Afterword: Part Two

December 1, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Decades later, one of the students who was almost as old as I and whose father had been my pediatrician pointed out to me that I was the only new black teacher who didn’t come from the all black school. The same thing happened in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the Princeton district which had just absorbed many black teachers from Lincoln Heights, an all black township. The African-American teachers remarked how surprised they were that that school district would hire another black that they did not have to– another African teacher from out of state when they had to take so many from the school they were mandated to absorb. Again, given the relatively short distance to UK, I think that my being a UK graduate, no matter how competent I was otherwise, had much to do with it. They surely did not hire me in either instance because they loved blacks. Assuredly, being named a black UK graduate carried a lot of weight in surrounding areas at that time, probably more than Harvard or Stanford, both alma maters of my two daughters. (Sm.)

On a personal note, UK prepared me well in the areas of English, psychology and speech whose refined methods I have subsequently continued to use in teaching, workshopping, seminar consulting and in other areas of life. I have used writing most of all, teaching it, writing letters, long editorials, poetry (some of which is used in WKU’s Honors classes). I have helped former students win many writing contests and scholarships over the years. I have stressed it with my own children at home who, though both attorneys, write for pleasure for the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, the DoDo, and more. One who now teaches writing herself became an author whose very first novel was published by W.W. Norton. She has won lucratively prestigious contests and has published many short stories. Though we are not Pulitzer Prize winners by any means, we are a writing family! Barring God’s assistance, all started because of the instruction in writing I received, cultivated, and practiced from being at UK.

I would be remiss without mentioning the Kentucky Education Reform Act and how UK writing instruction helped me to navigate that initiative with relative ease. KERA, in the early years, was heavily reliant upon writing in all academic areas, every single one of them. While other colleges and universities across the state had been teaching phonemics, UK had been teaching essay writing. When KERA came along, those institutions who had not taught writing had left their graduates at a disadvantage. Many panicked, others scoffed at so much writing. Finally, the state had to give up. Too bad. Now I fear that students who have not had writing are going to be at a major disadvantage once again! I always prefaced the students in my class with the notion that “writing is the most important subject in school,” and so it is. Almost everything in our society is based on written law.

To conclude, the respect that I gained for being UK alumni, the skills I perfected over the years as a result of stellar teachers, the friends I made, etc. all propelled me to develop strategies to deal with being a minority able to make the best of it in a rapidly changing world. It definitely helped me to be named a Kentucky Distinguished Educator and being named to the Kentucky Teachers Hall of Fame and Semi-Finalist in the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Whenever and wherever I go, I shall always be a Kentucky Woman who was born, reared, and educated to become a survivalist during the critical times of the civil rights era and beyond.

My deepest desire is that these memories become important tools to future generations of all races and nationalities as they attempt to read and to understand the nuances and the flavor of the times present.

Roll Call of Memorable Teachers

November 29, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Writing this e-memoir has made me pleasurably exercise my memory of 50 plus years ago to credit those whose influence contributed to life as I live it today. I gained strength, knowledge, and skills through most of my professors and enjoyed recalling the time I spent with almost each of them. Others whom I enjoyed existed, but I can’t recall all names or initials. I have rated them on a five star basis, with five being the highest. The rating is based on such factors as (1) how much I learned, (2 ) how useful what they taught has been throughout my life, (3) how much I enjoyed their teaching and them, and, finally, and perhaps most importantly, (4) how great I felt about myself after emerging from the time I spent with them.

Again, I am most grateful for the experience of getting to write about them as most are probably not around any longer. They were in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on, but what they imparted, what they shared with me is still alive, and I am sure that they would be proud of that. May they rest in peace as I continue to pass on to others what they did for me.

“…terrified of her…”

***        Dr. V.G…. tall, slender teacher of upper level English who spent a great deal of time running back and forth down McVey Hall after class had started to get materials that she had left in her office.  Dr. VG was a very difficult teacher who was a stickler for grammar in written papers. She favored one particular student, very obviously, and it really  irritated   the remainder of the class. Poor girl, she always had to run as soon as class had ended. Obviously, there was some outside connection.  On my last paper in her class, I received a very good grade with very positive comments though she did not let on when it came my time to discuss and defend what I had written. Gaining access to the paper and reviewing the grade were  pleasant surprises. She was a good teacher from whom I learned quite a bit.  Down through the years, I copied a couple of my returned graded and commented upon papers from her class and used them in my own classes with my students. (U.K).

***      Dr. T…. one of my College of Education professors, constructed an exam from an educational magazine that I had found extremely interesting.  Naïve me gasped when I saw it and said surprisingly–even to myself–“I just read this!” He was soooo taken aback and embarrassed.  When I questioned him about receiving a “B” on the exam, his answer was that I should have done so much better than anyone else in the class because I had been pre-exposed. I accepted that line of reasoning, although I believed I had done a very good job better than the “B.”. I don’t know till this day why he could not have given me an oral or something else. Plus, he should have been proud that I was reading the same professional material as he. And why was he taking the material from a magazine?  I did get an “A” from his class, however, regardless of the “B” on the exam.

***      Dr. T…. had students who were assigned to her humanities class terrified of her. A Caucasian from Vanderbilt University on loan to Fisk, she definitely exhibited a superiority attitude.  Case one in point:  When I first went to Fisk, she was not a teacher that I remembered hearing about from the returnees, nor was she one that I recognized by name from student discussions. The administration assigned almost all sophomores to one big room and then divided them by a roll call among three different teachers.  Guess who got assigned to her class?  I became the luck of the draw, of course.  I had become friends with another transfer (Andrea) from Los Angeles, so wanting to stay together, I motioned excitedly at her across the room to volunteer to come with me. She, excited at the same idea, agreed and volunteered. I noticed all of the other students stared strangely at the two of us. But when they called one student’s name, she fainted (or maybe pretended to faint).  Everyone in the room rushed toward her, and she had to be carried out. After we went to the dining room for lunch, we heard about the repu tation of t he  teacher that was so feared that a student passed out when she heard her name as being in that class.  According to the students, Dr. T. was really prejudiced and held many Fiskites in low esteem. Too late!  Fisk frowned on changing professors. Her students had to buy a stack of paperback books taller than they were, and she graded very harshly. My friend Andrea really struggled in that class and blamed me to the day I left Fisk for excitedly urging her on to get into the class with me.

