Desegregating Education in Kentucky

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

In Kentucky, as in many other states, the fight for desegregation did not come without great difficulty, and even after Brown v. Board passed true equality was not instantly achieved. The push for desegregation began in the 1930s with the NAACP, countering the Day Law which took effect in 1904,  decided to focus on desegregation at the highest level of education first, then work their way down to lower levels of education. In 1954, the Brown v. Board court case made integration legal. However, though it was legal in Kentucky, many communities, especially small rural ones, had no intentions of integrating anytime soon. Despite this reaction from parts of Kentucky, schools such as Lafayette High School in Lexington, the first desegregated school in Kentucky, made efforts to have an interracial school.

Protestors march for integration.

Though Lafayette was an integrated school, not all schools in Lexington were so easily integrated. In the 1970s, inner city schools, which primarily hosted black students, were closed in an effort to promote desegregation. In Louisville, similar efforts were being made. Judge James Gordon instituted a busing plan in Jefferson County to promote integration in public schools.

There might have been conflict over integration in Kentucky schools, but integration was still higher in Kentucky than it was in the rest of the south. In 1964 92% of Kentucky schools were integrated, as opposed to less than 20% in the rest of the south.

Even at schools that were integrated however, black students were not greeted as if they were equals. “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,” said James Howard.

For white students who supported integration, the backlash was sometimes just as prominent as it was for black students. “White students who accepted the blacks were called out as well. “They were called ‘nigger lovers’ and of course because they lived in the white community day in and day out, they were treated with disdain. In fact, some were beaten up… for no other reason than they didn’t participate in name calling or cursing or any agitation towards us. In many ways they paid as big a price as many of the black students that they befriended,” said Howard.

Though there was a plus side of integration – better facilities and materials — Nancy Johnson, an African-American student during the integration period, said that black students lost the sense of community they once had. “We lost our teachers. We lost that personal touch. Our kids are outnumbered, so they’ve been kind of lost.”


“The Day Law.” KET. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

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 Desegregating Education in Kentucky

  1. I like how you included the treatment whites and blacks received once schools were integrated. We often forget that there were whites who were tolerant of African-Americans and were also treated with hostility. I also like that you talked about both the benefits and the downsides to integration. There were complications with the process that are still in need of fixing today.

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