You are browsing the archive for Alice Wilson.

New Wikipedia Articles on Kentucky Women’s History

April 9, 2013 in Oral history, Political history, Religious history, Social history

With congratulations to the terrific UK Honors Program students who wrote them, I list the newest Wikipedia articles on Kentucky women’s history below:

Desegregation in Education

February 11, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

picture of Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston

 The Day Law of 1904 mandated segregation between blacks and whites in public schools in Kentucky. Of course, with this segregation came inequality in the quality of schools (and therefore education) between blacks and whites. This was not tolerated by the more prominent members of the black community and by the 1930’s attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and the NAACP began to battle this segregation. This began by his persuasion of the Supreme Court that the Missouri Law school was denying black students equal protection under the law. With this at the forefront, the NAACP continued to fight segregation at a legal level through the 1950’s. The most prominent example in the ’50’s would certainly be the Brown vs. Board of Education case in which Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned.

As far as men’s experiences being different than women, I would argue that any difference was minor. In most cases, being black was enough to isolate these students in an integrated situation. The only differences would be in examples of extracurricular activities, in which boys would be more likely to be bussed to white schools to enhance the athletic departments. Women, such as Alice Wilson, were discouraged from attempting to try to cheerlead or sing because of the already strained relations between her and the other white students.

Pro-segregationists, needless to say, were outrage in general about integration, inciting riots against incoming black students and expressing outrage at the busing options that were offered up. Black students were subjected to ridicule and death threats across the board. However, although the pro-segregationists were upset with integration, not all cases were as dramatic as others, especially since Kentucky was a border state. White supremacy was much more subtle and nuanced in this time, even though KKK was growing. This means that much of the racism that was happening was happening in the quality of materials that black students would get or where they were allowed to sit in public places.

Overall white women and men probably remember these times similarly because they are both viewing this period through the same lens. Stated another way, this being more of a race-focused issue verses a gender focused issue so whether one was a man or woman remembering, the story was probably still the same. If the interest in is difference of perspective, the true comparison would be between blacks and whites, as they were on completely different playing fields.

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Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Brown v. Board of Education.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Charles Hamilton Houston.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Separate but Equal: Segregation in the Public Schools.” Separate but Equal: Segregation in the Public Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Alice Wilson – Perseverance

January 29, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Oral history, Social history

“Separate but equal” was a huge part of life, legislation, and the degradation of human beings throughout much of our country’s history. After the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, African American schools remained sub-par to white schools, using secondhand books and materials, as well as being deprived opportunities reserved for white children. Only 56% of teachers in “colored” schools were college graduates (http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/subject.php?sub_id=124).  In some parts of Kentucky, there was no option for children of color to go to high schools. Their under-funded schools were limited to younger grades, and most African American children had no high school to attend, even if their families could spare them for the time required to gain an education. Alice Wilson, of Mayfield, Kentucky, and nine of her friends saw this ridiculousness for what it was and took a stand. Without asking permission, they walked into the white high school and demanded the education they deserved.

The video about Jennie and Alice Wilson was fascinating to me. I love history, and I’ve always been really interested in the desegregation of schools in particular. Education, for me, is one of the most fundamental ways to improve a person’s life. Being denied education as a child limits possibilities, opportunities, and the life of the children. Having been extremely blessed as a child to grow up in the best school district in Georgia, I have seen the benefits that can grow from a full educational experience.

When those kids walked into Mayfield High School on Registration day, they took a stand for the most important part of any young life – knowledge. I loved watching this video and seeing the passion behind the people who stood up for their right to education when the mere suggestion of desegregation made people ignorant, belligerent, and hateful. Change is never easy, but what I’ve found in my life is that when a strong group of people want change enough, they can find a way to make it happen. These high schoolers took a stand for their futures, and the strength in the face of adversity that they demonstrated was far beyond their years. Their dedication, strength, and perseverance really makes one stop and consider just how lucky kids today are, and just how much we take education for granted. I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I’ve said the phrase “I don’t want to go to school,” in my lifetime. But these kids, including Alice Wilson, took a leap of faith and bravery and stood up to say “I DO want to go to school.” They knew they deserved a proper education in schools that were up to date and up to par with the times, and they stood up to take what was rightfully theirs. My hope for today’s generation is that we would be able to stand up and appreciate the education we deserve and receive.