When I applied to my writing in Dr. T’s class, the pattern which Mrs. Z at UK had taught: “Title, thesis statement, purpose statement, etc.” written on the top of my paper, she inquired in conference as to where I had learned that. When I told her that I was a transfer student from UK, she seemed really interested and asked me whom my teacher had been.  When I told her Ms. Z, she got further interested and told me that she knew Ms. Z and that they had been friends a long time ago.  She gained much respect for me and really helped me from then on out.  I got some of the few good grades on papers from her class  Case in point two: Later on during the semester, she, herself,  became ill in class one day and passed out. When the administrators rushed in to  decide where to take her hurriedly,  and discussed that the nearest place would be Meharry Medical School just right across the street from Fisk,  she rallied up fast and said, “Oh, no,” please take me to Vanderbilt. (Meharry Medical School was a black facility then, and may still be today.)  Fisk students mused about that as a sign of her validated  prejudice. I don’t know quite how to take that, because, after all, part of her work time was spent at Vanderbilt, and she may have had friends there. But her difficult class, various comments she made, sometimes unrealistic grading procedures, emotional distance from the students, etc.were probably almost sure symbols of her prejudice towards blacks. (Fisk U.)

“Eat, Drink, and Be Discreet”

*  Professor P. was described in the very first section of this memoir as the young professor who said to my shock,” Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.”  The class was too large, and he never offered any office hours. That class was probably viewed as a stepping stone to him or just a temporary way to receive a salary. (U.K.).

*  Dean R.,was a large man who wore a very prominent nose that for some reason or another I had difficulty ignoring.  He spoke in a monotone and he, too, possessed an “attitude,” probably because he had a double role as both dean and teacher, too.  He taught education.  Having transferred from UK where the classes were large and some teachers hardly knew one was there, I had missed more classes than he liked.  Of course, I was in the dorm studying, but he did not know or care about that; he just wanted student attendance.  He sent word by the other students that I was about to be sent home if I didn’t stop missing class.  Of course, my mom wouldn’t stand for that, and never wanting to disappoint her I wouldn’t,  either, so I started to attend class  (which was not all that interesting or informative,) more regularly (all the time). I never knew why he did not send me a private memo or etc., instead of broadcasting it to the class and sending verbal word by students, some of whom I did not know.  All I can remember is “Dean R said this or Dean R. said that.”  Maybe I stared at him too much. (Fisk U.).

***** Dean G…. Her motto to the young ladies that she hawked to keep in line was “eat, drink, but be discreet.”  And boy did she mean it.  She could be seen monitoring young ladies as she drove around campus and the neighborhood in her car.  She was everywhere, knew everything, and  did she keep everyone in line! Did not mind compelling those could not keep the school conduct codes to pack up and go home to wherever in the world that was. (Fisk U.).

*** Dr. M…. was a dull middle aged advanced poetry teacher whose classroom procedures consisted of his going up and down the aisles over and over again from a particular posed question until it could finally be answered; then, he would start all over again with another question.  The classroom was filled with grad students, and every time he called upon me, I literally froze. I never knew why I was so intimidated by him.  I had a friend who sat across the room and who took innocent pleasure by all of this amusement. We always joked about it after we left class and the uncomfortable feeling was over. Dr.  M. was a really revered professor by the other professors in the department because he had published voluminously. Such consecutive publishing is a rather common event among professors of today, especially in the Department of English, but it was rather rare then. (U.K.)

***** Dr. V.…Not sure about her nationality, if that matters, but she was not an original American Caucasian.  She taught speech, and was my Stagecrafters sponsor, (Stagecrafters were composed of a group of drama buffs who did the campus stage productions and spent much time at The Little Theater where the performances were held. She was an older lady who really knew and practiced her craft.  I really enjoyed her class, but years later regretted not being more forthcoming with her.  She made the mistake of telling us that she graded on improvement.  So, with my big strong voice, I decided to wait to near the end of the class to reveal it.  I murmured almost up to the end, and she kept insisting that I needed to be a bit louder.  So for the final, I bellowed, and she jumped up out of the middle of the classroom where she was sitting and grading and ran up to the stage, red as a beet.  I was a tiny, unsuspecting thing then, unlike now.  She grabbed me and hugged me, and said to the class,“Can you believe this voice came out of this little thing? “and I got the big “A,” of course.  She and her mother (who had to be in excess of 100 years as she, herself, had to be in her 70’s) could be seen frequently, especially on Sundays, walking together around the Fisk University neighborhood area.  A very picturesque pair, indeed, as both had beautiful, snowy white flowing hair. In later life I realized that the situation in hiding the real strength of my voice was a bit deceptive and I truly regretted it. I used her material (that I modified, of course) down through the years until I retired.  She did a great job!  (Fisk U.).

****Dr. B.  another speech teacher, did not have much personality, but he really imparted information that put me light years above other teachers in the different teaching environments in which I found myself.  He gave us the basics of why people talk the way they do and stressed knowing the (“International Phonetic Alphabet.”)  He taught the class how to transcribe, and that was very helpful to me. (U.K.).

*****Mr. S… my second professor of English, was “the bomb” as the students of today characterize teachers  whom they adore, and for whom they  behave and perform well.  He taught me most of the fundamentals of essay writing, made inspiring comments, and graded rationally.  I can’t say enough good things about him;  I have already dealt at length with a description of Mr. S. in earlier parts of the e-memoir. (U.K.).

