Desegregation Breeds Unity

February 12, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

The late 1800s was marked by the norm of racial segregation in schools and other public places. The Day Law of 1904 further reinforced the harrowing institution, making it more difficult for African-Americans to pursue education without resistance. While there were schools established solely for “colored” folks, there was less funding, and the conditions of the textbooks and facilities were quite poor.

Remarkably, the NAACP was a key leader in the fight against segregation in education. In Lexington, Kentucky, Audrey Grevious—who was the president of the local NAACP chapter—was the one of the main torchbearers in the movement towards desegregation in schools. Grevious taught at the Kentucky Village, a reform school for delinquent children, where she decided to integrate the lunchroom by simply going in and taking a seat. It was no surprise that the white employees reacted negatively, “throw[ing] their food … on the floor and march[ing] out.”

It was clear that integration would be a long-fought battle despite the ruling of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. There was a massive wave of resistance in the 1950s, led by the emergence of the White Citizens Council and the rise to prominence of the Ku Klux Klan.  Desegregation was beginning to take place in schools, but at a deliberate pace that sometimes required lawsuits.

Integration in schools

Integration in schools

According to Grevious, integration didn’t always have its perks: “the best black teachers were put in the white schools, and the worst white teachers were put in the black schools,” which still made it a struggle for African-Americans to get good quality education. In Freedom on the Border by Catherine Fosl and Tracy K’Meyer, there were several accounts of hardships experienced by African-Americans when going to predominately white universities. In an excerpt by John Hatch—who attended law school at the University of Kentucky—he explained the physical and emotional separation he experienced as a student. Other white students would sometimes speak to him, but the university had a policy that “there should be a chair between [him] and white students.” Hatch also talked about the daily humiliation of always sitting down at a table alone because “everyone at the table would get up and leave.” Hatch’s account pained me the most because of his feelings of loneliness and inability to fit in.

After reading the excerpts in Freedom on the Border, it seemed that African-American men and women dealt with the desegregation in schools differently. Men were often treated worse and often felt isolated. Women also felt out of place, but accepted that they were left alone and sometimes ignored. Interestingly, athletics seemed to have become a mechanism that brought unity between African-Americans and whites. It was also a way to help desegregate schools, especially when African-Americans began being bused to places with better teams. I find it fascinating that at the University of Kentucky today,  a predominately black basketball team—one of the best in the nation, nonetheless—has also been able to bring people together, regardless of race.

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.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Brown v. Board of Education.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 11 February 2013.

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Berea College v. Kentucky.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 June 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“White Citizens’ Council.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 June 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

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