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Evelyn Williams, a great role model for us all

February 11, 2017 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

Appalshop In 1995 the great Appalshop filmmaker Anne Lewis featured Mrs. Evelyn Williams (October 31, 1915 – December 13, 2002), a Kentucky woman whose wisdom and heroism continues to teach us great lessons in patriotism, love of land and community, and for equal rights. The film (available for viewing free online at the Appalshop website) is worth watching again if you’ve seen it before – and certainly worth sharing with others if you are seeing it for the first time.

Evelyn Williams

Evelyn Williams on her farm near Redfox, in Knott County KY

Born in the mountains of Tennessee, Mrs. Williams remembers her family moving back to eastern Kentucky to coalmining camps near where her ancestors had lived and extended family owned land together in Perry County. She tells of how the actions of white supremacists in the 1920s affected her even later in life, and she warns us to pay attention how racist violence today touch and change our youth today. You will be fascinated by her stories of motherhood in the mountains, working as a domestic servant in West Virginia, going for a college degree at age 50 and what it meant to her as she learned what it takes to create a positive community spirit in the midst of despair and powerlessness. The death of her son and the inhumane way the military establishment treated his remains led her to a new appreciation for those around her who were struggling. Unlike so many other histories, the narrative kept its focus on this woman’s life — keeping true to Mrs. Williams’ own assertion that the long history of Blacks in Appalachia is mostly the story of women and children who far outnumbered the men. We need to remember this as so much more is learned and understood when we see our work in the world from the eyes of women and children.

This short film (about 25 minutes long) is powerful in drawing in its audience. I appreciated the loving and respectful way that Lewis shows us how Mrs. Williams holds herself, her home furnishings while she is being interviewed about her family, and her interactions with old friends in New York or with KFTC activists on her land as they negotiate with the mining company.

Thank you, Anne Lewis. Thank you, Appalshop. And even heartier thanks to Mrs. Evelyn Williams for sharing her powerful and important story.

Afterword: Part One

November 28, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

This is part of a series presented by Mrs. Angela Alexander Townsend – see the full list of her articles here.


Attending the University of Kentucky at the time period in which I did was a genuinely exhilarating and profound experience for me. I remain forever grateful that I sensitively yielded to my mother’s strong, yet almost silent suggestion that I choose UK as a springboard to complete my higher education. My mother Thedders Alexander proved once again to be a smart woman, indeed. I must admit that recalling the trials and regular occurrences was sometimes painful, sometimes pleasant, sometimes laughable and even sometimes therapeutic, but I take unfathomable pleasure in knowing that with God’s help, I emerged as a survivor.

Though the University was rife with a kind of prejudice that I was not at first prepared for, I soon realized that it was only mirroring the national scene and in many instances one in scope of an international one when it comes to the condition and treatment of people of color the world over. Some difficulties were not delivered in a consciously intentional manner, but as ones of “benign neglect” so to speak. But at the same time no matter the cause, the reality of the hurtful results was often the same. I realized, also, that many of those obstacles that I experienced, then as now, weren’t going away anytime soon. It, therefore, became my challenge to learn how to deal effectively and successfully with those hurdles and to develop successful strategies to minimize the deleterious effects. (Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates…” is right on.)

In a less than ideal racial environment, one does not ever know just what s/he might be confronted with next. Even at the predominantly black college I attended, at some points I observed “carry over” prejudices among some faculty members and students.. That environment, too, was like “America’s Star Spangled Scramble” where everything and everybody is ranked, i.e. An A is not good enough unless it is an A+, etc. One female student complained that a male student did not know which fork to use first. Would-be-campus-Queens and their courts members were characterized and established by color, hair, and money. Many others were dogged by negative oral conversational comments and by notes of degradation scrawled underneath their yearbook pictures if they did not fit the ingrained American standards of beauty or success. A few Caucasian teachers imported from Vanderbilt or on loan from other colleges demonstrated overt instances of disdaining superiority.

Now, be all of that as may, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share my part of the larger string of events during the early civil rights era and to be fortunate enough to share it multifacetedly. Indeed, being a UK graduate during that period and having it rounded out by what was missing at a different institution was almost a “study abroad” experience, one that has served me well at various times in life. Attending UK, the state flagship school known for its revered sports teams (heaven forbid though all white) and the fact that “I had endured through acceptance,” made me a rather respected anomaly back home.

My now ex-husband, a sports enthusiast year around, observed that he didn’t personally know anybody who had gone to UK. Only half joking when I tell people that he dated me early on because I had gone to UK, and that he probably envisioned our ongoing return to sports events, especially the basketball ones, is that precisely, only half joke. Maybe not. (sm.) When he wasn’t at a game at WKU, his alma mater, he was at U of L, etc. and followed them on out-of town games. When he wasn’t physically present at a game, he was jumping up and down at one in front of the television.

yearbook from Bowling Green High School, KY

Page from author’s copy of the 1969  Beacon, Bowling Green High School, Kentucky

A year after I had been graduated and had tired of working for the government, I accepted employment from Bowling Green High School (BGHS), the largest high school in the city. BGHS was formerly all white a merely year two before and was under obligation to accept some of the black teachers from High Street High which was previously all black. As an outsider to that definition, I was hired. A few others at the black school were not.

In addition, as the youngest and most inexperienced of all among both whites and blacks at BGHS, I was assigned to the “best” and highest level classes. (See excerpt from the BGHS yearbook, the Beacon, to the right – click on the image to see a larger version.)  I never realized the gravity of such things until years later.  I was assigned to senior English and I do recall that it was “A” English as they were then labeled ABC etc.They did not use labels like college prep and Honors English until years later.  I did not realize the competitiveness for senior English or Advanced English until I became Department head years later at Greenwood High.