*****Ms. D… a very young psychology lab teacher from Turkey was perhaps the most attractive to the male students.  The guys in class drooled over her. What I remember most about her was the delayed auditory feedback experiment she had me participate in before the whole class.  She put the big earphones on me and had me read. The southern drawl that came out entertained the whole class.  She really enjoyed it, also. Before that experiment I was totally unaware of my drawl, a trait that my mother had noted about others. She was just one more professor that I received a hug from, when hugging college students was a rare and almost non existent occurrence in college.  I wish I had a video tape of my performance on that exercise today. (U.K.).

**** Biology and Botany were taught by a team of teachers—all male–in a large auditorium-type room. with a runway type section that divided the classroom. One of the teachers, a tall graying professor always insisted as he walked to the edge of the end of the runway that the end of the world was on its way because “man’s head was getting too big.” (”U.K.}

** Dr. B., an older German instructor, had no personality at all.  He never smiled, joked, or even acted like he was enjoying what he did.  He was my music appreciation teacher. All he did was play compositions on the stereo and point his pencil at the different movement changes.  Not especially a classical music enthusiast, I can’t believe, however, I remember Verdi’s Aida, the different movements etc., and have some minimal memory of the other composers and their operas. I am still fond of Korsakov’s rendition of Sherazade and even answered a question that a traveling graduate student of music couldn’t remember the answer to in church, recently. Therefore, I must have learned and remembered a few things from his class down through the years. In addition, I shall never forget the day that  I still had the thin, classroom score booklet open while he was involved in  a rare instance of explaining something, when he walked up to me and snatched the booklet from my hands as a symbol for me to pay better  attention.  I instinctively stood up and snatched the book back to the amazement and subsequent amazement of all in the class including myself and him.  All of us were supposed to be sitting quietly listening.  I really scared myself, but I had never had anyone treat me that crudely. (Fisk U.)

“Milk is only Good for Baby Cows”

***** Dr. Z…. again, a springboard teacher for the concept of organization in writing has been mentioned three times before, once as being a friend of Dr. T. at Fisk, another as prompting me to convert from the high school English notion of being mostly about the nouns, pronouns, etc. of grammar and the reading of literature,( sans any writing) to primarily writing.  I received my first three “bad grades” in writing at the University in her class.  She acknowledged my improvement after that by gently and gradually “upping” my scores.   She had shocked me into knowing that I must work harder, since I had not ever made anything below an “A” in high school English.  She had us writing purpose statements as well as thesis and audience statements long before KERA.  She also made sure that we had an at least three part sentence (not topic) outline to accompany each paper. Her methods and mild temperament served me well throughout my entire undergraduate, graduate, and post graduate years. I became a master of successful structure which was later on  complemented by Mr. S’s emphasis on logic and argumentation. Dr. Z was a pleasant middle aged lady who always talked about the advent of television as a “wasteland.”  She always reminded us that she did not have one in her home. (UK).

***** Dr. H…. my health teacher, was a slight, wiry man who was against virtually everything.  He was probably in his mid 50’s when I had him.  He was a very entertaining teacher who insisted that a prevailing myth that whoever ate fish and meat together would die was all wrong.  He also insisted that cow’s milk was only good for baby cows. After all of these years, and all of the PDR’s, Merck Health manuals, the Internet, etc., I still have that text and still consult it from time to time.  It is what I start out with first, even today,  in trying to determine what is wrong—health wise—when a member of my family is ill.  I have included its cover.

**** Dr. I…. one of my history teachers, was a jolly old St. Nicholas like person who licked his lips and winked when he had made a great personal point. I have mentioned him earlier. Dr. I was a good teacher, a good lecturer. He was fair and likeable.  I did well in his class.

**** Dr.C.. was my Individual Differences psychology instructor.  I have mentioned him before also as having been somewhat prejudiced and was always talking about race and inferiority as far as I.Q. was concerned.  He was the one I blurted out in class to in defense of such notions as characterizing people by I.Q.  He was probably responsible for my taking quite a few classes in giftedness as a graduate student.  He would probably be shocked to learn that one of my own children (though both gifted and talented), one is a MENSAN who once belonged to TRIPLE NINE,  to the Kentuckiana Mensan Society as early as high school, and received their scholarship. She started an online black Mensan Society in college which included several other black Mensans. (Just making a point that is needed in today’s society.) Surprisingly there is much discussion like those of Dr. C.still. One only needs view  Quora Digest online or Stefan Molyneux on YouTube or read such authors as Charles Murray, Arthur Jensen, or Richard Herrnstein to see how ingrained those ideas are today.

*** Dr. P…. was another one of my psychology teachers from whom I Iearned much and enjoyed tremendously in so doing. A blustery, entertaining teacher, he was all about hypnosis.  One hilarious incident in his class occurred when he looked t the back of the room to see one young man sitting exceptionally still.  Dr. P. told us all that the student was in a state of hypnosis, and that it had happened because of the necktie that he (Dr. P.), was wearing.  So, he rushed to the back of the classroom where the student was seated and startled him in doing so only to discover that the student had dozed off to sleep. The student jumped, and the class roared.

Afterword: Part One

November 28, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

This is part of a series presented by Mrs. Angela Alexander Townsend – see the full list of her articles here.


Attending the University of Kentucky at the time period in which I did was a genuinely exhilarating and profound experience for me. I remain forever grateful that I sensitively yielded to my mother’s strong, yet almost silent suggestion that I choose UK as a springboard to complete my higher education. My mother Thedders Alexander proved once again to be a smart woman, indeed. I must admit that recalling the trials and regular occurrences was sometimes painful, sometimes pleasant, sometimes laughable and even sometimes therapeutic, but I take unfathomable pleasure in knowing that with God’s help, I emerged as a survivor.

