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.

Taking UK to Fisk

October 18, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

The experience of being a Kentucky black female transfer student from a large, predominantly white public institution to a small, predominantly private one of color during the civil rights era afforded me many unique and multifaceted perspectives.

150 anniversary - Fisk University logoFounding Similarities

Fisk University, the higher education institution to which I transferred and the one from whence I came, the University of Kentucky, were decidedly different in many areas, but certainly not all. Both were founded during approximately the same time period in history: U.K. in 1865 by John Bryan Bowman and Fisk, also, in 1865 by John Ogden, Reverend Erastus Cravath, and Reverend Edward Smith. It was named after General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedman’s Bureau. Fisk U. has remained a small private school while UK located has grown by leaps and bounds remaining large and public. Both, then, as higher level of learning institutions were highly ranked in their respective categories. Both had produced historically notable graduates, and both had achieved the status of University over the years.

Thenceforward, Characteristics Begin to Differ

In my case, starting with the application form for each institution, remarkable differences stood out. U.K. presented a regular run-of-the mill item. Despite their strong emphasis on writing within the curriculum, not one essay was required as they are at institutions of today. (My younger daughter applied to one institution which required six essays by the time one finished the a’s and b’s as additional segments!) Fisk, on the other hand wanted a listing of how many telephones and how many cars one had at his/her home abode. Seriously! Not sure why that was a request on the application form. No essay was required there either.

Whereas, many of UK’s notables centered on basketball sports figures, those at Fisk tended to be makers and shakers in civil rights history. Of course, there were notables outside of these realms, also.

Fisk, a Hotbed of Civil Rights Issues, etc.

Fisk University, located in Nashville, Tennessee was a hotbed of issues, protests, and activities during the 1950’s and 1960’s, with its students historically recognized for fighting injustices. As a Kentucky female of color arriving around 1962, by one year, I had missed the infamous lunch counter sit-ins that landed many females in my age group in jail., but the fumes were still hovering as groups of “Negroes” such as now Congressman John L. Lewis who had been severely beaten several times during such integrative excursions as “bloody Sunday,” went out on almost a daily basis with other young, black male students to integrate eating counters, restaurants, and other facilities in Nashville as they were about the business of breaking down racial barriers and challenging city inequities.

My arrival at the time I did in civil rights history afforded me to share the small campus with young blacks other than Congressman Lewis. One such student was the late Ronald Walters, a leading scholar of the problems race, politics and author of 13 books, one of which mapped a way to the White House for the first-ever black president whenever that should occur. Dr. Walters later became director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland and was oft quoted and interviewed on national television. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Congressional Black Caucus. The list of “notable” notables will be continued later in this blog.

Someone once remarked that, “Perhaps no single institution has played so central a role as Fisk University in the shaping of black learning and culture in America.” I agree.

“On, On, U of K …”

October 11, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

“On, On,  U of K…” go the lyrics to the well known sports fight song—then as now– with its mix of spondees, anapests and occasional iambs.  Such athletic occasions proved difficult for those of color who were neither involved nor included in anyway to participate fervently in that rally cry.

Thus, I created a makeshift directory which would serve, in part, to stave off some of the isolation the black students both on and off campus were socially experiencing. This group shared problems, opinions on various faculty members and the times of events that might be fruitful to attend.

Later on, I created a second small directory (academically-oriented this time).  It included a few marginalized whites who for one reason or another were not involved in the fraternities and sororities, and did not hang out at a fraternity or sorority house.  (The “houses” could become places where they could easily access and cross test files that had been saved from former teachers, as a few instructors were either too lazy or too busy to compose a new test or to secure the ones they had administered already.) Some simply administered them at a subsequent time. This phenomenon still occurs at many colleges nationwide today.

Both groups in my directories were listed by name and phone number so that they could confer with each other about such issues as forgotten dates of when assignments and tests were due.  A few met and had discussions in study groups, and provided their notes to someone who had missed a class upon request.

These group directories were very beneficial.  They especially helped me the semester I took 21 credit hours and worked two jobs (Jerry’s Restaurant on the Beltline and the YWCA on campus).  I missed a lot of class while studying intensely to keep up with each class, thus, I could cross notes and pretty well get full coverage of what went on during my absence. UK was not as strict on class attendance in those days, thank goodness.

“How Did You Do?”