I attribute much of that assignment to having been graduated from UK. The summer before, UK had sent an article of Dean’ s listed graduates by name to the local newspaper, and I was the only one listed as having a “perfect 4.0” as they described it.

News clipping about UK Dean's List 1965

Culture Shock! (continued)

October 5, 2016 in 1960s-1970s

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaimed loudly, beginning to shed my usually shy, intimidated mantle.

I did so to my own surprise—without any statistics or the names of students that I could call to back me up. Such an outburst even jolted my “Individual Difference” teacher of psychology. He had just made the statement (while talking about I.Q.) that no “Negro” that he ever had in class had made above a C. Surprisingly to me and maybe even to him, the graduate students in class began to “get my back” about his contentions of race and I.Q. by quoting all kinds of statistics and studies that proved otherwise. The professor shut up. In the end I received a B out of the class though I strongly felt that I deserved better.

“I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.”

My European History teacher, Mr. I., on the first day of class of an exceptionally large group, canvassed the class with eye scan and winked at us all as he began with, “I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.” I am sure that he did that for effect at that time — or maybe not. Only one other black person was in that class, a commuting student by the name of Wanda, the first and only that landed in a class with me though there were other commuting Negro students on campus. She and I got to be the best of friends, and years later, she became my bridesmaid. As we were leaving class, I said of the professor, “Did you hear him?” She replied rather quickly: “Oh, you know they don’t consider us as people. so he wasn’t talking about us.” That was a common belief among many blacks — and rightly so — considering what had happened during slavery. But I intuitively liked the man then, and after my watching televised Roots, and studying intensely Louis Lomax’s Freedomways, I felt more assured that Dr. I. must have been on the level.

Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings.

The next semester there was a small influx of more out-of town, and some out of state off campus black students for some reason or other. The few from the North seemed to exhibit an air of superiority over those of us Kentuckians as we shared the same break table—dining for some—at the student union building. Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings. The uppity ones from out of town who dressed differently, danced better, spoke with a northern twang, and won at card games that they played all day long were soon on their way back home after a semester or two and were the last ones to register the immediately following semester.

They had students register by GPA.

I have been to other colleges and universities and have seen registration processes, but never have I seen what the University did one year I was enrolled. They had students register by GPA. What an embarrassment to all students—white and black– who did not have decent grades!! No more secrets, no more lies, no more pretenses. The students, parents, and others probably howled so much about that experiment until I don’t think the University ever tried that again. Probably to all who didn’t realize as I did (having had access as a honest and trusted student worker to all grades from the Registrar’s office) that some of those students did not even garner a point! Hard to imagine. So nosy Wanda and I walked by and viewed their comeuppance–so to speak—We saw those black students who played cards all day long as well as whites who tried to sound ultra intelligent in classroom discussions in those low GPA lines. I thought that was an awful thing for them to experience.

White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

Another element of culture shock for me involved the street dances where very few blacks danced, giving the scarcity of match mates. At that time students of color didn’t dare dance with those out of their culture. Large segments of the street were blocked off around Memorial Coliseum where whites danced and blacks for the most part looked on. The experience was an intriguing first for me though I did not participate in that activity. White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

A Smoking Campus

UK was one smoking campus culture as almost everyone smoked. I don’t imagine that I should have been surprised, Kentucky being a tobacco state and all, but it was shocking to see some pied female professors break out a cigarette when walking across campus, light up and begin to puff. I didn’t begin that terrible habit until I was older and transferred to a college in Tennessee for a couple of semesters for the explicit reason of having fun that I could not have at UK with dances, sorority and fraternity events governed by overarching remnants of grandfather clauses, etc.

I Ain’t Jumpin’ No Rope

September 22, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Picture the landscape and its undoubtedly accompanying collective prejudicial attitude during the early years of the civil rights movement.  That was the case with the University of Kentucky in 1961—the time when I naively fearlessly embarked upon my college journey.

It had been only six years since the horrendous death of young Emmett Till who had the audacity to whistle at a southern white woman (August 28, 1955).   His awful demise at the hands of southern Klansmen and others rocked the nation.   Also, President John F. Kennedy, a beacon of hope to “Negroes” –as we were called then, the country over– would be assassinated in 1963 during my tenure at UK, just two years before my graduation in 1965.  Kennedy’s death affected me in many ways; however, one was most salient in that environment. Because many Caucasians on campus had viewed him and his brother Robert, the attorney general, as being in alliance with or overly sympathetic towards Negroes, some uttered negative statements under their breath about the tragedy while others  more blatantly negative,  made overtly disparaging statements. within my earshot.

“Negroes” were not valued, obviously, during those times; their lives did not matter—then as now–in some circles, and most were considered intellectually inferior.  If one did perform well mentally, s/he was hailed as an aberration.  That was the mindset.  Thus, anyone who demonstrated academic or intellectual prowess which debunked such notions was lionized by the “Negro” society in the same manner as were outstanding athletes such as Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson.

“Antidistablishmentarianism.” *  “The belligerent astigmatic anthropologist, annihilated, innumerable chrysanthemum.” We were so proud of 12 year-old Gloria Lockerman of Baltimore when she correctly spelled that word and that sentence on the “$64,000 Question,” an extremely popular quiz show that aired in prime time from 1955 to 1958.  The African American communities were inundated with pride.  As a young female student myself, I was tremendously impressed as well as influenced, and to this day, I have never forgotten Gloria, the word, the sentence or the spelling.