Though the University was rife with a kind of prejudice that I was not at first prepared for, I soon realized that it was only mirroring the national scene and in many instances one in scope of an international one when it comes to the condition and treatment of people of color the world over. Some difficulties were not delivered in a consciously intentional manner, but as ones of “benign neglect” so to speak. But at the same time no matter the cause, the reality of the hurtful results was often the same. I realized, also, that many of those obstacles that I experienced, then as now, weren’t going away anytime soon. It, therefore, became my challenge to learn how to deal effectively and successfully with those hurdles and to develop successful strategies to minimize the deleterious effects. (Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates…” is right on.)

In a less than ideal racial environment, one does not ever know just what s/he might be confronted with next. Even at the predominantly black college I attended, at some points I observed “carry over” prejudices among some faculty members and students.. That environment, too, was like “America’s Star Spangled Scramble” where everything and everybody is ranked, i.e. An A is not good enough unless it is an A+, etc. One female student complained that a male student did not know which fork to use first. Would-be-campus-Queens and their courts members were characterized and established by color, hair, and money. Many others were dogged by negative oral conversational comments and by notes of degradation scrawled underneath their yearbook pictures if they did not fit the ingrained American standards of beauty or success. A few Caucasian teachers imported from Vanderbilt or on loan from other colleges demonstrated overt instances of disdaining superiority.

Now, be all of that as may, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share my part of the larger string of events during the early civil rights era and to be fortunate enough to share it multifacetedly. Indeed, being a UK graduate during that period and having it rounded out by what was missing at a different institution was almost a “study abroad” experience, one that has served me well at various times in life. Attending UK, the state flagship school known for its revered sports teams (heaven forbid though all white) and the fact that “I had endured through acceptance,” made me a rather respected anomaly back home.

My now ex-husband, a sports enthusiast year around, observed that he didn’t personally know anybody who had gone to UK. Only half joking when I tell people that he dated me early on because I had gone to UK, and that he probably envisioned our ongoing return to sports events, especially the basketball ones, is that precisely, only half joke. Maybe not. (sm.) When he wasn’t at a game at WKU, his alma mater, he was at U of L, etc. and followed them on out-of town games. When he wasn’t physically present at a game, he was jumping up and down at one in front of the television.

yearbook from Bowling Green High School, KY

Page from author’s copy of the 1969  Beacon, Bowling Green High School, Kentucky

A year after I had been graduated and had tired of working for the government, I accepted employment from Bowling Green High School (BGHS), the largest high school in the city. BGHS was formerly all white a merely year two before and was under obligation to accept some of the black teachers from High Street High which was previously all black. As an outsider to that definition, I was hired. A few others at the black school were not.

In addition, as the youngest and most inexperienced of all among both whites and blacks at BGHS, I was assigned to the “best” and highest level classes. (See excerpt from the BGHS yearbook, the Beacon, to the right – click on the image to see a larger version.)  I never realized the gravity of such things until years later.  I was assigned to senior English and I do recall that it was “A” English as they were then labeled ABC etc.They did not use labels like college prep and Honors English until years later.  I did not realize the competitiveness for senior English or Advanced English until I became Department head years later at Greenwood High.

I attribute much of that assignment to having been graduated from UK. The summer before, UK had sent an article of Dean’ s listed graduates by name to the local newspaper, and I was the only one listed as having a “perfect 4.0” as they described it.

News clipping about UK Dean's List 1965

1964-65 at UK

November 15, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Since my major was English with a minor in psychology within the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, a new experience as a student teacher confronted me.  I was assigned to Lexington Dunbar which was then a large all-“Negro” high school.  I had no choice in the matter; UK made the decision.  I was delighted, because I had never seen that many black students, teachers, and administrators in the same facility.  In addition I was assigned to teach advanced seniors, an area in which I had been thoroughly prepared.  My supervising teacher Miss Sally Moore was a great advisor.  She gave me great experience because she just left the room and left everything to me.  I really thought that was better because I never liked someone hovering over me.  I worked hard for a whole year–unlike today’s student teachers who only practice for one semester–produced a play at my own iniative that all of the faculty and students really enjoyed.  I continue to remember it today:  “Beyond the Door” by Douglas Farr.  I made a great reputation from that production.  Best I can remember, I was the only student teacher pictured in that yearbook. Today, Dunbar is a Magnet school in Lexington.

Another caveat was there were quite a few black male student teachers from Kentucky State, Eastern, etc.  So, to a degree, it was party and dating time again.

By that time UK had enrolled five black medical school students, two of whom I dated, and one of whom I dated regularly.  I think he was looking for a future wife as he even brought his parents from Ashland to visit me at Ms. Bentley’s house.  (I was too immature then, of course, as I became engaged three different times in later years before I felt that it was time for me to finally get serious enough about the possibility.)

In the spring of my senior year, I received a note from the Registrar’s office that in checking, they had no record that I had completed my Physical Education Service course!  At that late time, they said I could not graduate without it.  I got really busy, went to an older Dr. F. at UK who was nice enough to issue me an excuse.  We came up with “pes planus” or “flat feet” which kept many men out of qualifying for armed services.  (In high school, I disliked what those feet did to my new shoes—overrun them fast!—I was truly glad for them now.)  But, that excuse did not satisfy whoever it was doing the checking at UK.  They said I would have to have that excuse approved by another doctor.  Woe was me!  Hey, my family members had all being preparing and getting geared up to come to my graduation as I would be the first family member on both sides to ever graduate from college.  My father had gone to Kentucky State for a brief period but had dropped out to help my widowed grandmother with four younger siblings. My extended family was huge.  I finally found a doctor out in town who made the approval.

On graduation day they came in a never-ending caravan from Bowling Green. One uncle was driving a relative-filled station wagon of his boss who was running for mayor.  It had a huge sign on top that said “Elect Pop Weis for Mayor.”  The caravan drew much attention all the way into Lexington.

