on his favorite hobbies at home. On the 25th Anniversary of his graduation from Harvard, he told the Harvard press of these hobbies:
“Don’t interfere with my physics and chemistry, which I have raised from the ignoble position of a hobby into the dignified status of a science. Don’t interfere with my Italian which I have picked up since leaving you fellows. Don’t interfere with my German, my French, or my Spanish which I have kept plugging at. These are my near hobbies. You may interfere with my gardening and my frequent efforts at directing operettas, especially the Gilbert and Sullivan ones, for there you are in the field of real hobbies of mine.”
Lucien Alexis passed away December 18, 1981. He is buried in the family’s tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No.3.
For more on this family read… “Lucien Alexis Jr. (1921-1975)” posted here on CreoleGen on July 19, 2015.
Sources: Harvard Class of 1918: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Report (1943), Harvard University Archives; Orleans Parish School Board Minutes 9/23/1921p.467 and 9/14/1923p.336 (University of New Orleans); 50th Class Reunion Booklet-McDonogh#35- graduating class of 1936 (University of New Orleans); Photo taken from The Roneagle 1931 Yearbook (personal copy); The Louisiana Weekly 18 Sept. 1926 p.1; The Times Picayune, 03 October 1992 (B1); Southern Discomfort- The Boston Globe, 12 Dec.,2004 p.4
Lolita V. Cherrie