Those four short, nosy but powerfully intimidating and intrusive words became a perpetual exit question uttered by students one to the other when exiting a class in which the teacher had distributed grades on exams or essays. Made no difference whether the inquirer knew you or not, and in those instances, whether you were white, black, blue or green.  At first I was shocked, then later angered, then I felt like saying “What’s it to you?” or simply “Pardon?” with raised eyebrows and an inflected voice as I felt that the question might be to establish themselves as ones with superior performance. But after enrolling in my second semester class in English, I was somewhat less reluctant as my papers always received the top grades with the top thoughtful comments.  Mr. S. really liked and appreciated my papers and sometimes put a final comment of “Too Deep” on them, much to the two helicoptering black seniors who lived across the way from where I stayed in Boyd.  (I mentioned them in my first post. They became my adopted guardians so to speak.)

After the jealousy of the others in that class became blatantly apparent, I learned to grab my papers and literally run because I felt that Mr. S. would garner as much heat as I, since I was the only black student in that class and the one who was making the top grades.

But It Didn’t Start Out That Way

English class didn’t start out that way first semester, however as I made what I deemed unsatisfactory grades on my first three papers under Ms. Z  I was devastated!   I had made straight A’s in English throughout my high school years, but I had never before written a single essay which is what the whole year of English at UK was all about.  All I had studied at my small “Negro” high school were nouns, pronouns, the other parts of speech, a limited amount of punctuation and literature.

“Soooo,” I said to myself:  “This must stop!”  As I began to meet my own challenge, I began to literally sleep with my college English text, especially on entire weekends when I decided to stay in while my roommate was away, and I was not particularly up to being social in the limited way UK afforded.  McCrimmons Writing and Usage, my text, became my pal. Indeed, as God would have it, learning to write decent essays would serve me and my offspring daughters, Jacinda Townsend and Akisha Townsend Eaton, who have achieved unbelievably nationally and internationally because of writing, for the remainder of our lives.

Bye, Bye U of K, For a Short While, Anyway

Accustomed by now to the rigors and nuances of what was then a not-long-ago integrated campus, tiring of attitudes on the part of teacher favoritism by some of them, disenfranchisement on the part of some organizations, and desiring a different experience before my four years as an undergraduate had expired, I sought a brief intermission, so that I could say that I had not spent my whole four years as an undergraduate student not knowing what was on the other side of the globe.

Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, only an hour away from my home in Bowling Green and one of the two top prestigious “Negro” institutions in the country would be my next nesting place, the vehicle to help me launch my mission to use mixed metaphors. After my high school “homeboy” who was currently attending Fisk, brought his yearbook by for me to view, there was no turning back.

To be continued.

Culture Shock! (continued)

October 5, 2016 in 1960s-1970s

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaimed loudly, beginning to shed my usually shy, intimidated mantle.

I did so to my own surprise—without any statistics or the names of students that I could call to back me up. Such an outburst even jolted my “Individual Difference” teacher of psychology. He had just made the statement (while talking about I.Q.) that no “Negro” that he ever had in class had made above a C. Surprisingly to me and maybe even to him, the graduate students in class began to “get my back” about his contentions of race and I.Q. by quoting all kinds of statistics and studies that proved otherwise. The professor shut up. In the end I received a B out of the class though I strongly felt that I deserved better.

“I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.”

My European History teacher, Mr. I., on the first day of class of an exceptionally large group, canvassed the class with eye scan and winked at us all as he began with, “I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.” I am sure that he did that for effect at that time — or maybe not. Only one other black person was in that class, a commuting student by the name of Wanda, the first and only that landed in a class with me though there were other commuting Negro students on campus. She and I got to be the best of friends, and years later, she became my bridesmaid. As we were leaving class, I said of the professor, “Did you hear him?” She replied rather quickly: “Oh, you know they don’t consider us as people. so he wasn’t talking about us.” That was a common belief among many blacks — and rightly so — considering what had happened during slavery. But I intuitively liked the man then, and after my watching televised Roots, and studying intensely Louis Lomax’s Freedomways, I felt more assured that Dr. I. must have been on the level.

Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings.

The next semester there was a small influx of more out-of town, and some out of state off campus black students for some reason or other. The few from the North seemed to exhibit an air of superiority over those of us Kentuckians as we shared the same break table—dining for some—at the student union building. Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings. The uppity ones from out of town who dressed differently, danced better, spoke with a northern twang, and won at card games that they played all day long were soon on their way back home after a semester or two and were the last ones to register the immediately following semester.

They had students register by GPA.

