Lyons along with another young boy taught themselves how to read from textbooks and quizzing each other while performing their daily chores. The boys learning methods paid off and Lyons went on to graduate from high school and later attend Atlanta Baptist College. He earned money for his tuition teaching African American women who attended night school.
He worked for the Internal Revenue Service briefly and went on to enroll into Howard University Law School. He received his law degree in 1884 and was admitted to the bar the same year, becoming Georgia’s first black attorney. In 1880, he was the youngest member of the Republican National Convention at the age of 20.
By 1898, Lyons was one of America’s highest-ranking black government leaders when he was appointed Register of the Treasury, the official responsible for authenticating currency, bonds, and treasury notes. Lyons’ signature appears on many notes during that period including the first $10 “Bison” notes and each of the first Series 1899 Silver Certificates. He served until 1906.
He later became President of Augusta’s Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, a high school for African Americans which produced several famous faculty members and graduates.