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Segregation in Kentucky

February 5, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

There is a “myth” of sorts in Kentucky that suggests segregation in Kentucky was not as bad as it was in parts of our country further South. Mainly, the example used to support this fact is that buses in most local communities were not segregated, and African Americans never lost the right to vote. Historian George C. Wright called the segregation in Louisville “Polite Racism”. Regardless of these examples, most things about day to day life for African Americans in Kentucky were segregated. For example, most public facilities, such as libraries, bathrooms, water fountains, swimming pools, amusement parks, stores and restaurants were segregated. It was even specified which door of a house you were to use depending on the color of your skin. Anne Butler of Stanford spoke in Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky about a time when she went to get something from her father at a house he was wallpapering, and was told “The next time you come here, you go to the back door.”

Many of the voices in both The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South and Freedom on the Border suggest similar notions that often people on both sides of segregation didn’t know what was going on, or how big of an issue it was. In the Introduction of The Maid Narratives, a white narrator is quoted in saying “That’s just the way things were done; we didn’t really stop to think about it.” Similarly, in Freedom on the Border, Joyce Hamilton Berry explains that she “never knew that they had black and white bathrooms in Kentucky, because I had never been to one.” Parents often shielded their children from the harsh realities of the world, and many African American and White children alike can remember specific moments when they realized something was going on.

Like many things, when you are in the middle of an issue such as the implementation of segregation or the concept of “Separate But Equal” Policy, it is nearly impossible to see the forest for the trees. One might see specific instances of injustice, but not question it or even be able to because that was “Just the way  things were done.”

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Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

1 response to Segregation in Kentucky

  1. I like how you targeted how parents attempted to shelter their children. Do you feel as though this was less true with white children, since they were born into a higher position?

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