I have been to other colleges and universities and have seen registration processes, but never have I seen what the University did one year I was enrolled. They had students register by GPA. What an embarrassment to all students—white and black– who did not have decent grades!! No more secrets, no more lies, no more pretenses. The students, parents, and others probably howled so much about that experiment until I don’t think the University ever tried that again. Probably to all who didn’t realize as I did (having had access as a honest and trusted student worker to all grades from the Registrar’s office) that some of those students did not even garner a point! Hard to imagine. So nosy Wanda and I walked by and viewed their comeuppance–so to speak—We saw those black students who played cards all day long as well as whites who tried to sound ultra intelligent in classroom discussions in those low GPA lines. I thought that was an awful thing for them to experience.

White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

Another element of culture shock for me involved the street dances where very few blacks danced, giving the scarcity of match mates. At that time students of color didn’t dare dance with those out of their culture. Large segments of the street were blocked off around Memorial Coliseum where whites danced and blacks for the most part looked on. The experience was an intriguing first for me though I did not participate in that activity. White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

A Smoking Campus

UK was one smoking campus culture as almost everyone smoked. I don’t imagine that I should have been surprised, Kentucky being a tobacco state and all, but it was shocking to see some pied female professors break out a cigarette when walking across campus, light up and begin to puff. I didn’t begin that terrible habit until I was older and transferred to a college in Tennessee for a couple of semesters for the explicit reason of having fun that I could not have at UK with dances, sorority and fraternity events governed by overarching remnants of grandfather clauses, etc.

Culture Shock!

October 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Note:  It became my realization early on that “apartness” often produces shock waves among citizens of the same general culture when one arm does not fully know or understand how the lives of the other arm differs or function.  And, sometimes the less dominant arm expects that the more dominant arm lives (lives) of perfection as standard bearers. The advent of ever-changing, ubiquitous television has served to make for a more realistic transparency over the years.

Generic Freshman Adjustment Plus Racial Overtones, Innuendos, etc.

For me, it was both during my initial on-campus stay at the University of Kentucky. On the one hand was the distance of being many miles away from home reached only by a long and laborious Greyhound Bus ride with quite a few layovers if I had an emergency. (Most undergraduate students were not allowed cars at that time and flying home into Bowling Green was not a reality then.)

The very physical freshman adjustment was rather generic and can be thought of as being separate and basically devoid of the racial concerns that the civil rights era presented. On the other hand loomed unmistakable “in-your-face, hard-to-dismiss”
racial occurrences. This post in this series on campus life as a Negro in the early 1960’s addresses both as sometimes one gives context for the other and thus presents a “double whammy” with which to concurrently contend.

Questions I pondered often … Were my expectations of what college life should be like on a predominantly white campus that were totally out of sync with the realities of that time? Or had I been sheltered too long and too often by a large helicoptering family of kin, church, and school? Or was it the University and its environs that were so different that I had every right to exist in wonderment at my newly-found experiences? In hindsight, I suppose the real answers encompass all of the preceding.

“Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.”

To begin with and to this day, I continue to be amazed at how any of us survived the first week of all day long and all night long screaming sirens sounded from Good Samaritan Hospital located right next door and up closely to the freshmen dormitories for girls. I am not sure which institution came first, but juxtaposition was a “Very Bad Idea.” Took me forever to become oblivious.

Then there were Limestone and Upper Streets, main thoroughfares which students needed to cross several times a day. I stood in shock as longtime students just crossed these streets wherever, whenever, and however without stopping or looking out for cars as though they, themselves, were non-destructible. And the next miracle was that the traffic seemed to expect it. Believe it or not the cars slowed down or stopped as though everyone expected that phenomenon! As a young person of color, I was afraid to take that risk as I had read about too many Southern tragedies involving my kind in similar circumstances.

I was literally beside myself when I finally found my advanced algebra class, and encountered a huge auditorium-sized room with a young professor accompanied by two proctors who monitored the center and outside aisles to assist students as needed. Of course, and as usual, I was the only non white student present. I struggled with that class! An entering test score put me there, but I certainly did not belong and as I would find out later, many others didn’t either.

Most of my math mates had come from large, highly ranked schools with advanced math classes like calculus and trigonometry. My minority school offered only Algebra II as the top math class in which I had made an A. Not enough. Curiously enough, what I remembered most about this class was an event that took place after the exam and our return from Christmas break. Some students complained that the answer posted in the display case in the hallway was not the answer they could attain. After the young teacher struggled at a front board to show them how to get the answer, and couldn’t, he turned crimson, faced the class, and exclaimed: “Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.” Needless to say, I heard later that he was placed on probation one semester for awarding too many F’s, and still later terminated. Unheard of by any teacher I had ever known.

