Jennie Hopkins Wilson Interview

January 28, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history

After watching the Jennie Hopkins Wilson interview by KET, reading the first four chapters of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have found many overlaps.  The culture throughout the southern states was similar although states and parts of states were better or worse to blacks than other parts.  After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war conditions were not improved in most places. Blacks were chained to the same jobs and people as they were in slavery.

In Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, watchers learn that both her parents were slaves.  Her father ran to freedom in Paducah, Kentucky from Mayfield, Kentucky.  He made the twenty five mile trek so he could join the Union army.  Paducah was supposed to be a free city but when Wilson’s father reached the city he found a great deal of discrimination.  One of Wilson’s most feared moments was on third Mondays of each month.  Those were the days that some of the men in the got drunk and harassed the colored people in city.  Wilson recalls one occasion when some of the men came to her house.  Her parents knew their intent was to kill all of them so when the men called her father out of the house he would not go.  According to Wilson, harassment like this was not uncommon.  Wilson also recalled a story she had heard about lynchings in Paducah.  She said that before she was born (1900) lynchings had become so common in Paducah that the state threatened to take away their courthouse if they hung anyone else.  (After further research into this I did not find an official threat.)

Similar to Jennie Hopkins Wilson and her mother, women from The Maid Narratives held jobs similar to the ones they and their mothers had as slaves.  Many black women cooked and cleaned and took care of children for the white families.  Their role went further than that though.  The families the black maids, also referred to as mammies, worked for often formed special bonds with them.  The children felt especially attached to their maid and the adults of the household would ask for advice from the maids because of their greater amount of life experiences.  Besides their physical and emotional roles to the family, colored maids also had a larger societal meaning for the families they worked for.  The man of the household could prove how wealthy and useful he was by the amount of money he brought in.  Women, on the other hand, used household affairs to prove themselves.  This meant that the better, or larger number of maids you had, the richer you were.  Having a maid became an imperative sign of social status.

Through watching Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, reading parts of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have learned that stories from across the south are quite similar.  Commonalities include harassment, social status of both whites and blacks, and discrimination of all kinds.




2 responses to Jennie Hopkins Wilson Interview

  1. I’m really pleased the mention of our book, The Maid Narratives on the Kentucky civil rights website. I want to point out our Kentucky connection. One of the northern white narrators moved with his Iowa family and maid to Kentucky from Iowa. The culture was so different, the maid left for home. There is quite a long story of life among the servants in Frankfort, KY. Then I am a WKU graduate; I spend four months of the year in Bowling Green with my mother and sister, both of whom provided narratives for the book. We were all active in the Civil Rights Movement.

  2. I’m fascinated to find these fascinating essays related to our book, The Maid Narratives. I have a strong Kentucky connection, taught at Transylvania, sociology, and have an M.A. from WKU; I spend a lot of time with my sister in Bowling Green. One of our narratives tells of a servant from Iowa who traveled with the family she worked for to relocate in Frankfort, KY during the Jim Crow era with unfortunate results. I can send a lot more information if interested. I now have CDs of the voices of these narrators that can be put in the archives. Or any other information requested, such as radio broadcasts and other presentations we have made on the book.

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