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The Integration of The University of Kentucky

December 10, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

In 1941, a teenager named Charles Eubanks volunteered to play a part in an attempt to integrate the University of Kentucky. He applied to the UK College of Engineering and was turned down because he was African American and the Kentucky Day Law did not allow African Americans and whites to attend the same school. The suit led to the creation of a “separate but equal” program at Kentucky State University. Though it did not lead to a huge change within the University of Kentucky, it is a notable instance of a step in the right direction.

A man named Lyman T. Johnson is considered one of Kentucky’s greatest fighters for integration. In 1948, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Day Law. The next year UK admitted the first black students to its graduate and professional schools. In 1954 the University of Kentucky finally opened admission to undergraduate studies to black students; University of Louisville followed in 1955.

While interviewing Mrs. Gaylord and Rev. & Mrs. Jones for our service learning project (“Lexington Women, African-American Churches and Civil Rights Activism” – see more at: www.kywcrh.org/voices/churches), I began to think about the University of Kentucky in the 1950s and ‘60s and what it would have been like to attend UK as one of the few African American students. Coming here as a freshman was scary enough for me; not knowing where to go or what to do. Coming here with fear and the isolation that both Mrs. Gaylord and Mrs. Jones expressed to me would be traumatizing. They both lived on campus and discussed the difficulties of eating at surrounding restaurants. Mrs. Jones was not allowed to eat at Jerry’s, a restaurant directly across from her dorm. While living on campus they would have lacked the community and support which one needs to be successful while getting an education. Luckily, Mrs. Jones was able to rely on Pleasant Green Baptist Church where she was an active member. She experienced many difficulties within her biology major at the university. I was shocked to hear that her genetics teacher told her that she was “genetically inferior”.

As a proud UK student, it saddens me to learn these things about a school which plays such a vital role in my life.

Resources:

Oral History Interview – Jones, Kay and La Mont. Interview by Dawn Bailey. Digital recording. November 29, 2010. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Oral History Interview – Gaylord (not uploaded yet)

See also:
“Civil Rights Timeline” – http://www.ket.org/civilrights/timeline.htm
Hardin, John A. Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

5 responses to The Integration of The University of Kentucky

  1. To hear that someone would ever tell a student that she was “genetically inferior” is absolute ludicrous. I cannot believe that back then they actually hired professors that thought this way.

    • Many professors currently teaching at UK now believe that same racist crap.
      I earned my undergrad and first master’s degrees there.

  2. no matter how many time I’ve heard stories dealing with integration like this one, it still manages to surprise me every time that people were treated that way because of there skin color or gender! I am glad I have never had an experience like this with any professors at UK today!

  3. Coming from a small town in Southeastern Kentucky that is primarily white, it was an adjustment when I transferred to EKU in Richmond. In my first semester here I made numerous amounts of friends of many cultural backgrounds, and contrary to some “old fashioned” (hillbilly if you would say) ways of thinking, to say that one is “genetically inferior” I found to be quite absurd. I would say the biggest problem with where I’m from is that most people aren’t exposed to others of a different culture let alone the color of their skin; therefore, they have their biased reactions to others.

  4. A must read in the”Kentucky Women in the Civil Rights Era” open initiative of this project is Angela Townsend’s “All’s Well That Ends Well.” The post involves her discussion of her experiences in 1961 as the only entering “Negro” in the freshman dorms” that year. To think her 16-year daughter would be offered the Otis Singletary (top scholarship at UK with a full-ride award years later when she decided to attend Harvard instead after much deliberation), but her friend and fellow club member that her Mom (Angela) had founded for minority youth in Bowling Green accepted. There were a whopping two African-American females who received that scholarship in 1988: Kathy Lewis and Jacinda Townsend. Mom Angela Townsend was happy that UK had come such a long way!

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