Strewn Panties, Bras, etc. A Regular on Botanical Gardens Pathway

Socially, I was nonplussed to see panties, and bras scattered all over Botanical Gardens most mornings before the cleanup crews arrived. I suppose they were leftovers from the night before. Botanical Gardens then was a beautiful, large conversation-like sculptured pit with beautiful (some exotic) plants and flowers. It contained concrete benches that separated academic building on campus and were probably designed to give those who passed through a place of repose. I had to go through that enclave to reach my freshman English and speech classes. I finally became accustomed to seeing such paraphernalia each dewy morning that I had to go to those classes.

Botanical Garden photo from UK 1960 yearbook

Photo of UK’s Botanical Gardens, page 7 from the Kentuckian 1960

(To be continued)

I Ain’t Jumpin’ No Rope

September 22, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Picture the landscape and its undoubtedly accompanying collective prejudicial attitude during the early years of the civil rights movement.  That was the case with the University of Kentucky in 1961—the time when I naively fearlessly embarked upon my college journey.

It had been only six years since the horrendous death of young Emmett Till who had the audacity to whistle at a southern white woman (August 28, 1955).   His awful demise at the hands of southern Klansmen and others rocked the nation.   Also, President John F. Kennedy, a beacon of hope to “Negroes” –as we were called then, the country over– would be assassinated in 1963 during my tenure at UK, just two years before my graduation in 1965.  Kennedy’s death affected me in many ways; however, one was most salient in that environment. Because many Caucasians on campus had viewed him and his brother Robert, the attorney general, as being in alliance with or overly sympathetic towards Negroes, some uttered negative statements under their breath about the tragedy while others  more blatantly negative,  made overtly disparaging statements. within my earshot.

“Negroes” were not valued, obviously, during those times; their lives did not matter—then as now–in some circles, and most were considered intellectually inferior.  If one did perform well mentally, s/he was hailed as an aberration.  That was the mindset.  Thus, anyone who demonstrated academic or intellectual prowess which debunked such notions was lionized by the “Negro” society in the same manner as were outstanding athletes such as Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson.

“Antidistablishmentarianism.” *  “The belligerent astigmatic anthropologist, annihilated, innumerable chrysanthemum.” We were so proud of 12 year-old Gloria Lockerman of Baltimore when she correctly spelled that word and that sentence on the “$64,000 Question,” an extremely popular quiz show that aired in prime time from 1955 to 1958.  The African American communities were inundated with pride.  As a young female student myself, I was tremendously impressed as well as influenced, and to this day, I have never forgotten Gloria, the word, the sentence or the spelling.

Angela Alexander Townsend headshot

Angela Alexander Townsend at the University of Kentucky

Again, those were the times, the overarching collective perspective, and a few of the events that defined the era. Each always call upon my related memory of an old lady in our neighborhood who would shuffle slowly out to her porch each day and plop down in her glider and blow disappointingly heartedly. When asked, “How are you today, Granny?” She invariably replied: “I ain’t jumpin’ no rope, honey.” Similarly, my attitude about going to the University of Kentucky to thrive in an environment with such a conglomerate of whites who had been to the best schools (many befriended at those schools with each other}, had participated in so many advanced courses, had been beneficiaries of many more monetary resources and experiences, and whose teachers valued and sometimes catered to those who were their mirror images, was simply overwhelming. I didn’t feel as though I could jump some of the ramifications of that rope either, despite the fact that I had been class vice-president, president of the student council, runner-up to Miss Homecoming and valedictorian. I had real doubts about making that transition from a small, all Negro high school in a small town to the largest, well known white university in the state. I had been taught to never let my reach overwhelmingly and unrealistically exceed my grasp, thus I learned to be realistic about both. My expectations at that point were to just survive.

Rhetorical question: Are most blacks of today still considered intellectually inferior despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary?


Gloria Lockerman became one of the most famous people in the U.S. after spelling ‘antidisestablishmentarianism.’ “There was a slightly racist aspect to people’s fascination with her: This was before the civil rights movement gained momentum, and Gloria Lockerman was black. Her brilliance was in direct contrast to many Americans’ stereotypes of black people, and there is no question that in countless living rooms, amazement was expressed not only that a girl of her age could spell the word, but that a girl of her color could do it.” Note: some have her hailing from Chicago not Baltimore. Bob Green, “Fame is Certainly not Gloria’s Game.” (December 09, 1987) Chicago Tribune; also see, “Has Anyone Seen Gloria Lockerman? (November 24, 1987) Chicago Tribune.
Return to text.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” Or Is it?