At graduation, we had fun.  I could not believe that we could hide treats underneath our robes and turn around and wave to our families in the bleachers during the ceremony—a far cry from what students do today at Stanford University’s uniquely known graduation with all of the campus wide “Wacky Walks” all over campus. There were other dlicacies that I can no longer recall, but I continue to have the feeling and can emulate the steps to this day. All of these proceedings were a novelty to me, and I am fortunate enough to this day to have rounded out my college social life by attending Fisk University for one year.

Fall of 1964: Beginning of the End of My Studies at UK

November 15, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

It had been a whole year’s worth of time in fulfilling my transfer goals at a different school, in a different culture with somewhat different objectives ,since I set foot again on the University of Kentucky’s campus, but I felt I had to return to my home campus. So, I transferred once again, this time in reverse direction from Nashville, Tennessee, to Lexington, Kentucky.  It seemed like yesterday that I made the transition and arrived at Fisk, bewildered at the intriguingly interesting influx of arriving freshmen, those who had not flown from various parts of the country and world as the others had, being delivered in luxurious vehicles by “posturingly competitive parents” as one observer termed it.  “Nothing in the oval surrounding the front of Jubilee Hall dorm for freshman was less than a Cadillac,” she said.

I went, I saw, I conquered

Just as in the famous quote: “I came; I saw, and I conquered,” I had completed my goals in attending Fisk for one year to round out my college social life at a predominantly “Negro” institution.  I did just that by attending (with black friends) football and basketball sports events with black cheerleaders. Got involved in campus life which included Phi Upsilon Delta, The Forum Newspaper, the Stagecrafters, etc.  Also, the display of black wealth by some, the awesome Greek shows, and obsession with civil rights excursions by others became very intriguing.  Indeed, I had conquered my own obsession with wondering what went on at “Negro” colleges through first-hand experience.

No Place Like Home

I was home again at UK, and was I glad.  The air was much cleaner than in Nashville, the transit system more reliable, thus granting me more freedom, and my former UK friend Wanda Hogg had secured me a room off campus three doors down from her house on Breckenridge Street from Mrs. German Theodore Bentley.  Her twin sister Mattie lived two doors down from her.  Both quickly seemed to assume the mantle of my protectors. My third mom was Mrs. Beatrice Hogg, Wanda’s mom.  She and I got along great! Also, I had found out that my mom’s long lost cousin, Harry Ward, lived in Lexington.  His daughters Henrietta and Jewell would make visits to me and drive me places in the city as most of us did not have cars on campus then.  In addition, I reunited with others of my off campus black friends on a more regular basis.  And one of the main reasons that I enjoyed being back is that my mom always wanted me to be graduated from UK.

Soon after arriving, I had to make the trip to the Registrar’s office to discuss how many of my credit hours would transfer.  Most people had lost hours when they transferred, but I had the nicest lady whom I believe to have been Helen King sit down with me, ask questions, and accept every single one of my credit hours!  Of course, I had made nothing less than a “B.” God had blessed me, again.  I lost no credit hours going there, either. So I had miraculously made two transfers without being penalized in any way.  Students tend to lose hours when the curriculum is vastly different or the grades are below a “B.”

Party Life in Nashville: Fisk, Tennessee State, Meharry Medical School

November 14, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Continuation of Townsend’s eMemoir – see past posts by clicking the previous title below or see the full listing on the project page.


Greek life at Fisk ruled, indeed!   Early mornings and  late evenings during pledge season, the campus was abuzz with fraternities getting prepared to “cross the burning sands and to make their appearances at the infamous Greek shows which included Fiskites and students from A & I or Tennessee State University, a public “Negro” college in Nashville in walking distance from Fisk. (Wilma Rudolph, famous Olympian previous polio victim, runner hailed from Tennessee State). Greek pictures of all of the sororities and fraternities, all artistically arranged, dominated the Oval.

Frat guys marched and chanted (they call it “stepping”) around various dorms every day.  Each had its particular step as a team.  The Omegas or Ques stepped to the mantra of “Dog Team, Woof” as they all undulated forward simultaneously.  Then the caller would yell “Dog, Team,” again, and they would all uniformly undulate backward.  Then they would all march forward to “Qu “or Omega Psi Phi repeatedly bellowed.  The Kappas had words that included: “I want to be a Kappa.”  “I’ve just got to be a Kappa.” “I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying, and” I’m inclined,” Just got to be a Kappa.” The Alphas had their own unique walk where they skipped and came down on a back heel.

The sororities stepped, also, but not as dramatically and memorably to me as the fraternities.  At Fisk, during my time, the Deltas were held in the highest esteem, but at Tennessee State, then, the AKA’s held as the highest respect.  That varied, again then as now, across the country depending upon the times and the campus. The Zetas have most consistently been held as the sorority with the highest GPA.  Guys from both institutions and passers by all commented upon the Deltas as being a “fine” line. And the Sigma ratings have varied.

I attended one Tennessee State Greek Show the one year that I was there and was very impressed.  Small sports cars were driven through the wide doors to be followed by the steppers of designated fraternities or sororities, some of whom were escorted by Great Danes, Afghan Hounds or bull dogs on either side by a particular fraternity.  One group featured a beautifully carved sarcophagus occupied by a pledgee who arose slowly and gracefully to the music of a piccolo or flute to the roar of the crowd.  Of course, his stepping group followed him with loud music and intricate steps. What a show! Nothing compared to that until my younger daughter’s graduation from Stanford University eons later with their famed “Wacky Walks” all over campus. There were other delicacies that I can no longer recall, but I continue to have the feeling and can emulated the steps to this day.  All of these proceedings were a novelty to me, and I am fortunate enough to this day to have rounded out my college social life by attending Fisk University for one year.  Kentucky black college students at that time and to my knowledge had never participated in such experiences, I am sure, as it was not until a few years later that their attempts at WKU to even establish those fraternities occurred. Perhaps college students, everywhere, should make exchange excursions to get a better-rounded view of how others thrive.

