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The Fight for Equality in Housing

November 18, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

Ruth Booker Bryant of Louisville KY, 2003

Ruth Booker Bryant, KY Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame 2003

The effects of segregation in Louisville, Kentucky led the city to be split into two major sections. On the Black side of the city, the living conditions were rough, harsh and dirty for most African Americans. The claim ‘separate but equal’ was clearly not equal here. Some neighborhoods could be compared to third world country living conditions. While working as a social worker, Ruth Booker Bryant saw with her own eyes the way that some people were living, due to the poverty and the lack of upkeep by the cities garbage companies and housing companies.

Mrs. Bryant quit her job after seeing first hand people sleeping in the dirt, eating out of cans, having no furniture, etc. Mrs. Bryant lived in “Little Africa” (a segregated section of the Parkland neighborhood) for some time when first arriving to Louisville in the late 1940’s. This part of town had outside toilets and pigs and chickens running around people’s yards. This style of living needed to be upgraded, and seeing the things she did while being a social worker and then after living in Little Africa, she started to get involved with political activism on a small scale.

Ruth Booker Bryant joined the Women’s Committee of the Louisville Urban Renewal League, which had both white and black members. It was designed for progressive thinkers from bothe races to meet and “break the ice.” This was the first step in stopping segregation and for raising the bar for women’s rights in Louisville. Soon there after in the early 1960’s she became the chairman for the Housing Committee and joined the Louisville League of Women Voters. Mrs. Bryant’s new goal was to drastically improve the housing aspect of poor African Americans living in Louisville. She worked with leaders from government funded agencies such as Head Start as well as non-government groups active in Louisville during the early 1960’s during the War on Poverty. Her goal was to make the entire city of Louisville a better place to live.

Through her constant vigilance, Mrs. Bryant was able to impact her community  and bring about positive change to the people of Louisville. She crossed over racial and gender lines by being a black female. Mrs. Ruth Booker Bryant always carried herself in a positive light and never had time for hate. Women like her have helped change Louisville and Kentucky as a whole.

Most of my information came from:

Mrs. Ruth B. Bryant. Interview by Kenneth L. Chumbley. Digital recording and transcript. July 24, 1977. Tapes No. 592 and 593, Oral History Series, University of Louisville Archives, Louisville, KY.

Ruth Booker Bryant, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, KY.

See also the Lois Morris papers at the University of Louisville Special Collections:;cc=klgead;view=text;rgn=main;didno=klgar57k

The Power of Working Together

November 4, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Political history, Social history

The history regarding the civil rights era and the efforts that were made locally here in Lexington, Kentucky have not been given proper time or coverage, as far as recording the history. That is partially our jobs in this class with our service learning projects. That why I wanted to bring up the power of working together. People from all over the city were using the help of groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) and the National Association for the Advancenment of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), to organize protests and marches all across Fayette County.

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

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

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious, leader of Lexington NAACP

Julius Berry, a Lexington native, spent much of his life advocating equality for black people in Kentucky and was involved with C.O.R.E. in tackeling the issue of desegregation in the public schools of Fayette County. At the same time as Julius Berry’s efforts on desegregation, Audrey Grevious and Julia Lewis combined their powers in the N.A.A.C.P. and C.O.R.E. together to arrange sit-ins and non-violent demostrations through out Lexington. The demonstrations and sit-in’s were usually aimed at the segregation of the entertainment businesses, restaurants, education, and public transportation.

These two women did remarkable work on the community level and they should be remembered for the strength they showed by working together and tying multiple resources together. If the community supports a movement, then change will come with leaders like Grevious and Lewis at the forefront of the local movement. As for Berry, his basketball carear probably influenced him to get involved with C.O.R.E. and the desegregation of the pubilc schools in Fayette County and across the commonwealth. The bottom line is that working together and combining resources under one movement will make life a lot easier for the people involved.

by Mary

Taking another look at influential women in Kentucky: Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks)

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

bell hooksGloria Jean Watkins better known as bell hooks (her pen name) is a very influential woman that has come from Kentucky.  She has written multiple books that bring light the injustice that women go through in our patriarchal society.  Some of her books are even used at the University of Kentucky in gender study classes.  Watkins is a social activist that ties in race and gender to get her message out about how women are treated as lesser individuals than men.  

Watkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952 to a working class African American family.  Watkins grew up in segregated schools but in high school was exposed to the integration of black and white schools in her region.  She has written about her accounts and the difficulty of going from an all black school to an integrated school where most of the children and teachers were white.  This is where she first saw the role that gender and race played into our society.

Her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism explores the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women.  She has published 30 books that explore the ideas of feminism, race, class and gender.  She discusses how we learn our gender roles from an early age so we are accustomed to women being treated unfairly and not equal to men.  Watkins has taught at Yale, but she now works for Berea College in Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in residence, she has expressed that she wanted to return to her home of Kentucky.

She speaks of how loving communities (see for example her articles in Shambhala Sun) can help to overcome the inequalities that race and gender have put into our society.  I think that she should be considered an influential woman of Kentucky because she puts limelight on the unfair treatment of women in society and incorporates race with these injustices.  Although it does not really have to do with the history of Kentucky she has everything to do with the treatment of women in history and how it affects women today in our patriarchal society.

Desegregation: Who really benefited?

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Oral history, Social history

Who really benefited from desegregation? This may seem like a foolish question in light of what many suffered during the Civil Rights era to where we are today. This question arose after hearing from most people of color, especially women about their post segregation experiences.

Alice Monyette Wilson, interviewed for KET Living the Story

Alice Monyette Wilson (from Mayfield, KY) tells her story on the KET website - click on her picture

Many black students, like Alice Wilson, who went to integrated schools stated that their white teachers were not very interested in their educational well being. If students were sent to schools where they were not welcomed or cared about was this good for them.

Sit-ins were a popular form of civil disobedience to force the integration of public places. When she wanted to join in protesting a local restaurant, Joyce Hamilton, now Dr. Joyce Hamilton Berry, was told by her father, “why would you want to go into a place that did not want you?” It seemed like good advice to her, so she did not join the protest.  Marching to spend your money where you were not welcomed was ludicrous as far as her father was concerned. This may have led to closure of many “black” businesses after desegregation because many took their business to those places. 

Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the Majors, many believe, led to the downfall of the Negro League. Many blacks lost a lot of the money they invested in the league when that happened.

In Lexington Kentucky, most black owned businesses in the Martin Luther King, Jr. neighborhood closed after integration. Women and children suffered the most as result of the economic hardship that hit that community. It still has not recovered after all these years.

The place to showcase their artistic expression in the community was also closed after desegregation. The Lyric the only African American theater in Lexington would be closed for a generation.

 Was desegregation a good thing? Many would answer yes. The question remains, who really benefited?

by becca

Fighting for Equal Teacher Rights

October 14, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Intellectual history

Since I’m studying to be a high school teacher, I found this website really cool. It’s all about different African American teachers teaching in Kentucky during the Civil Rights Movement.

The very first story caught my eye. It’s about Vallateen Virginia Dudley Abbington. First of all, her name is awesome. Second of all, she went against the norm and fought for equal pay rights for African American teachers. They were getting 15% less pay than white teachers. That’s a ridiculous gap between the two paychecks. The lawsuit went to the Federal Court District. The school board told Abbington that if she dropped her case they would equal the pay for all. She did and ever since then, it’s been equal.

However, I think it’s unfortunate that they had to pretty much bribe her out of what she was standing up for. I’m glad it ended up being equal in the end, but they basically disregarded what she was fighting for.

by OneTon

Lexington native inspired to help Eastern Kentucky communities

October 13, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Economic history, Social history

A true Lexington native, Katherine Pettit, was inspired through her work with the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs to make a difference in the coal mining communities of Eastern Kentucky. Focused mainly on Knott and Harlan County, Pettit set out to establish permanent settlements in the Eastern Kentucky Mountains.

