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The Hard Road: A Woman of Integrity

April 13, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

The Hard Road

A Woman of Integity

 

            Alice Allison Dunnigan was born in 1906 to a sharecropper and a laundress.  She came up under meager means but was taught a strict work ethic by her parents.  She had a love of writing and aspired to see the world through the eyes of a newspaper reporter.  She began her writing career at the age of thirteen when she began writing for the Owensboro Enterprise.

            Dunnigan completed the ten years of school allowed in the segregated Russellville school system and continued on to Kentucky State University.  She completed the teaching course at the university and began her teaching career in 1924.[1]  She became a history teacher at the segregated Todd County school system.  During her tenure as a school teacher she learned that African American children did not get the required learning in respect to their cultural heritage.  She devised a system of teaching them by inventing a brilliant learning tool called “Kentucky Fact Sheets”.  In 1939 they were collected for publication but no publisher would publish them.  They were finally published in 1982 as The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition.[2]

            Dunnigan finished teaching school in 1942.  She moved on to her original love of writing and landed a job as a writer for the Associated Negro Press news service.  She wanted to work as a political reporter covering the national scene but her request for credentials to cover the Congress and Senate were denied.  Six months later she was granted press clearance and became the first African-American woman to gain accreditation.  She experienced racism from the beginning.  She often sat in hearings where African-Americans were referred to as “niggers” and had to sit with servants in order to cover President Taft’s funeral.[3]

            President Eisenhower requested that she give him a list of questions prior to meetings because her questions were so hard hitting.  Most of her questions centered around race issues and the abolition of the Jim Crow laws.  She refused to give her questions beforehand because no other reporter was required to do so. 

            Dunnigan has become a rich part of Kentucky history and a great example of female African-American heroism.  Against all odds she prevailed in one of the worst chapters of American history.  Her drive to teach African-American children to be proud of their heritage and her passion to change the way our country was heading is a tribute to her and those that have followed in her footsteps.  For further study you may want to read her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience:  From Schoolhouse to White House.  Alice Allison Dunnigan passed away on May 6th, 1983, in Washington, D.C.

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.

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