Fighting for the Right to Learn

February 14, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

In today’s society, students relish in the thought of a snow day, or a three day weekend. Anything that means we don’t have to wake up early (again…), make ourselves presentable (again…), and go sit in a seat for eight hours listening to a teacher talk and talk and talk at us (AGAIN…). We are quick to take our opportunities for granted, and we rarely stop to appreciate them when they come up. Not too long ago, however, most African American students in Kentucky didn’t even have the option to continue schooling after elementary school. Segregated schools were a fact of life, and they held Black citizens back in a never ending cycle of thankless, dead end jobs and no education, generation after generation.

The Day Law, placed into effect in Kentucky in 1904, created a policy of segregation in the education systems of the Commonwealth. Prior to this law, schools in Berea, Kentucky were integrated due to limited funding. Following its passing in 1904, the state government was granted the right to dictate that even private institutions must segregate, and institutions that had been integrated for years, such as Berea, were forced to become all-white schools.

Berea College Logo

The US has a history that includes much effort to keep blacks and whites separated. Plessy v. Ferguson established a pattern of strategic discrimination against African Americans in America. The schools were forced to separate, but they were far from equal. Colored schools received tattered and outdated textbooks, torn up materials, and fewer opportunities. Their facilities were far from equal.

The Oral Histories found in Freedom on the Border detail stories of students who broke the barrier of segregation. Through the process of integration, various students encountered every possible response – from acceptance, to tolerance, to violence. Both waves of integration were important times in Kentucky history, and the stories of the students, teachers, and parents who lived them are stories we can learn from even today.

“On the second day when I [arrived], there was a crowd of people there that had shovels, pitchforks, that were outside of the school, name-calling. The state police and National Guard were called in, I believe it was on the third day.” – James Howard of Sturgis

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