Angela Alexander Townsend headshot

Angela Alexander Townsend at the University of Kentucky

Again, those were the times, the overarching collective perspective, and a few of the events that defined the era. Each always call upon my related memory of an old lady in our neighborhood who would shuffle slowly out to her porch each day and plop down in her glider and blow disappointingly heartedly. When asked, “How are you today, Granny?” She invariably replied: “I ain’t jumpin’ no rope, honey.” Similarly, my attitude about going to the University of Kentucky to thrive in an environment with such a conglomerate of whites who had been to the best schools (many befriended at those schools with each other}, had participated in so many advanced courses, had been beneficiaries of many more monetary resources and experiences, and whose teachers valued and sometimes catered to those who were their mirror images, was simply overwhelming. I didn’t feel as though I could jump some of the ramifications of that rope either, despite the fact that I had been class vice-president, president of the student council, runner-up to Miss Homecoming and valedictorian. I had real doubts about making that transition from a small, all Negro high school in a small town to the largest, well known white university in the state. I had been taught to never let my reach overwhelmingly and unrealistically exceed my grasp, thus I learned to be realistic about both. My expectations at that point were to just survive.

Rhetorical question: Are most blacks of today still considered intellectually inferior despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary?


Footnote

Gloria Lockerman became one of the most famous people in the U.S. after spelling ‘antidisestablishmentarianism.’ “There was a slightly racist aspect to people’s fascination with her: This was before the civil rights movement gained momentum, and Gloria Lockerman was black. Her brilliance was in direct contrast to many Americans’ stereotypes of black people, and there is no question that in countless living rooms, amazement was expressed not only that a girl of her age could spell the word, but that a girl of her color could do it.” Note: some have her hailing from Chicago not Baltimore. Bob Green, “Fame is Certainly not Gloria’s Game.” (December 09, 1987) Chicago Tribune; also see, “Has Anyone Seen Gloria Lockerman? (November 24, 1987) Chicago Tribune.
Return to text.

Interviews of Black Women in Central Kentucky Now Indexed and Available Online

August 3, 2015 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

With many thanks to Danielle Gabbard and the Kentucky Oral History Commission, the public can now listen to the voices of Black women of Central Kentucky in the online system created by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. The interviews are digitized and various segments indexed so they are more readily accessible for listeners. There are many more already done, but here’s the latest batch for you now available:

Interviewee Interviewer Date of Interview Summary by staff at UK’s Nunn Center for Oral History
Helen Higgins Joan Brannon for the East End Lexington Oral History Project April 9, 2009
(video)
Helen Higgins discusses her family background and talks about moving to Lexington, Kentucky when she was 18 years old. She talks about the various jobs she has worked over the years. She describes Lexington during the 1940s and ’50s when she was a young woman, including the restaurants and bars she frequented. She talks about how Lexington has changed and discusses feeling a lack of respect from younger generations. She talks about her experience with race relations in Lexington. (Accession Number: 2009OH106 EEL 012)
Eula Tatman Betsy Adler for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project May 18, 1993
(audio)
At the time of this interview Eula Tatman was the Director at the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center in Lexington, Kentucky. In this interview she explains the history of the Phyllis Wheatley Center from its beginnings on Upper Street to its current location in the East End neighborhood. She talks about the activities the center used to provide, including wig making and the Girl Reserves. She talks about the activities the center currently provides. She describes the East End neighborhood and talks about how the people in the neighborhood surrounding the center feel about its location. (Accession Number: 1993OH397 KH 559)
Sandra Richardson Boyd Shearer, Jr. for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project March 5, 1997
(audio)
Sandra Richardson is the great niece of Lucy Rowe Estill, one of the five members of the Board of Park Commissioners for the Black park system in Lexington, Kentucky. Richardson describes Estill’s early life in Hanging Fork, Kentucky before moving to Lexington. She talks about their family, and shares Estill’s philosophy on life. Richardson reads lists of programs offered by the Parks Department during Estill’s tenure, and reads a description of a play Estill produced on slavery in America. (Accession Number: 1997OH030 KH 609)
Lillie H. Yates Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project July 15, 1986
(audio)
Ms. Yates recalls her family history including relatives who experienced slavery, their white overseers, the practice of “hiring out,” Jonestown, “Black troublemakers”, and her educational background. She reminisces about farm life in the early twentieth century including methods of home heating, harvesting corn, soap making, food preparation and preservation, making burgoo and “homebrew”, ice-making, making clothes, and holiday traditions. She also talks about wages, treatment of African American farm workers by white farm families, tobacco production, commercial farming, farm labor, hired help, obtaining credit at the country store, and difficulties faced by African American farmers of the time period. Ms. Yates recounts the role of religion in the country churches in the African American community, church parties and dances, ostracism by the church, attitudes toward alcohol use, country preachers, religious revivals, and country baptisms. (Accession Number: 1986OH202 KH 332)
Frances A. Smallwood  Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 11, 1986 (audio)

The granddaughter of former slaves in Mississippi, Mrs. Smallwood was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama where her father worked at the Tuskegee Institute. She recalls growing up surrounded by role models including Mary Bethune Cookman and Margaret Mary Washington, and speeches and concerts her family attended at Tuskegee. She remembers listening to the first public radio broadcasts, the establishment of a veteran’s hospital for African Americans, and attending high school and college in Tuskegee. After receiving her nursing degree from Meharry, she was employed in North Carolina and New York before marrying a classmate and settling in Lexington. Mrs. Smallwood remembers being hired and working as a school nurse in the Fayette County school system. She recalls that her education, which she considers much better than her colleagues, helped tremendously with employment opportunities and raises. Only the second African American nurse in the public health service, Mrs. Smallwood reminisces about her nursing career at Douglass and Dunbar High Schools, as well as Russell Cave, Harrison, Arlington, and Garden Springs elementary schools. She discusses how the civil rights movement changed the schools and businesses, and remarks upon the participation in the movement by her white minister. She comments upon her participation in church and community activities, and the lack of African American Episcopalians in Lexington. She reminisces about social life in Lexington during the 1940s and 1950s, living in the same neighborhood for 37 years, the effects of divorce upon African American families, and the lack of interest by parents in their children.

