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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.

by becca

55th Anniversary of Rosa Parks brave choice

December 1, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move seats in order to accompany a white passenger and to move to the back of an Alabama bus, as the law stated she must since she was African-American. She was promptly arrested for this action, a small price to pay for the change she brought on.

After that night, there was a 381 day protest of the Montgomery bus system in support of Rosa’s brave decision to stand up for her rights. This boycott almost led to the demise of the buses in Montgomery due to the mass amounts of people refusing to ride. Churches and homes in the black community were often attacked during this time when people felt they weren’t cooperating. Finally, in 1956, the Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks, along with her husband Raymond, were active in the Montgomery branch of the NAACP and she was appointed secretary in 1943. She later served as the advisor for the NAACP Youth Council. She was also hired as a staff assistant to House of Representatives member John Conyers, Jr.

55 years later, it is incredibly important to remember the actions Rosa Parks did in order to make a necessary change in our society. Although she passed away in October of 2005, Rosa Parks will forever be remembered and honored for her brave achievements.

This website has a great biography on her life and accomplishments:

by kcjohn2

The Undercover Roles of Women in the Movement

October 26, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

As I continue my research on women in the civil rights movement, it is the bridge, community leaders, which I find myself interested in finding more out about. These women were not the face of the movement, but the wheels behind it, which kept it moving. These women have the most interesting stories to tell, but are very hard to find without much searching. I look forward to getting to hear the stories of the women in the community of Lexington and more specifically the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood in my further research. For now, I reflect on the lecture Professor Sonia Gipson Rankin gave last Tuesday. She began to tell us some of the roles these community leaders played in the civil rights movement. They could also be called undercover leaders because they began to incorporate furthering the message of the movement in their every day jobs. Beauticians would begin to tell their customers the necessary information needed to pass the voter registration test, all while styling their hair. Women in the community also began having bake sales and fish fries to raise money for the students who were arrested while protesting for equal rights and to provide alternative transportation until the bus system became completely equal.

African American women were faced with not only their race as an issue in being a leader in the movement, but their sex as well. It is no surprise that this would prompt the black women of the civil rights movement to take a back seat to their male counterparts.

The image is small, but is of a Mississippi beautician, Vera Piggy, styling a woman’s hair while educating her on how to register to vote in 1964. (from “Powerful Days in Black in White” by Charles Moore,

Vera Piggy portrait by Charles Moore

"Even while working at her BEAUTY parlor in Clarksdale, Vera Piggy instructs customers on voter registration procedures."

by becca

Lyda “Gertrude” Ramey

October 1, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Social history

I decided to research women in Kentucky’s history who have made some sort of impact, whether big or small and came across Lyda “Gertrude” Ramey.

When Lyda was a little girl her entire family died of influenza, leaving her alone and having to go from home to home as a foster child. As she got older she spoke out to legislatures about having a place for abandoned children to go other than jail or the poorhouse.

In 1944, Lyda opened the Ramey Home, housing 50 children who were abandoned. Over the years, over 3,000 children have stayed at the home. I found a great website that tells the true stories of some of the children that stayed at the home, so if you want to look at it here’s the link:

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