Almena Lomax: Journalist, Civil Rights Activist, and Novelist [Part II]

MARBLandNHPRClogos“Revealing Her Story: Documenting African American Women Intellectuals” is a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to arrange and describe the personal papers of nine African American women writers, artists and musicians. Collections included in the project are the Pearl Cleage papers; additions to the Delilah Jackson papers; the Samella S. Lewis papers; the Almena Lomax papers; the May Miller papers; the Undine Smith Moore papers; the Geneva Southall papers; the Mildred Thompson papers; and the Sarah E. Wright papers. To read the press release announcing the project, click here.


Almena Lomax and Lucius W. Lomax, Jr. setting type, c. 1950

Almena Lomax and Lucius W. Lomax, Jr. setting type, c. 1950

In addition to writing two novels, journalist and newspaper publisher Almena Lomax also wrote about her own experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1956 Lomax first traveled to the South to report on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, her trip funded by readers of her newspaper, the Los Angeles Tribune. While there she attended mass meetings and met Martin Luther King, Jr. Lomax “left Montgomery enamored of the South,” and back in Los Angeles she continued to report on developments in the South, to participate in local protests, and to devote even more of the newspaper to covering the movement. (the Nation)

In 1960, after divorcing from Lucius W. Lomax, Jr., and closing the Los Angeles Tribune, Almena Lomax faced a crossroads. She observed that, “before I ‘broke out’ of Los Angeles…I was to feel imprisoned, baffled, and frustrated at every turn!” (Nation article) She decided to make a fresh start by moving to the Deep South to cover the movement. She loaded her six children, ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old, onto a bus and made the 2,600 mile journey across the country to Tuskegee, Alabama. Lomax enrolled her children, who were accustomed to the reasonably integrated community of Los Angeles, in a segregated school. The family remained there for 6 months before returning to California. Lomax made several more trips to the South over the next few years.

Lomax wrote continuously about her experiences in the South. Her coverage of the Montgomery Bus Boycott appeared in the Los Angeles Tribune in 1956 as a series of articles entitled “Montgomery is the Happiest City in the U.S.A.” She later wrote a piece that appeared in The Nation in 1961 about her decision to move to Tuskegee and her family’s first encounters on the road in the Jim Crow South. She continued to write articles in the following years and briefly published another newspaper, also called The Tribune, in 1964 and 1965, first out of Tuskegee, Alabama, and then out of Los Angeles.

Lomax began to conceive of these journalistic and often times autobiographical writings as part of a larger project. She began writing pieces of a memoir in the 1960s, which later morphed into a novelized account of her life entitled The Women of Montgomery. The work describes Lomax’s childhood in Los Angeles and provides a colorful depiction of African American life on the Avenue. Early versions also detail Lomax’s first job on the staff of the California Eagle, an African American newspaper under the editorship of Charlotta A. Bass. However, at the center of The Women of Montgomery are Lomax’s trips to the South, including her reminiscences of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and of Martin Luther King, Jr. Much of the work focuses on how Lomax and her children navigated the Jim Crow South during their travels. The crux of The Women of Montgomery is autobiographical in nature, although dialogue has been reconstructed and the names have been changed in some versions.

The Almena Lomax papers, which contain numerous drafts of The Women of Montgomery and other writings, are processed and open to researchers.

Reference: Quotations from Almena Lomax, “Journey to the Beginning: A Northern Negro Moves to Dixie,” The Nation, volume 192, number 12, March 25, 1961, Almena Lomax papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.