September 6, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Fall of 1961.

It was during the days of the University of Kentucky’s legendary Wildcat Coach Adolph Rupp (who wanted no Negroes* on his team) and one of the most famed players of all time: Cotton Nash.

On the eve of school opening, UK’s incoming freshmen at Boyd, Patterson, and Jewell Halls combined into one huge sea of young white female faces—excepting one–in the lobby of Boyd Hall. That one exception was a little dark, shy girl from south-central Bowling Green, Kentucky, who had never before been away from home, who had never before gone to an integrated school, who had never before been in a class with more than 25 students, who had never before been intimidated by students putting on such airs, posturing, using terms such as “rush” and names of connected sororities that she had never before heard. That poor wretched little creature who had survived the long ride from her safe home haven to this large formidable institution, who had bravely wished her family goodbye without encountering a single kith of her color, and who had unpacked to join the others in a university-planned welcoming event, my dears, be me.

They were singing lyrics to a melody that I had only heard but never really listened to that closely. As this was the state Flagship school, the song was the Kentucky State Song “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night.” Yes, I had heard the melody and knew the first fifteen words, but as the 13th word approached me, and I looked around that lobby filled with people not like me at all (the face of the students hadn’t been changed yet as it was only 1961 at UK), I suddenly had a horrible, paralytic realization. People had been singing “darkies” all this time. And
as hard working, underprivileged, abused people, they were supposed to be gay? And as the only darkie I had seen all day and the only darkie in that surrounding, I was supposed to understand and respect their assumed mindset of feeling gay?

Today, I can’t believe that I was the one that was embarrassed, though I can’t believe that I should have been. I was certainly humiliated to the point of tears as I stumbled back up to the third floor at the end of the hallway to my unoccupied room with the names Angela Alexander and Anna Catherine Scott written on the side of the door. All of the other rooms had two or three persons entering as occupying roommates; I had no one but myself. My thoughts were that the other name was made up, that there was no such person as this Anna C. Scott. My fears were substantiated by the fact that there was no Anna C. Scott the next day either, but I would not divulge to my mother when she called (and who wanted me to attend UKin the first place) as I did not want to worry her as the adult pleaser that then I was.

Finally on the second school day, a tall, attractive Negro young lady and her father rapped at the door. When I opened it she said, “Hi, I am Anna Catherine Scott from Mount Sterling and this is my father Reverend Scott. I am sorry that I am late.” That was the upside; the down side was that I would have 303 Boyd Hall all alone on Fridays, Saturdays and half the day on Sunday as Anna’s Mom was very ill and she had to go home to tend her and to church on Sunday, her father being the minister and all.

Angela Townsend, UK dorm room with hall mates

I had adjusted so well by the end of that sorrowful and horrible beginning that I am pictured here with hall mates after a date that I returned from and shared the experience with them. Pictured (l-r) are Linda, Angela, Maureen, and Kate.

Small guess that I did not mind that small inconvenience as I was just so glad to have a roommate to accompany me down to the cafeteria which served all three freshman dorms on the bottom floor of Boyd, and to talk to, to complain to, and to share experiences with. (Anna Catherine shared her experience with me that as she and her father were walking toward the dormitory, a group of Caucasion young men shouted nasties at them and her father admonished her to “just keep walking.”)

Though I was painfully shy, I seemed to garner attention from almost everyone else in the dorm, and I soon made many friends. Plus, there were two senior Negro girls who were transfers from Paducah Junior College: Mary Catherine Broady and Kay Grimes (now Jones). Mary and Kay joined me in making a total of three of us females on the whole of the UK dormitory campus. They lived across two yards in Holmes Hall and sort of took me under their arms to make certain that I attended a Negro Church, find the fast food establishments within walking distance of UK, and had dates. Also, the young Negro males from Louisville became my friends as there were more of them than there were females. So, by the end of my freshman year, I was pretty well entrenched again as a Negro social being with many white friends. “All’s well that ends well…” Sometimes. (To be continued.)