Meharry Medical School was located right across the street from Fisk.  It was a lighthouse to female students whose families were trying to assure that their daughters would have a future life of esteem and comfort by marrying one of the institution’s students.  Some were often involved in the party escapades of Tennessee State and Fisk Universities’ all day long parties on the weekend.  I had heard about such parties whereby the window shades were drawn and the participants partied all day long!  I am sure they had fun as I was never brave enough to attend one.  Black medical students had arrived at UK by the time I returned and I dated one who pushed for an engagement, with jewelry I still have, but I don’t recall any such parties or even hearing about them.

A Contrast in Paths to Achievement: Daily Routines and Social Lives

November 7, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

At Fisk University many female students arose early to eat breakfast, apply tons of makeup, arrange their hair in neatly manicured styles, and head off to class-most in the highest of heeled shoes! Very few did not wear heels all day long. Dress codes—self mandated I supposed—were very strict, and during pledge season very, very strict. A single run in hosiery would send a pledgee to scrub the cafeteria floor with a toothbrush I was told by the returning students. Guys were well-groomed, also, as they were “decked” in nice sweaters, highly polished shoes and creased pants. . If students were not careful to use the proper silverware in the proper order, they were privately ridiculed.

To the contrast, UK students were more relaxed. All females did wear dark brown, shiny weejuns with tassels the first year I was there. Seemed to be a uniform foot dress code, but the regimen ended there. I had to adjust to both scenes as my mother had to purchase a new shoe wardrobe for me, since none of those shoes were a scene at the high school to which I had gone. I was not privy to talk of any existing hazing incidents, but then I wouldn’t have been because of my minority status.

In all fairness, UK was a large sprawled out campus which was not conducive to heels whereas Fisk was more compact to accommodate the kinds of shoes that almost all of the females wore. But thank goodness, both were flat terrains, unlike Western Kentucky University in my hometown which is nothing but one big hill. I huffed and puffed my way through graduate classes there and longed for the days that I had the flat walk strolls to class at both Fisk and UK. (I am digressing, I know, but still in keeping with being a Kentucky Woman during this era.)

Diddle Arena, WKU

E.A.Diddle Arena, Western Ky. University

Discussing a different Kentucky college such as Western Kentucky University, painfully reminds me of my home birthplace right on the spot where the Diddle Arena Sports Complex now exists and how WKU had Urban Renewal come through and practically just take the homes of African-Americans without adequate compensation or time to even shop around for commensurate housing. My church was leveled and my aging grandmother and other aging relatives had to move. They fought, but to no avail. (See more on this issue at the Notable Kentucky African Americans database.) As a matter of fact, those memories in addition to my mother’s desire for me to attend UK drove me away from WKU. Mom was a Tennessee native who married my dad (a Bowling Green native) and moved to Bowling Green.

Back to student dress. All of the other clothing on both campuses was pretty much the same as today with skirts, sweaters, blouses, shirts and pants except at Fisk, coats and sweaters for females were often fur-trimmed. The preceding differences speak volumes for the school cultures during that era, and any reader should make the determination as to why, keeping in mind that one was a private institution whose ancestors were removed by approximately eight decades from slavery years, while the others consisted of students whose forebears had always been free. The latter had less to prove.

A Contrast in Paths to Achievement: Daily Dorm and Campus Life

November 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Continuing an eMemoir on University of Kentucky and Fisk University in the early 1960s:


The list of notables from each school that appeared in previous posts (see the list of all posts at the project page) is a testament to how people may or may not reach different goals by the same paths.

In addition to perusing the Fisk yearbook during the evenings between dinner and bedtime, downtime was spent in a variety of ways.  A few students retired really early so that they could do their studying early the next day depending upon their schedule.  Some had nightly dates during which they spent their time in the student center or at the sports games or at University Inn across the street from the campus. (Incidentally, I found out when my time was almost over at Fisk that the owner Bill Corley was a distant relative of my mom.  He had no idea who I was, and I had no idea about him.} A very few went to parties during the week and the bulk of others such as myself stayed in the dorm to study or play cards.  In my case, I very soon became the floor beautician to my dismay.  My beautician aunt had taught me to “fix” hair, so I multitasked between studying, gossiping, and “frying” hair with a non electric steel or brass pressing comb and Marcel curling irons which had to be applied to a hotplate.

The female students at UK, on the other hand, prepared their hair with big spring or mesh curlers, or tiny “kids” which had to be used frequently during the time they had to take a swimming course.

Ebony magazine cover, July 1962

Broadway and TV star Diahann Carroll on the cover of Ebony, July 1962

Fisk University students when I was there did not take swimming as I never heard of a pool.  To my knowledge there was not one to be used for a campus course.  That was a good thing, since regular black hair is not conducive to a daily pressing.  There was a great beauty shop across from campus called Odessa’s which did towel pressing that left regular, non naturally-relaxed black hair (that more recently mixed “Negroes” had) looking like white hair, but was very expensive.—-As a reminder, the period of the Afro had not yet come.

The remaining Fisk students in my dorm spent all night long playing Bid Whist card games, swearing when they lost, and jumping up and down when they “ran a Boston.” Then someone else would plug in a hotplate, which with mine running to prepare hair was too much!  All the lights would go off!  Total darkness on that hallway! Then there was utter chaos.  They would run out of the card session up and down the long hallway screaming and ########## to find out who had “messed” up.  My room was usually where they came first.  They did not stay angry with me long knowing that I might have to fix their hair the next day.  Actually, I would be relieved for that night, because I was tired of pulling on their tresses and smelling the smoke from the oil that I had to use.

As the evening wore on, some students spent much time perfecting makeup routines they would use for the next day.  That was a “new” for me, because at UK, very little time was spent on makeup for the next day’s perfect appearance.

