Life after “Freedom”

January 27, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

picture of Jennie Wilson

Jennie Wilson, aged 102

Jennie Wilson, the daughter of slaves is a prime example of what being a black in
America looks like after the slaves were freed. In her oral history interview she speaks of her work in the field when men were wounded and her work within the homes of whites at the time. She speaks of her parents, her father who was able to “slip off to Paducah” to freedom, and her mother who was sold into slavery from Virignia. What is interesting about Wilson’s story is how although she was born in 1900, in a time after slaves were freed, she found herself working menial, slave-like jobs in order to make a life for herself and her four children. She only attended 6 years of school and only attended three months out of each of those years. This is because she had to help support her family from a very young age as this predated the mandatory minimum wage laws to black help with in the home. Therefore, her education was limited because of a tilted, self-fullfilling cycle. What contributes to her interesting story, however, was her ability to put four kids through college.

One of her children, Alice Wilson, also speaks of her experiences integrating a local high school in her home town of Sturgis, KY. Although on their first day govenor A.B. Chandler had to call in the National Guard to allow the children’s entrance, Alice Wilson reports her experience quite indifferently. She relates that although she and her peers were doing something important, to them it was just a chance to experience a better college prepatory education. What makes her story interesting is its contrast to that of her mother’s. While her mother was barely educated, doing the best she could under the oppression of whites in her own childhood, Alice considers the opposition to her intergration was quite lack-luster. Although she relates many people calling names and particular instances in which she felt threatened, overall other students reported her as “nice and clean.” This battles a lot of prejuides that contemporary researchers probably have because of the idea that all integration was fought against and led to violence. Although violent riots did of course occur, Alice’s testimony reveals that maybe the largest influence of those who opposed integretation only did so for attention, and that once their stage was darkened there was no longer a point.

Jennie and Alice’s stories are great ones to look at because they show a decent timeline of what the “freedom” of blacks looked like in the postbellum period.




3 responses to Life after “Freedom”

  1. I think it is very interesting that you discussed the attitude expressed by the daughter about integration. I also considered it interesting how little emotion was expressed about the integration process. Do you think this is just because she is reflecting on it, or do you believe she felt just as passive about the whole process at the time?
    One note, you may want to read the piece once more to pick out a few little grammatical details that poke out- they distract from your wonderful writing!

  2. It seems as though each generation faces less and less discrimination. Also, each generation seems to be less influenced, publicly at least, by the discrimination they are faced with. It is amazing that blacks were faced with so much discrimination after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war. Even though they were legally free, they were still bound by suppressing laws and the jobs they couldn’t leave.

  3. I liked your comment about the “tilted, self-fullfilling cycle.” It’s sad to think about how many generations were limited because of their parent’s limitations. The repercussions of those limitations can still be seen today, and I think it’s fascinating to look at the subtle differences that occur between generations who ultimately faced the same dilemmas and limitations in their educations and opportunities.

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