I wonder whether similar racial greeting experiences still slip through in our multicultural society of today.

~~~ Footnote ~~~
* The time was a few years before black activist Stokely Carmichael in a national march called for an unthinkably unheard of “Black Power,” which made previously “colored” people recently called Negroes suddenly “Black” people, and a time when renowned soul singer James Brown stomped and bellowed: “I’m Black and I’m Proud” etc., etc., and it seemed as though we newly named Black people were on the cusp of some sort of revolution. Click here to return to narrative.

KY Human Rights Commission asks state and local governments to erect statues of women

August 20, 2015 in Historiography

Press release from Kentucky Commission on Human Rights
August 20, 2015
Louisville, Kentucky USA

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Board of Commissioners at its meeting today unanimously passed a resolution encouraging Kentucky state and local governments to erect statues of women of historical significance and of notable achievement in places of honor throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The resolution will be submitted to the Kentucky General Assembly and to the Governor of Kentucky, the Kentucky Mayors’ Association, the Kentucky County Judges’ Association and the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties.

Kentucky Human Rights Commissioner Sandra Moore of Richmond, Ky., who represents the state at large on the commission board, read the resolution at today’s meeting.
About the resolution Commissioner Moore said: “I think the year 2015 is the time for Kentucky to go on record as recognizing the leadership and contributions of the great women of Kentucky. It is important not only for the women whose images would be cast in bronze or marble, but it is also important for all women and especially the younger generation to see their female role models who have contributed to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The resolution states:
“Women, the same as men, have advanced Kentucky, the nation and world, and Kentucky has done little to acknowledge and honor this reality in bronze or in marble. In our visual culture, the icons and symbols of women achievers is sorely lacking throughout our state.
“A failure to observe women in places of honor narrows the vision of our youth, and reveals a lack of understanding of American history regarding women’s work, sacrifice and the immeasurable and timeless contributions to society’s advancement.
“The absence of such symbols stymies the inspiration, motivation and encouragement that these markers would provide, if they existed.

“In Louisville, a campaign led by the Louisville Girls Leadership organization is under way to recognize women.

“The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights commends the Louisville Girls Leadership organization for bringing to the attention of the public, the lack of female statues and icons honoring women achievers to public attention.

“The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights encourages state and local governments throughout Kentucky to assess the dearth of women honored in their communities, and to lead the way in establishing statues, and other appropriate symbols and icons such as plaques and murals, to recognize and honor the outstanding contributions of women achievers to society.

“The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights calls upon our state and local elected and appointed officials, to pursue the placement of statues and icons honoring women achievers in the state Capitol rotunda, in courthouses, parks and on plazas, as well as other state and municipal-owned and managed government buildings and tax-supported facilities.”

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state government agency that enforces civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination. For help with discrimination, contact the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights at 1.800.292.5566.

Interviews of Black Women in Central Kentucky Now Indexed and Available Online

August 3, 2015 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

With many thanks to Danielle Gabbard and the Kentucky Oral History Commission, the public can now listen to the voices of Black women of Central Kentucky in the online system created by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. The interviews are digitized and various segments indexed so they are more readily accessible for listeners. There are many more already done, but here’s the latest batch for you now available:

Interviewee Interviewer Date of Interview Summary by staff at UK’s Nunn Center for Oral History
Helen Higgins Joan Brannon for the East End Lexington Oral History Project April 9, 2009
Helen Higgins discusses her family background and talks about moving to Lexington, Kentucky when she was 18 years old. She talks about the various jobs she has worked over the years. She describes Lexington during the 1940s and ’50s when she was a young woman, including the restaurants and bars she frequented. She talks about how Lexington has changed and discusses feeling a lack of respect from younger generations. She talks about her experience with race relations in Lexington. (Accession Number: 2009OH106 EEL 012)
Eula Tatman Betsy Adler for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project May 18, 1993
At the time of this interview Eula Tatman was the Director at the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center in Lexington, Kentucky. In this interview she explains the history of the Phyllis Wheatley Center from its beginnings on Upper Street to its current location in the East End neighborhood. She talks about the activities the center used to provide, including wig making and the Girl Reserves. She talks about the activities the center currently provides. She describes the East End neighborhood and talks about how the people in the neighborhood surrounding the center feel about its location. (Accession Number: 1993OH397 KH 559)
Sandra Richardson Boyd Shearer, Jr. for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project March 5, 1997