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Resources:

http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/subject.php?sub_id=124

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal

http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_jwilson.htm

Persistence of Inequalities

January 28, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

As a student, I’ve heard and read many different accounts of the civil rights movement, but listening to an oral history interview seemed more personal and intimate. I could see how emotional Jennie and Alice Wilson became when they told their stories and somehow, the struggles that African-Americans endured during the days of extreme racism and segregation became more of a reality to me. I doubt the effect would be quite the same if I were reading a book or watching a fictional account in a movie.

The fact that these women came from Kentucky also made the interviews more poignant. As an African-American with very protective parents, I was very much shielded from racism and thankfully never had any overt racist encounters growing up, but it is interesting to learn Kentucky’s history of racial relations and see how things have changed since then.

I felt like I could relate the most to Alice because of her personal struggles when she went to high school. She and her small group of friends were the only African-Americans at her school, making it difficult for them not to feel out of place. I didn’t always think about this, but there were moments when I would count the number of African-Americans in my classes. Often times, I would either be the only one or there would be a small handful of us.

Young girl protesting segregation

The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was the main focus of the civil rights era. Schools and other public places were segregated, allowing overt racist encounters to become a common occurrence. Jim Crow laws also legitimized segregation as a normality in American society. There were separate schools for whites and African-Americans, but by no means were these different groups getting the same education.

My high school wasn’t exactly predominately white, but there was an overwhelming number of African-Americans in the lower Comprehensive classes compared to higher Advanced classes, which I took. Interestingly, the Honors classes—which were one level below Advanced and one level above Comprehensive—were much more diverse, but for some reason, the number of minorities dwindled when it came to Advanced classes. I had a diverse group of friends anyway and no one was racist at my school as far as I could tell, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way to fix this sort of separation.

I think this stigma further perpetuates the idea that African-Americans are sometimes seen as inferior to other races. This hits home for me because I feel like I am constantly trying to surpass the expectations society has for us. Even though racism is not quite as huge an issue as it used to be, the stereotypes still exist in hidden forms. I can’t help but ask: Is there a way to expose the inequalities that underlie our institutions? And if so, how do we get rid of them?

Resources

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 28 January 2013.

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by emme23

Desegregation in schools: Not separate, but not equal

January 28, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

In an oral history interview with Jennie Wilson, she depicts life in Mayfield, Kentucky during the early 20th century as a community where segregated was prevalent, causing many African-Americans were forced to live in fear.

Jennie was born in 1900, the child of former slaves. Although she was free, Jennie still carried many of the same burdens as her parents. As a girl she worked in tobacco fields along side the men, while also cooking and cleaning in white households for a meager wage. She calls the events that took place in Mayfield “scary times,” with one especially horrific event occurring on the third Monday of every month, when white men would get drunk, harass, and sometimes kill members of the black community.

Although Jennie’s daughter Alice was born over 40 years later, she also dealt with prejudice and violence in her daily life. In 1965, Alice and nine other black students decided to integrate with white students and attend Mayfield High School. The reason Alice and her peers wanted to attend the school was not so they could study with white students, but because they would have access to better educational resources. In all black schools, students were given old books and other school supplies that had come hand-me-down from the white schools. Once Alice started attending Maysville High School, she was threatened and harassed by members of the school and community. Alice also felt like she was ignored by her teachers and mistreated by her classmates. Unfortunately, situations like this were not uncommon after the Brown v. Board of Education court ruling, such as in the case of Ruby Bridges, a six year old girl exposed to violence after integrating into an all white school.

Despite the struggles Alice faced in school, she continued to get an education and is now a music teacher. Her three other siblings also attended college. Though integration during this time period was a struggle for African-American students, it helped pave the road to a future where segregation is not an issue, where children are able to attend school no matter their ethnicity, and where learning is a priority in the classroom – not skin color.

***Sources***

“Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 27 January 2013.

“Ruby Bridges.” Wikipedia. N.p., 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Progression of Education Amongst African Americans

January 27, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s

 

Define education.  Education is the ability to progress as an individual.  It is the greatest equalizer.  Furthermore, it exists in such a manner that it can divide as well as equalize.  This picture of the dividing and equalizing nature of education can be vividly seen in the history of African Americans.