(Accession Number: 1986OH252 KH 379)

Bettye Simpson Ann Grundy for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
August 11, 1986
(audio)
 Ms. Simpson talks about her family history and graduation from Dunbar High School and Kentucky State University. She reminisces about “Irishtown,” her career as a social worker, and the discrimination she encountered at the Chestnut Street YWCA. She discusses the role of African American clergy in the civil rights movement in Lexington, and the churches’ influence upon the community. She recalls an attempt to establish an independent African American school in Lexington. (Accession Number: 1986OH223 KH 351)
Virginia Anderson Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project August 22, 1986
(audio)
Virginia Hawkins Anderson was born in Fayette County, Kentucky in 1907. She reflects upon her educational background at Bracktown Elementary and Louisville Central High School, as well as the background of her parents and grandparents. Her father raised hogs, performed handyman jobs, and served as a deacon in the church. Mrs. Anderson looks back on her childhood, the relationship between neighbors in Bracktown, and the changes which have taken place within the community. She recounts the stories of white ancestors within the Hawkins family and other family history. The Bracktown Violet Social Club is recalled, as is the one room building which served as a school house. Mrs. Anderson discusses both her work as a domestic and the white employees who have worked for her, recounts her relationships with whites, and talks about selling land in Bracktown. While not recalling segregation on the Lexington buses, she does remember the African American boycott of Purcell’s store, the businesses owned by African Americans on Deweese Street, and her non-participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1986OH240 KH 367)
Verna B. Clark Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 23, 1986
(audio)

Mrs. Clark’s parents and grandparents were all born in Kentucky. Her grandfather was a Native American raised by African American slaves, and she recalls family stories of slavery including dress, treatment and misuse, religious observations, classification system based upon shade of skin color, and the white slave owner who was her great, great grandfather. Her parents were farmers who owned their own land and Mrs. Clark reminisces about her close, tight knit neighborhood and her religious upbringing. Mrs. Clark graduated from Kentucky State and taught in Montgomery County for a year before her marriage. She recalls the teaching conditions at Grace Lee and Spruce Schools, discusses the achievements and education of her children, and recalls the death of her husband, a carpenter and brick layer. Mrs. Clark remembers the community in which she and her husband raised their children including the neighbors, white and Black, who helped each other, as well as the interaction within the community and attendance at each others’ churches. She wonders if integration has helped or hindered the African American community, and discusses the changes in social conditions and their impact upon the community. (Accession Number: 1986OH251 KH 378)

Sophia D. Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 15th, 1987
(audio)

Mrs. Smith talks about her family’s relationship with the discovery and early tours of Mammoth Cave National Park; her grandparents’ endurance of slavery; additional family history; and recreational activities. She explains how her father taught himself to read, attended Kentucky State during the summer and later taught school in Barren and Hart counties; reviews her mother’s education at Norton (??) University in Kentucky; recalls the family owning and operating a restaurant in Cave City in 1918-1919 until it burned in a fire and also running a slaughterhouse for cattle and hogs. She discusses her educational background and experiences with both integrated and segregated schools; recalls attending Kentucky State College; the evolution of the African American church and religious community; her participation in politics; and, explains how voting practices have changed. She recounts the difficulties encountered in establishing her own business after graduation from beauty school and talks about returning to teaching after her husband obtained a position in Louisville. Mrs. Smith retired in 1977 and returned to Russellville shortly thereafter. (Accession Number: 1987OH090 KH 421)

Sidney Bell Johnson Nancy O’Malley for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
March 5, 1998
(audio)

Sidney Johnson moved to Charlotte Court in Lexington, Kentucky in 1941. She talks about how she applied for the apartment, and describes her new home and her children’s reactions when moving in. She talks about the neighborhood dynamics, including rivalries between various streets in the neighborhood. She talks about how the neighborhood has changed over the years. Johnson discusses her family, including her children and their accomplishments. She talks about her family members that moved to Detroit, Michigan, and talks about family reunions. She talks about working for the Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity. She describes floods and snowstorms in Lexington. She talks about University of Kentucky basketball. (Accession Number: 1998OH037 KH 630)

Susie E. White Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 16, 1987
(audio)
The daughter of self-sufficient sharecroppers, Mrs. White recalls staying with her grandmother to be closer to the schoolhouse; leaving school in 1922 after her mother’s death to help raise her younger siblings; her father’s employment at Hillenmeyer’s Nursery; and skills learned for survival. She talks about her dreams of becoming a beautician; her first beauty course in Chicago; and returning home during the Great Depression. Mrs. White discusses her marriage; her first beautician’s job; attending beauty school in Lexington; and raising her nieces, daughter and stepdaughter. She remembers her career; training apprentices; and managing her money and her business. She reminisces about Consolidated Baptist Church; talks about differences in ministerial education, roles and leadership; and recalls her involvement in church-related activities and fundraisers. Mrs. Smith examines the evolution of the African American community over her lifetime: changing behavior of the younger generations, less emphasis on moral values and teachings, loss of faith, the increasing influence of television, and higher crime rates. She talks about the importance of education to the African American community and the lack of quality of education since integration; the impact and effects of the civil rights movement, citing both the advantages and disadvantages; and discusses how Lexington has changed while noting what has stayed the same. (Accession Number: 1987OH096 KH 422)
Helen Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project September 12, 1988
(audio)
Helen Smith discusses her family background, including her Native American heritage, and her great grandmother who was a slave. She talks about her parents’ educations and occupations. She talks about her grandmother’s work as a midwife in Danville, Kentucky. Smith talks about her experiences living in a mixed community, and discusses race relations in Danville and Maysville, Kentucky. She talks about changes in the church, schools, and the community since her childhood. She talks about her own education and career, specifically her work raising children as a baby nurse. She discusses whether the Black community is better off since the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1988OH163 KH 456)
Evelyn Livisay Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
June 19, 1978
(audio)
Evelyn Livisay was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during integration. In this interview she discusses the teaching conditions in all-Black schools prior to integration, and says that they had fewer supplies and lower salaries than their white counterparts. She talks about her experiences as one of the few Black teachers chosen to integrate the white schools, and says she was sent to Linlee Elementary School first as a librarian in order to acclimate the faculty and students to the change. She talks about reactions to her being in the school, and talks about how the Board of Education felt about teachers’ participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH078 KH 044)
Madeline C. Jones  Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 21, 1978
(audio)
 Madeline Jones was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during the integration of public schools. She discusses her experience teaching in an all-Black school, Booker T. Washington School, prior to integration and says that the schools were separate but not equal. She talks about the lack of supplies and overcrowding in the Black schools, but says that they had parental support and offered many activities for the students. She talks about the changes that occurred during integration, and discusses the white teachers’ reactions to the Black students. She talks about why many teachers did not participate in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH081 KH 047)

