Segregation in Kentucky

February 4, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Oral history

Researchers are given an ever evolving view of segregation in Kentucky, and the rest of the United States, as more and more information comes to light. Recently, I have read two books highlighting women during the civil rights era, some of which are in Kentucky.  Freedom on the Border and The Maid Narratives both give insight to the life black women coming out of slavery faced.  Also included in these books are narratives from whites that lived at the time.

I am most fascinated with the role of African American women during the 1920’s at this point in my research.  My interest began when watching the movie The Help and further research continues to intrigue me.  Black maids were responsible for much more than just caring for the white home.  They were role models and status symbols.  (You can read more about post civil war black women and their contributions to white society in one of my past blogposts.)  Although black maids were imperative to white women, they were not always treated as well as maids today are.  Even after the civil war and the freeing of slaves, having a colored person working for you was a status symbol, particularly when that person was for help around the household.  Relationships between whites and blacks did not change until much later and after a lot of hard work.  Whites were highly attached to having a black maid but did not treat their maids like they were important to them or their children.

Being able to read stories from my hometown in Freedom on the Border rekindled my interest for the topic as a whole.  History becomes much more intriguing when it can be placed somewhere that is personal.  I had heard stories about some of the things that happened in my hometown, but seeing it written in a book and told by a notable person from my town helped to solidify details and an understanding of why the event was such a big deal back then and still is today.  Also, I came across a name that was very familiar to me while reading Freedom on the Border.  The father of one of my previous employers wrote one of the narratives.  The man died before I knew him, but knowing his family extensively and being able to picture the land that the atrocities was happening on makes me proud to know that so many people were standing up for what is right.

“Hope is a dream as the soul awakes.”  This quote from The Maid Narratives describes the time so well to me.  All of the stories told in these books are of men and women facing oppression or seeing oppression happening.  Their hope that the world will change is what keeps them fighting for equality.  The stories they tell display their passion and dedication to the cause.


2 responses to Segregation in Kentucky

  1. The Help was an amazing movie! Before watching it, I really didn’t know a lot about African-Americans doing domestic work in the transition between slavery and the civil rights era. It is certainly eye-opening to read firsthand accounts in The Maid Narratives.

  2. It is ironic how you mention maids were thought of as “status symbols” just as slaves were decades before. Even though African Americans legally had their freedom, some were hardly treated as if they were free.

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