In an interview with Jennie Hopkins Wilson by KET  (http://www.ket.org/cgi-bin/cheetah/watch_video.pl?nola=kcivs+000110), Wilson, born to slave parents discusses how minimal of an education she was able to receive.  Her “formal” education lasted only six years.  This limited education was all she needed to serve the tasks of cooking and agricultural labor from which she supported herself alongside her family.  In this way, education kept her in the slave like, subservient role historically served by her slave parents.  If all she learned was vocational tasks, it was all she would be able to do.

Although eventually granted education, blacks were still denied true equality as society progressed.  Separate but equal was not equal.  Students in black schools knew resources were better in white schools, and as such when integration became required by law in 1954, many decided to take advantage of them.  Among these was Alice Wilson, (also interviewed by KET, see above link), who joined friends in Western Kentucky in choosing to integrate.  In the documentary, opposition by whites was displayed largely, but I would be curious to know if there was such opposition on both sides. (A quick internet search did not lead me in a direction supporting or contradicting this idea, but I would like to look further).

Even when integration was legalized, strong opposition disabled black students from reaching their full potential within these systems. Teachers ignored black students, stealing their opportunity within the classroom.

Inequality within Equality

January 27, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

Photograph of Jennie Wilson, 102

Jennie Wilson, 102

According to the oral history interview with 102-year-old Jennie Wilson, African Americans in Kentucky experienced intense discrimination especially in the realm of education. Jennie describes fearing for her safety at home and hearing of horrendous public displays of racism but also explains how she was only permitted to receive six years of education. Her education, received from her mother and father and other members of the community, included instruction on how to cook and clean and do whatever necessary to provide for your family.

Jennie went on to have four children, all of which would graduate from college. Jennie’s daughter, Alice Wilson, launched a very important movement for the education of African Americans and the integration of schools in Mayfield, Kentucky. Alice and a group of her friends chose to integrate their all-white high school independently at age 14. In her portion of the interview, Alice Wilson says that the integration was extremely unexpected and she and her friends had no idea how their actions would be received. As a group of typical teenagers, Alice and her friends entered Mayfield High School to register for school. When she was admitted, the first thing she noticed was the distinction in text books and the fact that the school remained segregated within even though it had been integrated in the eye of the public. The observations from within the school that Alice shares closely parallel efforts to desegregate across much of the southern United States. Alice’s commentary regarding the inequality experienced although she was admitted to attend the school is representative of prolonged injustice for African American education in Kentucky and across the nation following the overturned rule of the “Separate but Equal” doctrine in 1954.

Intregration of public schools

Intregration of public schools

In expressing her pride for her daughter’s actions, Jennie Wilson explains that her feet have endured quite a lot in her 102 years including the transformation of a society. She came from a world of “scary times” and she and many other members of her community thought they would merely have to learn “how to deal with society” rather than be accepted as an active and equal member.

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Resources:

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 27 January 2013.

“US History/Eisenhower Civil RIghts Fifties.” Wikibooks. Web. 27 January 2013.

“Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.” Notable Kentucky African Americans. Web. 27 January 2013

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?

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by rjones

Living the Story – Alice Wilson

September 21, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history

As I watched the film, Living the Story, there were several things that stood out to me. The integration of the Mayfield High School by 10 African American students had the backing of a group of adults who supported their efforts. The entire integration process was very well organized and with alternate plans in the event of trouble. The students’ parents most definitely were in support of their efforts, or the thing would not have gotten very far. So, it was much, much more than 10 brave students making history in Mayfield, KY.

Watching Wilson’s non-verbal cues and listening to her filtered memories, the two are often out of sync. Her body says the integration process was very stressful, though she says again and again that she let the various incidents go and doesn’t think about them.

Remembering my own experience with school integration, there are things that I will never forget and will always feel: the Black children who had to sit in the back of the room, being the last in the food line and having to sit at the cafeteria table that was reserved for Black children, and the segregation of all children during playtime.

If you look at Alice Wilson’s interview again and see beyond the words. Pay attention to what her non-verbal actions are saying, especially her eyes and her mouth and the rocking of her body. There are several instances when she is trying not to cry or is trying to minimize the hurt of the memories. This can be seen at time stamps 25:55 (tension), 31:40 (body starts rocking), 33:38 (tearful), 35:13 (striving to gain composure for next several minutes) and from this point on is the real heart of the interview.

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