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See Danielle Gabbard’s previous posts

Oral history interviews with Black women in Kentucky–Part 2

April 16, 2015 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

While listening to oral histories featuring Black women in Kentucky I’ve gotten to hear some amazing stories directly from the women who lived them: women who marched in demonstrations in Lexington during the 1960s, women who taught at integrated schools, women who faced discrimination daily no matter what job they held. It is so important that these stories not only be saved, but also passed on. So I’d like to share a few with you.

Picture of Julia Etta Lewis (1932-1998), from 2001 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Julia Etta Lewis (1932-1998), leader in Lexington chapter Congress of Racial Equality

Marilyn Gaye‘s interview in 1978 by the great historian George Wright (now President at Prairie View A&M University) is one of my favorites out of the entire collection. Gaye grew up in Lexington and was a teenager during the civil rights movement. In her interview she talks about what life was like as a child living in Lexington under segregation, describing her experiences of having to sit in the balcony of the Ben Ali Theater to see shows. She talks about how she became involved in civil rights demonstrations in Lexington and describes the experience of a march from the very beginning, waiting in a basement for a phone call from Julia Lewis, the head of Lexington’s chapter of CORE, to tell them it was time to go.

She describes what it was like to march through downtown Lexington and talks about the songs they sang as they marched. She discusses the reactions of white Lexingtonians to the march, and what the demonstration accomplished. I think this is one of my favorite interviews because the perspective it offers is so uncommon. Of all of the interviews in this collection there are actually very few with women who actively participated in the civil rights movement in Kentucky, and to have done so as a teenage girl makes Marilyn Gaye even more unique.

RosettaBeatty

Rosetta Beatty during her interview with Joan Brannon on February 2, 2009

I found the Rosetta Beatty interview interesting mainly because of her detailed descriptions of the East End area of Lexington during the 1960s. The East End encompasses an area north and east of downtown Lexington, between Main Street and Loudon Avenue. Beatty describes many of the streets in the neighborhood and lists the businesses, churches, and restaurants along each street, including Shiloh Baptist Church, Club Hurricane, and the Lyric Theater. Listening to her describe the neighborhood gives you such a clear picture of the area that you feel like you’re walking along it with her. She talks about which businesses were owned by African Americans, and also describes the relationships between neighbors on Elm Tree Lane, stating that everyone looked out for each other’s children.

Lillian Buntin

Lillian Buntin during her interview with Joan Brannon on April 9, 2009

Like Rosetta Beatty, Lillian Buntin grew up in the East End area of Lexington. Her interview also provides a great description of the neighborhood, focusing mainly on Ohio Street where Buntin lived as a child, as well as local churches, restaurants, drugstores, and the Lyric Theater. Along with her descriptions of the area, Buntin’s interview is also interesting because she talks about attending a segregated school as a child before becoming a teacher at an integrated school. Her interview provides a personal account of not only what it was like to be a student under segregation, but also what it was like to be a teacher throughout the changes of integration in Lexington, including discussion of her relationships with students, parents, principals, and her fellow teachers.

Patricia R. Laine talks with Emily Parker about her family history, including her ancestors who were once slaves in Kentucky. Her interview (August 6, 1986) also provides an interesting look at the role of the church in the Black community and how it has changed since her childhood in the 1940s. One of the most compelling parts of Laine’s interview were her stories of the discrimination she faced both in her job as a domestic worker for a white family near Midway, but also throughout her employment at the National Institute of Mental Health Clinical Research Center (then known as “The Narcotics Farm” or “Narco,” now called The Federal Medical Center, Lexington). Narco housed both prisoners and self-committed patients attempting to overcome drug addictions. Her discussion of the treatment of Black employees is eye-opening, and Laine says that because there was also gender discrimination, Black women received the fewest promotions. Her description of the treatment of the patients is also fascinating, especially when she discusses the facility becoming a federal prison. Laine also discusses the impact of the civil rights movement in Lexington, stating that racism has not been reduced, it has only become more covert, and that many Black businesses closed because of desegregation.

Mrs. Charles Chenault Jones was the first African American teacher at Arlington Elementary School in Lexington after integration. During her interview she describes what it was like being the only Black person at PTA meetings, and discusses her interactions with school staff, students, and parents. She talks about witnessing discrimination against the Black students. Jones also discusses the effects of integration on Lexington businesses, neighborhoods, and, most interestingly, attitudes in the Black community. She gives her opinion on the decline of ministers’ and churches’ involvement in the community since her childhood days in Madison County of “basket meetings.”

These are not the only interesting interviews in this collection, just a few I personally enjoyed or considered particularly important.  There are many more in the collection worth checking out that provide different perspectives and experiences.