Sandra Richardson is the great niece of Lucy Rowe Estill, one of the five members of the Board of Park Commissioners for the Black park system in Lexington, Kentucky. Richardson describes Estill’s early life in Hanging Fork, Kentucky before moving to Lexington. She talks about their family, and shares Estill’s philosophy on life. Richardson reads lists of programs offered by the Parks Department during Estill’s tenure, and reads a description of a play Estill produced on slavery in America. (Accession Number: 1997OH030 KH 609)
Lillie H. Yates Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project July 15, 1986
Ms. Yates recalls her family history including relatives who experienced slavery, their white overseers, the practice of “hiring out,” Jonestown, “Black troublemakers”, and her educational background. She reminisces about farm life in the early twentieth century including methods of home heating, harvesting corn, soap making, food preparation and preservation, making burgoo and “homebrew”, ice-making, making clothes, and holiday traditions. She also talks about wages, treatment of African American farm workers by white farm families, tobacco production, commercial farming, farm labor, hired help, obtaining credit at the country store, and difficulties faced by African American farmers of the time period. Ms. Yates recounts the role of religion in the country churches in the African American community, church parties and dances, ostracism by the church, attitudes toward alcohol use, country preachers, religious revivals, and country baptisms. (Accession Number: 1986OH202 KH 332)
Frances A. Smallwood  Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 11, 1986 (audio)

The granddaughter of former slaves in Mississippi, Mrs. Smallwood was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama where her father worked at the Tuskegee Institute. She recalls growing up surrounded by role models including Mary Bethune Cookman and Margaret Mary Washington, and speeches and concerts her family attended at Tuskegee. She remembers listening to the first public radio broadcasts, the establishment of a veteran’s hospital for African Americans, and attending high school and college in Tuskegee. After receiving her nursing degree from Meharry, she was employed in North Carolina and New York before marrying a classmate and settling in Lexington. Mrs. Smallwood remembers being hired and working as a school nurse in the Fayette County school system. She recalls that her education, which she considers much better than her colleagues, helped tremendously with employment opportunities and raises. Only the second African American nurse in the public health service, Mrs. Smallwood reminisces about her nursing career at Douglass and Dunbar High Schools, as well as Russell Cave, Harrison, Arlington, and Garden Springs elementary schools. She discusses how the civil rights movement changed the schools and businesses, and remarks upon the participation in the movement by her white minister. She comments upon her participation in church and community activities, and the lack of African American Episcopalians in Lexington. She reminisces about social life in Lexington during the 1940s and 1950s, living in the same neighborhood for 37 years, the effects of divorce upon African American families, and the lack of interest by parents in their children.

(Accession Number: 1986OH252 KH 379)

Bettye Simpson Ann Grundy for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
August 11, 1986
 Ms. Simpson talks about her family history and graduation from Dunbar High School and Kentucky State University. She reminisces about “Irishtown,” her career as a social worker, and the discrimination she encountered at the Chestnut Street YWCA. She discusses the role of African American clergy in the civil rights movement in Lexington, and the churches’ influence upon the community. She recalls an attempt to establish an independent African American school in Lexington. (Accession Number: 1986OH223 KH 351)
Virginia Anderson Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project August 22, 1986
Virginia Hawkins Anderson was born in Fayette County, Kentucky in 1907. She reflects upon her educational background at Bracktown Elementary and Louisville Central High School, as well as the background of her parents and grandparents. Her father raised hogs, performed handyman jobs, and served as a deacon in the church. Mrs. Anderson looks back on her childhood, the relationship between neighbors in Bracktown, and the changes which have taken place within the community. She recounts the stories of white ancestors within the Hawkins family and other family history. The Bracktown Violet Social Club is recalled, as is the one room building which served as a school house. Mrs. Anderson discusses both her work as a domestic and the white employees who have worked for her, recounts her relationships with whites, and talks about selling land in Bracktown. While not recalling segregation on the Lexington buses, she does remember the African American boycott of Purcell’s store, the businesses owned by African Americans on Deweese Street, and her non-participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1986OH240 KH 367)
Verna B. Clark Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 23, 1986

Mrs. Clark’s parents and grandparents were all born in Kentucky. Her grandfather was a Native American raised by African American slaves, and she recalls family stories of slavery including dress, treatment and misuse, religious observations, classification system based upon shade of skin color, and the white slave owner who was her great, great grandfather. Her parents were farmers who owned their own land and Mrs. Clark reminisces about her close, tight knit neighborhood and her religious upbringing. Mrs. Clark graduated from Kentucky State and taught in Montgomery County for a year before her marriage. She recalls the teaching conditions at Grace Lee and Spruce Schools, discusses the achievements and education of her children, and recalls the death of her husband, a carpenter and brick layer. Mrs. Clark remembers the community in which she and her husband raised their children including the neighbors, white and Black, who helped each other, as well as the interaction within the community and attendance at each others’ churches. She wonders if integration has helped or hindered the African American community, and discusses the changes in social conditions and their impact upon the community. (Accession Number: 1986OH251 KH 378)

