Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Lucy Proffitt (Johnson), 1882- 1959

By Emily Ramos and Sophia Szeneitas, Undergraduates, University of Rhode Island

Lucy Proffitt was born on October 29, 1882 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her mother was Alice Prophet (sometimes spelled Proffitt). Lucy's stepfather was Frank Profitt; she had many half siblings. She married Oscar James Proffitt (a distant half cousin) and they had two sons: Oscar J. Proffitt Jr. (born in 1901) and William E. Proffitt (born in 1907). During 1910, Proffitt worked as a laundress in Providence, but by 1915 she had become a dressmaker, according to the Rhode Island State Census. Born in 1877, Oscar Proffitt Sr. worked as a teamster driver at the local beef house. The family lived at 19 Salem Street in Providence. Lucy and Oscar divorced in the 1920s.

The Proffitt family appears to be of mixed race, which sheds light on racial categories in early to mid-20th century U.S. In the 1880 Federal Census, future husband Oscar Proffitt's childhood family was described as mulatto. Additionally, the 1910 federal census described Lucy and Oscar's family as mulatto. Yet in Oscar J. Proffitt Sr.'s World War I draft card, he is described as white; in his death certificate, Black. Her son William's birth record states his race as colored but in William Profitt's marriage certificate in 1941, he is labeled Native American (Red Indian). Moreover, in his World War II draft card, he is described as Indian and light skinned. William Proffitt served in World War II and later worked for forty years in the Hartford, Connecticut postal service. Oscar J. Proffitt Jr. died in 1935 where he was labeled Black on his death certificate. These categories indicate the fluidity of race in America.

Lucy Proffitt was active in religious services, educational programming, Black fraternal clubs, and Rhode Island politics throughout her life. In 1914, at the age of 29, she earned a certificate from the Industrial Watchman Institute, a school founded by Ebenezer Baptist Church minister William Holland in Providence in 1908. The school was modeled after Booker T. Washington's emphasis on vocational education for Black youth. In 1916, she signed the R.I Union Colored Women's Clubs Supporting the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment. Proffitt's signature is just a few lines below that of her half-sister: Mae Bentley. Mae Ethel Proffitt Bentley sang at the 1923 funeral of the famous Rhode Island suffragist Mary E. Jackson. Throughout her life, Lucy Proffitt organized Church choirs and sang solos, including at Providence's Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1923. She later became a longtime member of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Newport.

In 1929, Lucy married Clifford Johnson who was a naval serviceman living in Newport, Rhode Island. He later worked as a janitor for the U.S. War Naval College. They lived for many years in a home they owned at 56 Van Zandt Avenue in Newport. Clifford Johnson died in 1954. Lucy stayed active in Rhode Island politics and like many of her co-signers, ended up leaving the Republican party for the Democratic party by the 1930s. In 1936, Lucy Proffitt Johnson was elected Vice President of the Colored Women's Democratic Club in Newport. She also was an organizer for social events at the Black Elks Club in Newport. For example, in 1957, she chaired the committee sponsoring a dance for teenagers at the Harriet Tubman Temple chapter.

Lucy Proffitt Johnson passed away in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 24, 1959. Obituaries were published in Newport and in Hartford where her son lived. Lucy P. Johnson's funeral was conducted by a minister from the Shiloh Baptist Church; she is buried at Island Cemetery annex in Newport.


1910 Federal Census,

Rhode Island State Census, 1915, Lucy Proffitt,

Rhode Island State Census, 1935, Lucy P. Johnson,

RI Union of Colored Women's Clubs, suffrage petition accessible at

WWI Draft Card, Oscar James Proffitt,

New York Index to Marriage Licenses, William Edward Proffitt, 1941,
New York Index to Marriage Licenses, Lucy Proffitt, 1929

Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Death Records, William E. Proffitt,

Connecticut Death Index, 1953, Oscar James Proffitt,
Connecticut Marriage Index, 1924, Oscar James Proffitt,
Virginia Death Records, Oscar James Proffitt,, 1935.

Providence Journal (Providence, Rhode Island), May 2, 1914, p. 3, "School has Commencement."

Providence Journal, September 1, 1923, p. 9, "Methodist: Macedonia AME Church, Colfax St."

Providence Journal (Providence, Rhode Island), December 24, 1958, p. 20, "Rev. William Holland Dies in his 93rd Year."

Newport Daily News, 26 April 1954, p. 2, "Clifford Johnson, Jr."

Newport Daily News, 26 August 1959, p. 2, "Mrs. Clifford Johnson, former Newporter".

Newport Mercury,18 December 1936, p. 1, "Democratic Colored Women Hold Election."

Newport Daily News, 27 April 1957, p. 12, "Easter Dance at Center."

Newport Mercury,15 March, 1935, p. 3, "Funeral of O.J. Proffitt."

Hartford Courant, 26 August 1959, p. 6. "Mrs. Lucy Johnson."

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