Oral history interviews with Black women in Kentucky

March 10, 2015 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

While indexing interviews for the project on oral histories featuring Black women in Kentucky it’s hard not to become fascinated with a particular person or story. While every interview is, of course, valuable in its own right, some interviews are more detailed than others, and some interviewees have interesting perspectives or personal stories to add. These are the interviews I found particularly interesting while indexing the first batch of oral histories:

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins during her interview with Joan Brannon in 2009

Dorothy Perkins grew up in Lexington during the 1930s and ’40s. One of my favorite things about this interview is that she describes the neighborhoods of Lexington at this time in great detail, including businesses, schools, and churches once located in the East End of Lexington. She not only paints a vivid picture of Deweese Street in its heyday, but also describes the fashion and clothing styles that were popular at the time. Perkins gives great detail in her description of Lexington theaters and what it felt like as a child only being allowed to watch shows from the balcony. Perkins’ life was full of interesting stories, including the one about being expelled from school for fighting another girl by attacking her with her fingernails.

Valinda Livingston

Valinda Livingston in an interview with Brannon 2009

Valinda Livingston grew up in the East End of Lexington and discusses attending both Constitution Elementary School and Shiloh Baptist Church in the neighborhood. Livingston describes Lexington during her childhood in great detail, including parks, restaurants, drugstores, and funeral homes. She also talks about being warned to stay away from Deweese Street, which makes for an interesting comparison with Dorothy Perkins’ description of the area. Livingston attended college at Kentucky State before becoming one of the first African American students at the University of Kentucky when integration began. She became a teacher and later, principal at Russell Elementary School. Livingston provides a great deal of information on the founding of Russell School, her time as principal, and the closing of the school.

Mattie Jackson was a teacher at George Washington Carver School from 1914-1960. In her interview with Edward Owens, Jackson gives a first-hand account of the experiences of an African American teacher working in schools prior to integration. She discusses the conditions in all-Black schools, from the lack of equipment to the lower salaries for Black teachers. She talks about the students’ reactions to White teachers at the school, including a story about a music teacher who made racist comments to the students.

Wilhelmina Hunter was the wife of Dr. Bush Hunter, an African American doctor in Lexington. Mrs. Hunter grew up in Boston, Massachusetts where she studied business in college before moving to Washington, D.C. to work for the IRS. Hunter talks about the discrimination she and her family faced when they moved to Lexington, and discusses her involvement in organizations dedicated to improving conditions for Blacks in Lexington. Throughout the interview Hunter paints a picture of race relations in Lexington from the perspective of someone who not only lived it, but of someone who had also experienced different ways of life in Boston and Washington, D.C. An interesting side note from the interview: Mrs. Hunter mentions her relationships with famous entertainers Duke Ellington and Marion Anderson, both of whom gave performances in her home in Lexington.

Elizabeth Harris describes her childhood community and discusses the close-knit relationships between neighbors, who she says often disciplined each others’ children. I feel like this interview is unique among most of the others in this collection because Harris expresses an opinion that may often be felt but is not often mentioned in discussions on race relations: opposition to integration. She also discusses what happened to Black businesses in Lexington after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One of the most interesting parts of the interview for me was not only hearing about Harris’ experiences with segregation in movie theaters, hotels, and other Lexington businesses, but also her story about refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

As I said, these are not the only interesting interviews in this collection (nor even the only interesting parts of these particular interviews). Each woman interviewed offers a unique perspective on childhood, schools (both all-Black and integrated), race relations in Lexington, discrimination, and their own role in the civil rights movement, from the perspective of a Black woman in Kentucky.

New Project in the Works – Indexing Oral History Interviews of Black Women in Lexington

July 25, 2014 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Oral history, Political history, Primary source, Religious history, Social history

SPOKEdb logoGood news alert! The Kentucky Oral History Commission of the Kentucky Historical Society has awarded us funding for a project to index the oral history interviews from the “Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project.” The interviews will be placed in the Oral History Metadata Synchonizer (OHMS) of the Oral History Collection Management System here at the University of Kentucky. After the interviews are indexed in OHMS, geo-tagging linked to the digitized segments of the oral histories will provide an important digital humanities geo-spatial component to these resources. They will be viewable via the ExploreUK Kentucky Digital Library.

About the interviews

The women who contributed their voices to the collection of “Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project” come from all walks of life. Their ages and backgrounds are highly diverse, providing a sort of prototype for a good micro-history of Kentucky in the twentieth century. The interviewers for this whole collection are highly regarded educators and oral historians whose work in the 1970s and ‘80s even up to the present day. The oral historians, Ann Grundy, Edward Owens, Emily Parker, Gerald Smith, and George C. Wright are respected local community activists, scholars and authors. The resulting interviews are nuanced in ways that evoke strong passion for the role of place and community in history, and the questions based in a strong historiographical methodology worth raising up for others to learn from them.

Similar to other twentieth century local history collections, this series has a wide scope of perspectives and serves as a good sampling of the many different types of backgrounds and occupations of the interviewees. However, Lexington’s history has traditionally been written from the perspective of its men – or at least a male-dominated political history. This project will use selected interviews from this collection to provide access to a unique and valuable overview of twentieth century Lexington from a female perspective. Most all of the women in this collection were wage earners and a solid majority of the interview time is voiced by women professionals: educators, clerks, administrators and managers, librarians, nurses and dentists, social workers and politicians. Several women represent the entrepreneurs and technical workers that fuel a thriving local economy: beauticians, cooks, housekeepers, and even a “Dorm mother” at a residence hall at UK. A few well-to-do women are identified as homemakers and a couple of women explain their views on Lexington from their work as a pastor’s wife.

