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A Contrast in Paths to Achievement: Daily Dorm and Campus Life

November 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Continuing an eMemoir on University of Kentucky and Fisk University in the early 1960s:


The list of notables from each school that appeared in previous posts (see the list of all posts at the project page) is a testament to how people may or may not reach different goals by the same paths.

In addition to perusing the Fisk yearbook during the evenings between dinner and bedtime, downtime was spent in a variety of ways.  A few students retired really early so that they could do their studying early the next day depending upon their schedule.  Some had nightly dates during which they spent their time in the student center or at the sports games or at University Inn across the street from the campus. (Incidentally, I found out when my time was almost over at Fisk that the owner Bill Corley was a distant relative of my mom.  He had no idea who I was, and I had no idea about him.} A very few went to parties during the week and the bulk of others such as myself stayed in the dorm to study or play cards.  In my case, I very soon became the floor beautician to my dismay.  My beautician aunt had taught me to “fix” hair, so I multitasked between studying, gossiping, and “frying” hair with a non electric steel or brass pressing comb and Marcel curling irons which had to be applied to a hotplate.

The female students at UK, on the other hand, prepared their hair with big spring or mesh curlers, or tiny “kids” which had to be used frequently during the time they had to take a swimming course.

Ebony magazine cover, July 1962

Broadway and TV star Diahann Carroll on the cover of Ebony, July 1962

Fisk University students when I was there did not take swimming as I never heard of a pool.  To my knowledge there was not one to be used for a campus course.  That was a good thing, since regular black hair is not conducive to a daily pressing.  There was a great beauty shop across from campus called Odessa’s which did towel pressing that left regular, non naturally-relaxed black hair (that more recently mixed “Negroes” had) looking like white hair, but was very expensive.—-As a reminder, the period of the Afro had not yet come.

The remaining Fisk students in my dorm spent all night long playing Bid Whist card games, swearing when they lost, and jumping up and down when they “ran a Boston.” Then someone else would plug in a hotplate, which with mine running to prepare hair was too much!  All the lights would go off!  Total darkness on that hallway! Then there was utter chaos.  They would run out of the card session up and down the long hallway screaming and ########## to find out who had “messed” up.  My room was usually where they came first.  They did not stay angry with me long knowing that I might have to fix their hair the next day.  Actually, I would be relieved for that night, because I was tired of pulling on their tresses and smelling the smoke from the oil that I had to use.

As the evening wore on, some students spent much time perfecting makeup routines they would use for the next day.  That was a “new” for me, because at UK, very little time was spent on makeup for the next day’s perfect appearance.

On my end of the hall at UK, many spent much time studying with some putting the traditional blue towel on their outside door knob, signaling that no one was to come in until it was removed and their studying was concluded.  Those particular students were trying to prevent going on probation with only a semester to pull their grades up before being sent home or just to establish a very acceptable GPA.  A few, however, did participate in nightly dating.  As a result of this dating and going out in a nonfamiliar environment that a tragedy I shall never forget took place.  A very quiet, beautiful, nice young lady from the East Coast who usually spent most of her time studying was goaded one evening by the dorm “partier” to go out on a blind date.  AW did not want to go, but was persuaded to by the “partier” and others to go on.  She paid with her life when the automobile in which they were riding crashed into a Lexington viaduct wall and AW’s medulla oblongata was  crushed  She lingered in a coma for only two days and then passed a way.  I was so saddened.  I never saw her parents but always hoped they knew that she was a very quiet student and not an “away from home gone wild” person.

At UK I volunteered for one session of close-down-the-dorm with timeline steps of what to do if those on the sign out sheet were not in by a specified time for all. This duty was designed to be aware about incidents such as the one that happened to AW.  At both universities underclass female students had to be in by a certain curfew.  A few, but not many differences existed between the two universities as far as dormitory life was concerned.

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

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