Before her faithful career on building settlements, she was involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) where she befriended many helpful contacts for her future endeavors; such as helping with fundraising for the future Hindman Settlement School (HSS) in Knott County, Kentucky.

The Hindman Settlement School was vastly important to the survival of the settlement. The school focused developing crafts and manual skills, which proved vital when the Great Depression was being fueled. With the ability to produce and sell crafts, the community was able to survive during the Depression. Another skill taught at the HSS was the ability to treat trachoma, which was a common disease in the community which often led to blindness.

After serving the Hindman Settlement School for two years, Pettit and a fellow worker, Ethel de Long, moved their settlement work to Pine Mountain in Harlan County, Kentucky. The two women worked together with local mountaineers to build the next settlement school named the Pine Mountain Settlement School (PMSS). At PMSS, they worked on educating mothers on health, cooking, and home care.

After an inspired life of helping others survive, Katherine Pettit passed away in 1936 of cancer and was buried in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. To prove her hard work and dedication, both of the schools have still continued her work.

Queens In the Sport of Kings

September 24, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Historical Decades, Historiography, Social history

Queens in the Sport of Kings

Women owners and trainers of race horses, while not as prevalent as some may desire, has been staple in Kentucky. From the first female owned Derby winner in 1904 at least 17 other Derby winners have been owned by women.1 In fact Elwood the 1904 winner was also bred by Mrs. J.B. Prather also a first in the horse industry. Mr C. E Durnell did not think the horse should have been entered in the race and in protest stayed away from the track. Needless to say Durnell did not see the ceremony of his wife Laska receiving the roses.

There were a number of notable female owned Derby winners. Mrs John Hertz won the Derby twice. The first was with “Reigh Count” and the second in 1951 with “Count Fleet”. If the name looks familiar, she was the wife of the founder of Hertz Rentals. She was not the first woman to win it twice that distinction goes to Helen May Whitney. She did so in 1931 and 1937. Ethel V. Mars, her husband was the founder of Mars Candy Bars, was an underdog derby winner. Her horse Gallabadion was up against Bimelech “the best horse in America” at that time. She was unable to attend the race because of illness but listened by radio to hear her horse win the 1940 derby. In 1947 Elizabeth Arden Graham, the cosmetic queen, won with Jet Pilot in the first photo finish at the Derby. The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest horse race in the world, and these women against all odds entered the Paddock.


by Mary

Women in the 1940s and 1950s…possibly forgotten?

September 22, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Social history

When thinking about influential women in the United States and Kentucky history we can go back the 20s when women were fighting for the right to vote. We also look at the 60s where the major feminist wave took over and women were fighting to be seen as equal competitors with men. So it leaves us with the question what about the 40s and 50s? What were women doing then that would be influential to our society today? When looking back at the way women were portrayed in movies such as “Pleasantville” and television during that time they were still seen as the caregivers and taking care of the home while the husband goes off to work to provide for his family. Many women during this time were actually working in factories, underpaid and unappreciated.

The working-class woman during this time was earning substantially less money than a man doing the same job. These women in a way set a groundwork for the generations to come and the struggle for equality in the work place. These women were protesting for equal wages while getting laid off, beaten and scrutinized while doing so. They formend unions to fight for equality, if these acts were to not have happened during the 40’s and 50’s than who’s to say women wouldn’t still be trying to fight for equality in the workplace and other places.

The struggles that these women went through is something that our generation and generations to come will never have to experience. Although the right to vote was granted for these women there was still struggle to find equality. The most inequality was found in the West and the South for women during this time. The South of course being traditional and not wanting women to go to work because that was a man’s job. It almost seems like the men during this time were scared that the lines between masculinity and feminity would become blurred and they were scared for women to start becoming their own person and having an identity. There was a need for social reform during this time. Although the 20’s gets all the attention for women gaining the right to vote and the 60’s gets attention for the feminist movement, women today would not enjoy the advantages they get if it weren’t for the 1940s and 1950s. These times truly set the groundwork for the feminist movement of the 60s and the equal work place we enjoy today.
This website gave helpful information and a guide as to how the 1940s and 50s for women went about.

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