This collection of interviews is an important component of statewide documentation of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Interviewees in this collection are typically older than those women whose interviews are archived at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) and made accessible by the Online Media Database and the Kentucky Educational Television website. By providing greater access to these interviews from Lexingtonians, a more balanced narrative (not just highly publicized events in Louisville) could expand the scope of the evidence presented in published scholarly monographs such as the highly useful book Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, edited by Catherine Fosl and Tracy K’Meyer (University Press of Kentucky, 2009).

Out of 189 oral history interviews (a total of 194.25 interview hours) in the UK Oral History collection, “Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project,” only 56 were of women. Those interviews, while less than a third of the total collection however, made up nearly half of the total interview time (almost 64 hours or 3,832 interview minutes). The interviews average 68 minutes (from one as short as 10 minutes to one as long as 180 minutes). Only 9 of the interviews’ audio are in poor condition.

Women Interviewees, Occupation

Viola Greene, Teacher
Marilyn Gaye, Civil rights activist
Virginia McDonald, Librarian
Alvinia Newell, Dentist
Ann Miller, Teacher
Kay and Reverend Lamont Jones, Pastor’s wife
Ella Bosley, unknown
Abby Marlatt, Professor
Lulla Riffe, unknown
Faustina Cruise, unknown
Roberta Laine, Teacher
Estelle Tatman, Community activist
Mattie Jackson, Teacher
Mary D. Muir, Laundress
Mary Jones, Pastor’s wife
Mary Porter, unknown
Grace Cooper, Community Center Director
Laura Wendell Moore and Clara Wendell Stitt, Homemakers
Lillie Yates, unknown
Anna McCann, unknown
Helen Noble, Teacher
Sadie Reid Brown, Homemaker
Dorothy Pumphrey, Teacher
Bettye Simpson, Social worker
Loretta Nickens, Teacher
Wilhelmina Hunter, unknown
Mattie Johnson Gray, unknown
Elizabeth R. Harris, unknown
Patricia R. Spencer Laine, Beautician
Joanna Offutt Childress, Teacher
Laura Wendell Moore, unknown
Mrs. Charles Chenault Jones, Teacher
Grace Potter Carter, Cook
Virginia Hawkins Anderson, Housekeeper
Jennie Bibbs Didlick, Principal
Grace Grevious Coleman, Teacher
Florence Young, unknown
Verna Bales Williams Clark, Teacher
Frances A. Smallwood, Nurse
Dorothy McCoy Cooper, Principal
Ann Brewer Black, Teacher
Edythe Larcena Jones Hayes, Teacher
Delores Vinegar Oderinde, unknown
Cordie Wilkerson Briggs, Hotel Laundry Manager
Charlie Mae Brooks, Switchboard operator
Edna Unson Carr, Dorm mother at UK
Ruby Ragsdale Morris Benberry, Teacher
Sophia Dotson Smith, Teacher
Susie E. White, Beautician
Georgia Montgomery Powers, Politician
Helen Route Smith, Housekeeper
Elizabeth Parker Thomas, Teacher
Daisy Carolyn Bishop, Notary Public
Virginia Case Shelby, Housekeeper
Katherine Hardin Rollins, Teacher
Mary Edna Page Berry, Dental assistant
Additions to the collection since 1990:
Evelyn Livisay
Madeline C. Jones
Harriet B. Haskins
Elizabeth Beatty
Ann Hunter
Elenora L. Smith
Annie B. Coleman
Lillian B. Gentry
Alice J. Alexander
Martha L. Edwards
Eula Tatman
Sandra Richardson
Lilia Garrison
Mrs. Sidney Bell Johnson

What’s Happening Next?

I’m partnering with the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History to get the digitization and indexing done, and I am glad to bring Danielle Gabbard on board as the indexer. Ms. Gabbard will be blogging here about her work as she goes, so you can follow along too as the work progresses.

Reflections on an Internship: Women in Kentucky Politics

February 16, 2014 in 1960s-1970s, Political history

Elisabeth Jensen for CongressLast semester, I had the opportunity to intern with Elisabeth Jensen, a woman running to be the next Congresswoman of the 6th congressional district, which includes Lexington, Frankfort, and Richmond. I heard of this opening through the internship coordinator from my summer internship with Congressman John Yarmuth. She had told me about the importance of empowering women in politics and encouraged me to get involved with Elisabeth’s campaign.

I knew that this internship would be different from when I worked with Congressman Yarmuth in Louisville, mainly because Elisabeth was new to politics and had decided to enter the race only in May of last year—a few months before I started my internship. She did not have much experience in politics at all; in fact, she had previously worked with Disney and in merchandising.  Nonetheless, I could tell that Elisabeth was passionate about running and it seemed that she believed in helping the district. Currently, she is the director and president of Race for Education, a non-profit in Lexington that provides scholarships and educational services for those in financial need. Elisabeth was also a graduate of Emerge Kentucky, a program in Louisville that provides classes and workshops for women interested in running for a political position.

Elisabeth Jensen and son Will

Elisabeth Jensen, at home with her nine-year old son, Will

Since women are underrepresented in politics, I wanted to know if Elisabeth had dealt with any negativity during the campaign. Interestingly, she explained that the Lexington Democrat community has been very supportive of her and she has not faced any animosity because she is a woman or because of her lack of political experience. She also said she was aware of the feeling towards women in politics and has actually faced more sexism while working in the business world.

Women in Kentucky politics have been increasing in recent years. Programs like Emerge have been instrumental in training and empowering women to take on government jobs. During the civil rights area, African-American women such as Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd were part of the few who dared to go down a predominately white, male-dominated career path in which very few women, or African-American women at that, seemed bold enough to do. Nonetheless, the charisma these women had certainly helped to influenced the civil rights in Kentucky. Currently, there aren’t very many African-American women in politics, but women such as Governor Martha Layne Collins and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are representing a new generation that can continue to serve as torchbearers and role models for younger women hoping to one day make an impact in politics.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes (photo from Wikipedia)

It is interesting that Elisabeth was running with two other Democratic candidates—both of whom dropped out of the race in November of last year—who were men, making her the only woman running on the Democratic ticket for Andy Barr’s position. I think it takes much audacity and strength for her to continue in the race and it is clear that Representative Andy Barr’s experience and expensive campaign certainly won’t scare her away.

