By Char McCargo Bah
Helen Lumpkins Day, an educator at Parker-Gray School and Charles Houston Elementary School between the 1930s and 1970s, was a role model for many children in Alexandria.
She was a disciplinarian. If you were fortunate to have Ms. Day as your teacher during her 46-year tenure in Alexandria City Public Schools, you would have received a firstclass education and someone that would continue to check on your progress. She cared deeply for the children she taught – she loved teaching. She was also a leader in social, cultural, educational and political organizations and was active in her community.
Day was one of the founders of the Hopkins House in 1939, along with Connie Chissell, Edith L. Allen, Leon C. Baltimore Jr., Margaret Evans, Samuel W. Madden, Richard Poole, Alma P. Murray and Evelyn Johnson Williams, who formed the Hopkins House Association in the 1930s. Before funds were available, the association volunteered their services.
With the other founders, Day established a daycare nursery and after-school programs, where each of them provided services until funding came through from the Community Trust. Day continued her work in fundraising and program development in the preschool daycare facility for the children of African American working parents. At a time when Alexandria was still segregated, Day cared about the poor and their families.
In addition to her devotion to children and fundraising, she was also active in many other organizations, including: the Mental Health Association of Alexandria; League of Women Voters; Margaret Evans Federated Club; Council of Social Agencies; Alexandria Retired Teachers Association; Alexandria Tuberculosis Association; American Red Cross; Girl Scouts of America, where she formed Brownie Troop No. 8; National Association of Colored Women; United Way Washington Metropolitan Area; and the Psi Gamma Mu Sorority.
Because of Day’s lifetime commitment to her community in the City of Alexandria, she received two special honors. One was from the Hopkins House, which named their preschool academy after her. The second honor came from Congressional Public Law 102-448 on Oct. 23, 1992, through the 102nd Congress Act, to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1100 Wythe St. in Alexandria as the Helen Day United States Post Office. The naming of those two facilities showed the community’s recognition of what Day had given to Alexandria.
Day was born to a family that emphasized hard work and education. She was born on July 4, 1905 to Patrick Lumpkins and Lucy Webb. Day’s father was born into slavery, and he was only a young boy when the Civil War ended. Encouraged by his parents to get an education from Snowden School for Boys, a school for only African Americans, Patrick completed his education in Washington, D.C. by attending Howard University. He later became a schoolteacher and a choir director at Roberts Chapel, known today as Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church. Day’s grandfather was an established businessman. With encouragement by her family, Day followed in her father’s footsteps.
Day attended Hallowell School for Colored Girls in Alexandria, and then she attended Dunbar High School and Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C. It was not an easy road. She took public transportation from Alexandria to Washington, D.C., where she often had to walk the 21 blocks from downtown D.C. to school, but she was determined to complete her education. Again, Day followed in her father’s footsteps when she became Roberts’ organist.
Day died on June 1, 1992, one month before her 87th birthday. Her husband, Lawrence Day, her daughter, Bernice Lee, and Bernice’s husband, Harold Lee, two grandchildren and many friends and former students mourned her death.
Day was a woman with many accomplishments, talents and skills. Alexandria was fortunate to have her as one of its own.
Former students, family members, friends and the community will always remember Day for the service she provided. The next time you visit the Helen Day Post Office on Wythe Street, take time to remember her.
Char McCargo Bah is a freelance writer, independent historian, investigative researcher and professional genealogist and a Living Legend of Alexandria. You can visit her blog at www.theotheralexandria.com to learn more about “The Other Alexandria.”