M. Lucia James, 53, a professor of, education at the University of Maryland and the founder and director of the education department's curriculum laboratory, died of cancer Tuesday at Washington Adventist Hospital.

Dr. James joined the Maryland faculty in 1965 after teaching at Florida A&M University and at Atlanta University. She was children's librarian at the University of Illinois in 1948 and 1949, and before that had been a librarian and teacher in schools in Camden and Columbia, S.C.

The curriculum laboratory that she headed at the College Park campus served teachers and students throughout Maryland with lesson plans, books, and other materials geared to their special needs.

Last July, Acting Gov. Blair Lee III appointed Dr. James to head the Governor's Commission on Afro-American History. She had been named to the commission by suspected Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1976.

Dr. James was born in Camden. She earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina College, a master's degree from the University of Illinois, and a doctorate from the University of Connecticut.

She contributed articles to several professional journals and was a member of numerous professional societies.She was a national treasurer and southern regional director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Dr. James's survivors include her mother, Ruth James, of Camden: three sisters, Mrs. Larry R. Hyde, of Daytona Beach, Fla., Althea J. Truitt, of Atlanta, and Ernestyne Adams, of Philadelphia; a brother, Norman James, of Chicago; and three nephews and two nieces.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.