In terms of the internship itself, I learned a lot about the campaigning side of politics. I think it is probably the toughest part, especially when it is your first election, which makes fundraising a bit more challenging when trying to make a name for yourself. It is helpful that other women before Elisabeth have made the effort less taxing, perhaps providing motivation and encouragement knowing that even African-American women were capable of achieving feats that no one ever thought could be accomplished.

AAUW Community Action Grant proposal features KYWCRH.org Open Knowledge Initiative

January 23, 2014 in 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Research methods

AAUW logoAfter several weeks of planning and creating new partnerships here in central Kentucky, I submitted an AAUW Community Action Grant for 2014 that features our KYWCRH.org initiative. The title of the proposal nearly tells the whole story (it’s long enough, anyway):

Empowering Girls in Central KY with Digital Humanities and Writing Wikipedia Code: Women’s History and the 1964 March on Frankfort for Civil Rights

Here’s the list of partners who wrote letters in support of the proposal:

When the project moves forward, it is exciting to know that it is likely that there will be many more organizations and people involved.

The aim of this proposal is to engage women and girls in researching, collecting and recording women’s civil rights history in Kentucky. In support of the Fayette County Race, Community & Child Welfare initiative, the proposal builds on the commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort by spotlighting the work of Kentucky women in that event – before and after. The target audience is 10 families whose teenaged girls are/were part of the Fayette Co. child welfare system. The partner organizations will recruit those who are African-American/Black or Hispanic/Latino or mixed race to work together on oral history and multi-media projects. The girls, together with one or more family member, will partner with University of Kentucky undergraduate female students to learn about their community’s leaders and strategies undertaken by politically active citizens and organizations to improve the quality of life for all.  In brief, the proposed program will rely on collaboration among the above partners in these four major components:

  1. Learning about Kentucky women’s history in the context of the 1964 March on Frankfort (for desegregation of public accommodations and the implementation of fair housing laws) through a series featuring Kentucky civil rights activists and oral history projects.
  2. Orientation and training in appropriate use of research resources and digital media for creative digital storytelling and for the development of general knowledge articles on women in Wikipedia. Learning how to find and use community resources and government documents crucial for our citizens to use in life-long learning and for self-empowerment.
  3. Training in and applying skills in basic coding languages used commonly in creating webpages and social media – HyperText Markup Language (HTML) – for the KYWCRH.org site and the markup coding used in creating effective Wikipedia pages. A Kentucky WikiMeetup will allow for the teams to work with experienced Wikipedia editors.
  4. Developing skills in civic leadership and college/career readiness modeled by local community members in partnership with higher education students and faculty.

CKCPJ and the Lexington-Fayette NAACP branch will collaborate to offer a series of community-based lectures, films and neighborhood walks on KY civil rights history and women’s roles. The Project Director will work with the UK Nunn Center to prepare and train project members in how to conduct oral history interviews (to be digitally archived in the OHMS database) and with MATRIX staff at MSU to teach UK undergraduates and their partner teams to create multimedia projects showcased in a redesigned KYWCRH.org Open Knowledge Initiative. The celebratory showcase will not only celebrate the project teams’ work but also increase the visibility of AAUW-KY’s contributions toward achieving educational opportunities and equitable resources for women and girls.

The proposed timeline is for the program to begin in Summer 2014 and conclude by the end of the school year in Spring 2015:

Summer 2014: 10 girls aged 13-17 selected from a pool of applicants recruited from the Fayette Co. RCCW target audience. Lexington NAACP and CKCPJ plan a community-based series (lectures, films, neighborhood-walks) by experts in civil rights activism, history and racism in the U.S.  The series is recorded and posted on KYWCRH.org – which will be updated and redesigned courtesy of MATRIX at Michigan State. The families involved in the project will be encouraged to ask for reimbursements to reoup costs for childcare and food costs to attend project-related activities as well as transportation to conduct oral history interviews, to work with the UK undergraduate students while research or working on multimedia projects at the University, or other required meetings with the project director.

Fall 2014: UK offers EXP396 (Experiential Education) and faculty oversee learning contracts for each of the 10 undergraduate females recruited. UK students will be trained in the use of the oral history interviewing equipment available from the UK Libraries Oral History Department. Also in the UK Libraries for students are the PresentationU and Media Depot @ the Hub which support the students and community partners as they build their Wikipedia articles and multimedia projects showcased on KYWCRH.org Open Knowledge Initiative. The educational series and training meetings with the project teams will take place at The Plantory (in Lexington’s East End neighborhood) or Imani Family Center (north of Lexington) during the Fall and Spring. The project partners will also journey to the Kentucky State Capital to visit the Kentucky Commission on Women offices and to view the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit. The families and their undergraduate mentors will take the free School of Open course (either self-paced or live webinar sessions) on Wikipedia. Basic training in coding and publishing in Wikipedia will accompany skillbuilding exercises in how to find and analyze general resources in the community and government documents crucial for citizens to use for self-empowerment.

Spring 2015: The oral history interview digital files are processed by the Nunn Oral History Center staff and indexed for use by the project teams and community in the OMHS data repository. A Wiki-Meetup allows the teams to work on their entries in a face-to-face setting with experienced Wikipedia editors. The project teams are invited by the UK Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education to present their digital media projects in April at the UK Undergraduate Research Showcase. The AAUW Bluegrass Central Branch hosts a celebratory showcase event and highlights specific projects via social media.

 

 

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