Integrating Education in Kentucky

February 10, 2013 in 1950s-1960s

Integration in Kentucky was a diverse affair.  Sentiments for integration varied both due to unique regional ideals and the manner in which different counties went about integration.  Some areas, like Louisville saw easier transitions than places like Sturgis.  Integration in higher education was generally accepted with less violence, although individuals faced harsh discrimination.

Louisville was a remarkable city in its ability to transition to integrated school smoothly.  As described in Freedom on the Border, much of this was due to the hard work of the superintended Mr. Carmichael, who went to lengths in order to understand the ideals of his community. The system eventually integrated successfully by offering families a say in whether or not they wanted to send their child to one school over another. As explained by Louisville resident Ruth Higgins in Freedom on the Border, “I think it gave parents more of a feeling of integrating because we wanted to rather than because we had to.”  In regards to the “fight” to  desegregate education, much of this was stalled by Mr. Carmichael’s firm insistence to “stick to the law of the land.”

Unfortunately, the same passive transition was not true for all of Kentucky.  When integration came to Sturgis, genuine hatred arose from anti-integration groups. The immense hatred exploded, as was described by James Howard in FotB. Angry whites took over a local park, where they donned Klan insignia and burned a cross. Howard described a night spent in fear in which he laid on the floor with his family in hopes that if bullets were shot through their windows, they would avoid being hit. Eventually, the integration that had begun was halted by the violent opposition shown.

Students integrate

Higher education was a different affair; however it also varied from school to school. At Western Kentucky University, students were allowed to integrate, however a sense of segregation was maintained. Black students were placed in separate dorms so that staff would know which rooms housed them. Howard Bailey, a student attending the Bowling Green college noted that, “There were people who were very nice to us, but there were other people that made it clear that they tolerated us.”

Black females entering into higher education faced unique challenges. Jesse Zander Berea in 1951 with the first group of African American students able to attend since the appearance of the day law spoke. In FotB she spoke of the unique challenges, such as dating and finding someone capable of doing her hair. Mattie Jones of Louisville explained the difficulties in an integrated college but segregated society through her inability to take a bowling classs at the school because the local bowling alley would not allow her to enter.


Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine Meyer.Freedom on the border an oral history of the civil rights movement in Kentucky. Lexington, Ky.: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2009.

1 response to Integrating Education in Kentucky

  1. I really appreciate the detail you include regarding Kentucky’s integration of colleges and universities. It is extremely applicable to us and is a major part of Freedom on the Border and Kentucky’s plan of integration. Your quotes are phenomenal at illustrating the frustration and you give an excellent overview of Kentucky’s major cities at the time.

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