Getting to Know Lucy Byard
Story by Benjamin Baker
In ‘Memories of My Grandmother,’ Lucille Byrd (sic),” published in the North American Informant, Lucy Byard’s step-granddaughter, Naomi R. Allen, wrote that Lucy “was a strong, energetic church worker. She was one of five Black women who pioneered the work in New York City. All her life she worked untiringly to build up the church.”1
With no children, Lucy supplemented her lay church work with teaching piano, while her first husband, Charles, chauffeured for a wealthy family. In 1910 the couple lived on 98th Street; by 1920 they rented a house on West 141st Street in Harlem. Tragically, Charles died January 26, 1922, shortly after turning 40, leaving Lucy a widow in the big city.
Five-and-a-half years later, Lucy found love again. James Henry Byard, a 58-year-old twice-widower with five children. Also from Virginia, he made a living as a cellar worker in Queens. Both were avid musicians, Lucy playing the piano and organ, and James the harmonica. The couple got married September 23, 1928, at the First Harlem church by James K. Humphrey, a charismatic Adventist minister who would break from the church just one-and-a-half years later. In the harshest of ironies, Humphrey presided over the wedding of a woman whose death would bring about the precise change in the church for which he defected from.
Allen described James and Lucy’s marriage was as “a loving relationship. “I don't remember any loud disagreements, although they had differences of opinion. They loved each other deeply, and that love extended to everyone within their reach.” Indeed, the events that would occur in the last months of Lucy’s life would show the close bond the Byards shared.
Allen, who was only eight when Lucy died, was practically raised by the Byards. “Their home became a home away from home for me. I divided half my time between their home and my home. With me as their travelling companion, we explored many towns and villages in New York State,” she said. She describes the spiritual influence that Lucy had on her. “Nana was a devout Christian woman. It was she and Daddy Byrd [sic] who taught me to love and reverence the Sabbath. Nana was a strong, energetic church worker.”
Lucy was a vital part of church life, playing the organ, teaching piano lessons and directing the choir at the First Jamaica church in Jamaica, Long Island (now the Linden Boulevard church in Laurelton, N.T.).
Lucy was also a renowned and superb cook, known for her “freshly baked rolls, breads, pies, cakes, nut loaves and gluten,” said Allen.
Throughout the decades, she entertained guests in her homes in Queens and Long Island—great builders of the Adventist Church such as J. K. Humphrey, F. L. Peterson, L. B. Reynolds and W. W. Fordham. It was said she had a special gift for hospitality. Her home and her heart were open to everyone.
1 Naomi R. Allen, “Memories of My Grandmother, Lucille Byrd (sic),” North American Informant, August 1987, 5.
Read articles from the 2019 Visitor:
- Feature: The Lucy Byard Story
- Editorial: Lessons from Lucy Byard
- What Happened Next: How Regional Conferences Began
- Aiding and Abiding: 75 Years After Lucy Byard, Regional Conferences Maintain Focus on the Marginalized
- Getting to Know Lucy Byard
- More About the Byard Story
- Book Release: Hope for Today's Families
- Book Release: Simple Truths for Life