On my end of the hall at UK, many spent much time studying with some putting the traditional blue towel on their outside door knob, signaling that no one was to come in until it was removed and their studying was concluded.  Those particular students were trying to prevent going on probation with only a semester to pull their grades up before being sent home or just to establish a very acceptable GPA.  A few, however, did participate in nightly dating.  As a result of this dating and going out in a nonfamiliar environment that a tragedy I shall never forget took place.  A very quiet, beautiful, nice young lady from the East Coast who usually spent most of her time studying was goaded one evening by the dorm “partier” to go out on a blind date.  AW did not want to go, but was persuaded to by the “partier” and others to go on.  She paid with her life when the automobile in which they were riding crashed into a Lexington viaduct wall and AW’s medulla oblongata was  crushed  She lingered in a coma for only two days and then passed a way.  I was so saddened.  I never saw her parents but always hoped they knew that she was a very quiet student and not an “away from home gone wild” person.

At UK I volunteered for one session of close-down-the-dorm with timeline steps of what to do if those on the sign out sheet were not in by a specified time for all. This duty was designed to be aware about incidents such as the one that happened to AW.  At both universities underclass female students had to be in by a certain curfew.  A few, but not many differences existed between the two universities as far as dormitory life was concerned.

A Tale of Two Universities

October 22, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

A tale of two universities during the civil rights era — one black, one white as told by a Kentucky woman who attended both during the same time period.

Kith of the Famous, Student-Identified Notables

Before the regular routine of classes began and immediately after we transfer students had met our roommates and settled in, small gatherings of returning student hall mates toured us through the Oval, the Fisk yearbook.  They gave us a brief run-down of just who was who on campus.  On my floor, just two doors down were Jackie Barrow, daughter of Joe Louis (Barrow) “the brown bomber,” legendary boxer who was world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. She was a quiet freckled-face student who pretty much stayed to herself.  Next door was Valerie Grant, niece of the triple threat entertainer, Earl Grant, talented as a vocalist, organist, and pianist. Valerie was a petite really small, student who spent most of her time with her boyfriend, my “homeboy.” (People from the same town were referred to and greeted as “homes,” “homey,” or “homeboy,” or “home girl,” as a way of feeling less isolated.) He was really responsible for my getting interested in the social life at Fisk that I was missing at UK, having shown me his yearbook the year before I decided to transfer. Then they pointed out others on other floors such as Judith Jamison a celebrated American dancer and now Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  Across the driveway in the WEB Dubois male dormitory was Bobby McCans, great-grandson of WEB Dubois (who needs no description).They pointed out all of the leaders in the fraternities and sororities and whom they dated. They discussed the teachers one should avoid; especially prejudiced white ones who concurrently dualized the teaching between Fisk and Vanderbilt just down the boulevard.  They seemed to know which students were from families of means and which ones weren’t.

Miss Fisk, Majorie Patricia McCoyMiss Fisk Material

One picture of particular interest was that of Miss Fisk and her court.  In that yearbook, Miss was a statuesque, chocolate-and crème, wavy haired, very attractive young lady, but my particular tour guides mentioned that she was not Miss Fisk material.

Huh?  Well they explained that she was not light-skinned enough, and her hair was not long or straight enough. Since I had been at UK where all of the females on the various courts reflecting a degree of beauty looked like that because they were white, I thought that almost every one there would make it on a Fisk Court.  Remember the “Black is Beautiful,” “I’m proud” mentality was a year or two to come when I was at Fisk. (Note: Before that, even most black schools of all types tended to exhibit the same mentality of trying to mimic and/or appease their former oppressors in many ways. And curiously enough in many instances, if even a brown-skinned “Negro” called a darker one “black,” he or she had a fight on hand.)  Kudos to the Black Pride movement, but  still more curious was that after the realization of  that movement set in, some lighter-skinned female “Negroes” sometimes had difficulty winning black beauty contests and riding on floats because they were not black enough!  Those were the times preceding the rare finding of black dolls for little girls at Christmas, lack of any black pictures in mainstream magazines other for sports, or entertainment, etc  Definitely an era when being black was associated with all kinds of negativities, heaven forbid.

Back to the yearbook. As I looked further through the Oval of that year, what my tour guides were trying to tell me was corroborated on quite a few other pages where most of the queens and their courts were light-skinned and had straight hair.  Only a very few have escaped those stringent requirements. (Sm.) I surmised that the ones who did survive either were very, very smart, had familial status, or were very wealthy.  Some one had hinted earlier that to make it at Fisk, a female had to be rich, high-yellow or very smart.  Not meeting any of those criteria, I am not sure to this day how I fit in as well as I did, but then, again, and somehow or other, I always seemed to make long-lasting  friends in any environment. Maybe it was that I didn’t try as hard.

Kramer, Sara Jane

Sara Jane Kramer, UK – “Look Girl”

University of Kentucky’s Sara Jane Kramer

Back at my UK college home, I did not see a yearbook until my senior year as I had no home boy or girl on campus, and yearbooks, therefore, did not seem to be an issue in the all freshman dormitory in which I dwelled. And since I was not Greek with an access to one of their “houses,” I was not privy to any yearbook touring.  There, in my freshman year, the notables were discussed by name.  They were cheerleaders, basketball players, teachers, and Sara Jane Kramer.  Sara, or Miss Kramer, as some of her teachers referred to her was a wisp of a young girl whose picture had been chosen by Look Magazine from the files of entering freshmen across the country as “most photogenic.” This gave her quite a status across the UK campus.  Females and males alike stared at her, male teachers deferred to her and the limited media that we had back then such as radio and newspapers did endless interviews with her. She, too, was a thin, wispy rather reticent but friendly young model type young lady who never smiled much.  She did blink her eye lids almost incessantly as what I considered was a sort of nervousness.  One can Google her in UK Portrait Archives as Kramer, Sara Jane “Look Girl.”