Sophia D. Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 15th, 1987

Mrs. Smith talks about her family’s relationship with the discovery and early tours of Mammoth Cave National Park; her grandparents’ endurance of slavery; additional family history; and recreational activities. She explains how her father taught himself to read, attended Kentucky State during the summer and later taught school in Barren and Hart counties; reviews her mother’s education at Norton (??) University in Kentucky; recalls the family owning and operating a restaurant in Cave City in 1918-1919 until it burned in a fire and also running a slaughterhouse for cattle and hogs. She discusses her educational background and experiences with both integrated and segregated schools; recalls attending Kentucky State College; the evolution of the African American church and religious community; her participation in politics; and, explains how voting practices have changed. She recounts the difficulties encountered in establishing her own business after graduation from beauty school and talks about returning to teaching after her husband obtained a position in Louisville. Mrs. Smith retired in 1977 and returned to Russellville shortly thereafter. (Accession Number: 1987OH090 KH 421)

Sidney Bell Johnson Nancy O’Malley for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
March 5, 1998

Sidney Johnson moved to Charlotte Court in Lexington, Kentucky in 1941. She talks about how she applied for the apartment, and describes her new home and her children’s reactions when moving in. She talks about the neighborhood dynamics, including rivalries between various streets in the neighborhood. She talks about how the neighborhood has changed over the years. Johnson discusses her family, including her children and their accomplishments. She talks about her family members that moved to Detroit, Michigan, and talks about family reunions. She talks about working for the Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity. She describes floods and snowstorms in Lexington. She talks about University of Kentucky basketball. (Accession Number: 1998OH037 KH 630)

Susie E. White Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 16, 1987
The daughter of self-sufficient sharecroppers, Mrs. White recalls staying with her grandmother to be closer to the schoolhouse; leaving school in 1922 after her mother’s death to help raise her younger siblings; her father’s employment at Hillenmeyer’s Nursery; and skills learned for survival. She talks about her dreams of becoming a beautician; her first beauty course in Chicago; and returning home during the Great Depression. Mrs. White discusses her marriage; her first beautician’s job; attending beauty school in Lexington; and raising her nieces, daughter and stepdaughter. She remembers her career; training apprentices; and managing her money and her business. She reminisces about Consolidated Baptist Church; talks about differences in ministerial education, roles and leadership; and recalls her involvement in church-related activities and fundraisers. Mrs. Smith examines the evolution of the African American community over her lifetime: changing behavior of the younger generations, less emphasis on moral values and teachings, loss of faith, the increasing influence of television, and higher crime rates. She talks about the importance of education to the African American community and the lack of quality of education since integration; the impact and effects of the civil rights movement, citing both the advantages and disadvantages; and discusses how Lexington has changed while noting what has stayed the same. (Accession Number: 1987OH096 KH 422)
Helen Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project September 12, 1988
Helen Smith discusses her family background, including her Native American heritage, and her great grandmother who was a slave. She talks about her parents’ educations and occupations. She talks about her grandmother’s work as a midwife in Danville, Kentucky. Smith talks about her experiences living in a mixed community, and discusses race relations in Danville and Maysville, Kentucky. She talks about changes in the church, schools, and the community since her childhood. She talks about her own education and career, specifically her work raising children as a baby nurse. She discusses whether the Black community is better off since the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1988OH163 KH 456)
Evelyn Livisay Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
June 19, 1978
Evelyn Livisay was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during integration. In this interview she discusses the teaching conditions in all-Black schools prior to integration, and says that they had fewer supplies and lower salaries than their white counterparts. She talks about her experiences as one of the few Black teachers chosen to integrate the white schools, and says she was sent to Linlee Elementary School first as a librarian in order to acclimate the faculty and students to the change. She talks about reactions to her being in the school, and talks about how the Board of Education felt about teachers’ participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH078 KH 044)
Madeline C. Jones  Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 21, 1978
 Madeline Jones was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during the integration of public schools. She discusses her experience teaching in an all-Black school, Booker T. Washington School, prior to integration and says that the schools were separate but not equal. She talks about the lack of supplies and overcrowding in the Black schools, but says that they had parental support and offered many activities for the students. She talks about the changes that occurred during integration, and discusses the white teachers’ reactions to the Black students. She talks about why many teachers did not participate in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH081 KH 047)

See Danielle Gabbard’s previous posts

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