This article was written by Johnny Johnson, a friend of Ms. Ada Lawrence.


A Light in the Dark

Lives of great men reminds us: we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Just think! The person who has graced the pages of almost all Black History articles in Erie since the 1970’s merely fades away in probably the most significant time of her life. An era passed in Erie on May 22nd 2007 with very few taking notice of it. The home of the Lawrence Family at 221 West Front was sold to the highest bidder. Years of memories, years of African American history, visits by Harry T. Burleigh, practice of music by instructor Earl Lawrence, the meeting place of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Club and other cherished memories and actions are no more.

The home that Ada Louise Lawrence grew up in and nurtured in all aspects of citizenship and family life will now become a rental or merely a home overlooking Lake Erie. Ada who now resides at Sunrise Assisted Living can oftimes recall those times with passion and acuity and oftimes she can’t. A woman whose recollections, voice and historical collections formed the basis for most research done in Erie’s African American community passes away as insignificantly as smoke dissipates from a blown out candle. I met the most elegant and refined lady that I have ever known in 1972. Her voice was low and attention catching, her careful use of the right word, her smile that assured you that she saw you and heard you and that you had become a part of her circle elicited long conversations. She sparked my interest in history because of the stories that she told and all the symbols and anecdotes that she used to make sure that you would never forget them.Ada was my impulse in researching Wendell King, through her I became enthralled with her father Earl Lawrence, the tenacity and perseverance of her grandmother Emma Gertrude Lawrence, and the talent and abilities of her mother Belle were constant reminders of the journey she had traveled in maintaining the historical records of her very existence. After being a constant visitor in Ada’s home I was shown her collections of family heirlooms and a plethora of articles that chronicled Erie’s African American History from the late 1800’s unto the present. I even knew where she kept most of her materials.

As a founding member of the Harry T. Burleigh Society, I asked Ada if she would consider giving her collections to the Society. Of course, she graciously consented. Before the auction I went down and assembled all that I could find. But there were other things that Ada held dear that I had no Idea of. As I attended the auction and witnessed a life's work separated, I returned home with my heart heavy and tears flowing freely. It was like being transported to a slave auction and to seeing your next of kin sold. To see years of memories sold to the highest bidder without any regard to their historical and emotional value but merely what monetary value it now has, rendered a lifetime insignificant. Ada’s passion for history and her community has not waned. She enthusiastically discusses her family and history on every visit. It reminds me of the magician’s illusion of the candle whose flame you can never extinguish. That history is not lost or thrown away but lives in the heart and mind of Ada and will live in others because of the care and concern she has for her community.

Isn't it strange how princes and kings,

and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

and common people, like you and me, are builders for eternity?

Each is given a list of rules; a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.

And each must fashion, ere life is flown a stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.


James D. Sutton