Afterword: Part Two
December 1, 2016 in 1950s-1960s
Decades later, one of the students who was almost as old as I and whose father had been my pediatrician pointed out to me that I was the only new black teacher who didn’t come from the all black school. The same thing happened in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the Princeton district which had just absorbed many black teachers from Lincoln Heights, an all black township. The African-American teachers remarked how surprised they were that that school district would hire another black that they did not have to– another African teacher from out of state when they had to take so many from the school they were mandated to absorb. Again, given the relatively short distance to UK, I think that my being a UK graduate, no matter how competent I was otherwise, had much to do with it. They surely did not hire me in either instance because they loved blacks. Assuredly, being named a black UK graduate carried a lot of weight in surrounding areas at that time, probably more than Harvard or Stanford, both alma maters of my two daughters. (Sm.)
On a personal note, UK prepared me well in the areas of English, psychology and speech whose refined methods I have subsequently continued to use in teaching, workshopping, seminar consulting and in other areas of life. I have used writing most of all, teaching it, writing letters, long editorials, poetry (some of which is used in WKU’s Honors classes). I have helped former students win many writing contests and scholarships over the years. I have stressed it with my own children at home who, though both attorneys, write for pleasure for the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, the DoDo, and more. One who now teaches writing herself became an author whose very first novel was published by W.W. Norton. She has won lucratively prestigious contests and has published many short stories. Though we are not Pulitzer Prize winners by any means, we are a writing family! Barring God’s assistance, all started because of the instruction in writing I received, cultivated, and practiced from being at UK.
I would be remiss without mentioning the Kentucky Education Reform Act and how UK writing instruction helped me to navigate that initiative with relative ease. KERA, in the early years, was heavily reliant upon writing in all academic areas, every single one of them. While other colleges and universities across the state had been teaching phonemics, UK had been teaching essay writing. When KERA came along, those institutions who had not taught writing had left their graduates at a disadvantage. Many panicked, others scoffed at so much writing. Finally, the state had to give up. Too bad. Now I fear that students who have not had writing are going to be at a major disadvantage once again! I always prefaced the students in my class with the notion that “writing is the most important subject in school,” and so it is. Almost everything in our society is based on written law.
To conclude, the respect that I gained for being UK alumni, the skills I perfected over the years as a result of stellar teachers, the friends I made, etc. all propelled me to develop strategies to deal with being a minority able to make the best of it in a rapidly changing world. It definitely helped me to be named a Kentucky Distinguished Educator and being named to the Kentucky Teachers Hall of Fame and Semi-Finalist in the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Whenever and wherever I go, I shall always be a Kentucky Woman who was born, reared, and educated to become a survivalist during the critical times of the civil rights era and beyond.
My deepest desire is that these memories become important tools to future generations of all races and nationalities as they attempt to read and to understand the nuances and the flavor of the times present.