Hail to Thee, Dear Alma Mater

October 20, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

It might be said that a student’s affinity with a particular college or university can be compared to many of today’s marriages. While some partners “stay the course, others may “change horses midstream, and still others say their good byes—forever. One thing is certain, however, some parts of what they experienced during marriage will remain forever. Same with college experiences. One such part consists of images of high visibility notables that are revered for their talents, or their appearance, discussed for their fame, and sometimes abhorred for their notoriety. These images tend to stick long after college life is over and perseveres well into the future. Notables. Most colleges have published lists of them sometimes as a lure to incoming would be residents. Regardless of the objective, these lists, these images, serve as a part of the beacon for both enriching and problematic experiences that most college students endure.

Both the University of Kentucky and Fisk University publish exhaustive lists of such figures as one might imagine being founded almost concurrently around 1865. Following are abbreviated lists of individuals in no particular order by date of attendance, rank of difficulty of major or scope or importance of accomplishments. The listees simply tread the same soil, experienced degrees of a similar culture, or can say “Hail” to the same Alma Mater. Alfred Lord Tennyson in In Memoriam had Ulysses say, “I am a part of all that I have met.” I agree. Therefore, It is enlightening to me as a history buff and a Kentucky woman who has lived a great portion of her life during the Civil Rights Era and its aftermath to gain knowledge about my historically notable forbears and contemporarily notable achievers.

University of Kentucky Notables, Memorable or Acclaimed (a partial list)

  • Thomas Hunt Morgan, Nobel Prize in physiology, father of modern genetics
  • Lyman T. Johnson, filed the lawsuit that integrated the University of Kentucky
  • Michael York, Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting
  • Sam Abell, National Geographer Photographer
  • Albert B. “Happy” Chandler, Governor of Kentucky, U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Commissioner of Major League Baseball , inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • “Fabulous Five” 1948 Olympic Basketball Gold Medalists
  • **Carl Watson, Ben Nero, Jim Thomas,. Anderson, James O’rouke, pioneering African-American physicians during early 60’s
  • Elizabeth Maddox Roberts, Kentucky poet and novelist
  • Dr. Randolph Hollingsworth, eminent  Kentucky women’s and civil rights era historian, assistant provost undergraduate college
  • John T.Scopes, defendant in the Scopes Trials
  • Ashley Judd, theater actress, film actress, television actress (UK graduated Phi Beta Kappa)
  • Mitch McConnell, US Senator from Kentucky, current  US Senate Majority Leader
  • Read Morgan, actor (The Deputy), Wildcat basketball player
  • Story Musgrave, Astronaut
  • Michael Orefice, Managing Director Macquarie London United Kingdom
  • Wendell Berry, poet, essayist, farmer
  • Emily Cox, Ms. Kentucky 2005
  • John D. Minton, Jr., Chief Justice of Kentucky Supreme Court
  • **John Pipes Gaines, Publisher, Bowling Green, KY Daily News, member of News LLC
  • **Coach Adolph Rupp (affiliate), one of the most famous coaches in American college basketball
  • Otis Singletary, Former UK President
  • Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky’s first woman governor and only to date
  • **Kentucky Basketball Wildcats
  • Tom Payne, first African –American ever to play basketball for U. of K.
  • **Rupp’s Runts, Cotton Nash, Larry Conley, Louie Dampier, Pat Riley,  Thad Jaracz, Tommy Kron, a most famous Wildcat basketball team
  • Greg Page, one of two first UK Football Players, died from injuries sustained during practice
  • Wilbar Hacket, Harston Hogg, Nat Northington, first African-Americans to integrate SEC. Monument erected on UK Campus in 2016
  • Lee Todd, Jr. Former U.K. President
  • Carol Gatton, automobile dealer executive, largest gift ever to U.K.
  • William Lipscomb, winner Nobel Prize in chemistry
  • Paul Chellgreen, CEO of Ashland Oil, Inc.
  • Helen G.King, First permanent director of the U.K. Alumni Association, “Miss University of Kentucky”
  • William Funkhouser, chairman of zoology department, dean of graduate school
  • **John W. Oswald, former President of the University of Kentucky

Fisk University Notables, Memorable or Acclaimed, (a partial list, also)

  • WEB Dubois, Fisk class of 1888, co-founder of NAACP, first African-American to get a Ph.D from Harvard University
  • Arna Bontemps, **Robert Hayden, James Weldon Johnson (author of what is deemed the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”…The others were Fisk faculty members and ”greats” in American Literature)
  • Booker T. Washington, Founder of Tuskegee Institute, Fisk Board of Trustees, wife and children Fisk alumni
  • Saint Elmo Brady, one of first African Americans to achieve eminence in chemistry
  • Elmer Samuel Ives, Class of 1903.  Work provides an early verification of quantum theory
  • John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, expert historian on African-American experience
  • **Judith Jameson, esteemed dance choreographer, and Artistic Directress of Alvin alley American Dance Theater
  • The Honorable Hazel O’Leary, J.D, Seventh US Secretary of Energy
  • Nikki Giovanni, Two time winning Pulitzer author.
  • John Work, Sr., John Work, Jr., and John Work III, famous composer-musicologists
  • Mary Frances Berry, former Chair US Commission on Human Rights
  • David Levering Lewis, Two time Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Alma Powell, audiologist, “America’s Promise” (wife of Colin Powell
  • Constance Baker Motley, first State Senator of New York
  • Diane Nash, Civil Rights activist Freedom Rider affiliate, Chair of Student Central Committee, Nashville, Tennessee during Civil Rights .Era
  • ** Congressman John R.Lewis (mentioned previously) led infamous Bloody Sunday demonstration, Freedom Rider, 1963 Chairman of SNCC, awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom n 2011.
  • Famous Fisk Jubilee Singers who sang the world over garnering funds to help keep Fisk viable

**Denotes presence on Campus when I was an enrolled student.

Speaking of notables whose images and deeds have been well-documented in the news, archives and annals of history, brings to mind the respect for student identified ”notables” as were pointed out in the Oval yearbook at Fisk University when I first arrived.  The University of Kentucky had its own way of identifying such individuals.

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