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by mookygc

Mae Street Kidd, An Inspiration

February 17, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, Primary source

Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

Mae Street Kidd had a lot of things to say about life in her narrative about her experiences growing up as a mixed race female in Kentucky during the Civil Rights Movement. In Passing for Black by Wade Hall, Kidd spoke quite a bit about how others perceived her. What struck me is that she mostly spoke about how she didn’t care what others thought about her. “People have told me they like me because I will fight for what I believe. It is true that I am a fighter, but I fight fairly (p. 13).” Mae felt torn between two worlds her entire life- her black heritage and also her very light skin. “I will repeat it. I never made an issue of my race. I let people think or believe what they wanted to. If it was ever a problem, then it was their problem, not mine. I never, ever advertised my race, and I still don’t (p. 41). ”

Mae has a lot to teach current and future generations about not letting other people define you. Her interpretations of her experiences throughout her life are expressed with a sense of pride that she was who she was and other people could deal with it or not. For many people, this was not a common attitude, but for those who did feel that way, it became the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement, and more and more people began to adopt this attitude.

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Resource

Hall, Wade. Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

The Foundation of Change: Influence of Women in the Civil Rights Era

February 17, 2013 in 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

“They realized that they needed to prepare us for a changing time even though they had no idea when the change was going to come, if it was going to come. They just knew that it was, and they did everything to make us ready.” – Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious: A Pillar for Change

Women like Audrey Grevious were raised as our nation prepared itself for a complete change in the foundation of the nation as a whole. This tumultuous time in our history is one that we study today, in awe of the men, and especially the women, who perpetuated it. Women such as Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd, along with many others were exceptionally influential not only to those immediately surrounding them, but to the world as a whole. They were exemplary pillars of strength and dignity in a time when women of color were not dignified by the world itself, but they instead had to forge their own way and demand for themselves the respect they deserved.

Audrey Grevious, in her interview for the Kentucky Historical Society’s Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, speaks of the hardships she faced as a child in segregated schools. She speaks out against the preposterous notion of “Separate but Equal,”  describing her outrage at the fact that as soon as integration was mandated by law, the neighborhood black schools were all closed to prevent white children from being forced to attend them.

“My argument always was: if you’re saying that the schools were equal then why all of a sudden when there is the possibility that the white students will have to come to the school that they are not equal anymore.” – Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious went on to be a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement, as an active member of the NAACP, working closely with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) chapter in Lexington. She, through peaceful protest, created ways for Blacks to work their way up the social ladder and gain access to positions higher than they had previously been offered. She is a shining example of a woman recognizing the job that needed to be done and stepping up to complete it. She is one of many women who helped to create a new foundation for the American people, whites and blacks alike, to build their dreams upon.

Mae Street Kidd: Beauty with a Purpose

Another of these women is Mae Street Kidd; in her memoir, Passing for Black, Kidd discusses her influence as a member of Kentucky’s General Assembly, as well as her influence as an individual. A striking business woman, Kidd reflects upon her years spent as a sales representative and Public Relations manager for many different companies around Kentucky. Her influence in the business world was unparalleled by any other black woman of the time. Her influence, however, extends far beyond the realm of business. She volunteered in World War II in the Red Cross, impacting the lives of soldiers on their way into battle. On many occasions, in the business world and in other aspects of her career, Kidd was forced to stand up for herself and demand the respect she deserved.

In one instance, detailed on page 100 of Passing for Black, while in the Red Cross overseas, she kicked a white officer out of their black club as he instructed a young black man on “how to wear his tie and uniform and how to behave properly”  Kidd repsonded with:

“You have your own clubs and your own men to worry about. Would you mind leaving ours? You don’t allow blacks in your club, so we don’t want you in ours.”

Mae Street Kidd knew she was better than the society of her time allowed her to be, but she would never take no for an answer. She never allowed herself to be limited by those around her, and she stood for what she believed day after day. She was a powerhouse of will and determination, and her book is a testament to all she did for Kentucky and the United States. She influenced her world socially, politically, and economically. She was a force to be reckoned with when she put her mind to something, and she, like Grevious, was not one to back down. She helped to change her world, though she began at the bottom of the ladder, a black woman in a white man’s world. She never let the fact that she was a woman slow her down, and she always fought for the rights of her race.

Women throughout history have been limited by their societies. But around the time period of the Civil Rights Movement, women like these were vastly important instruments in the changing of the foundation of America as a whole. Their influence echoes today, not only in Kentucky, but throughout the nation.

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References:

“Audrey Grevious.” The History Makers. <http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/audrey-grevious-39>. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Kentucky Educational Television. <http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_kidd.htm>. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Kentucky Historical Society. 13 April 1999. <http://205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14984>. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia. 16 Feb. 2013.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd>. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious>. 18 Feb. 2013.

 

 

Empowering a Movement: Fearless Women of the Civil Rights Era

February 17, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

Photo of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

“If you’re willing to march in the rain,” I said, “I’m willing to march in the rain.” As a quote from an interview with Audrey Grevious on April 13, 1999, fearlessness emerges as a common theme amongst the strong women whose individual actions prompted mass movements in the 1960s.

Women, at the center of oppression in this era of discrimination, have formed the basis for movements that took place throughout the nation as a result of their own observations of societal injustice. As Audrey Grevious explained in her 1999 interview, she recognized injustice and knew that she must possess the strength to change her reality. Beginning with subtle movements and transitioning to large scale demonstrations, Grevious is representative of numerous women who emerged from a life under discrimination to see through to its demise. In the interview, she discussed her approach and how she sought out support for the movements she planned. She explains:

“We were fortunate here in Lexington. Chief [Edward Carroll] Hale was the police chief at the time. And we met with him and talked to him about what we were going to do, and that we were going to try to remain as peaceful as possible. That we were not going to start any riots or anything. And that we wanted to see, you know, how we could work together. And after we had talked for a long, long time and just went over a whole lot of things that could happen and had happened in other places and this sort of thing, he agreed with us that they would not arrest…And this was fantastic, unique, unheard of and everything else but he wanted to keep Lexington as calm as possible.”

Furthermore, Grevious expresses the strength and intuition of a woman to know her role and her duty to fulfill it. She shares a story regarding a lunch room sit-in:

“I walked in and took a seat and destroyed the lunchtime for everybody even those who supposedly were friendly, you know, and glad that you are here and all that. All right, glad you are here as long as you stay in your place; and I decided that my place was going to be in the dining room. And there was a male teacher from Paris, Charles Buckner, who I told that I was going to do this. And he said, “Well I’m not going to let you do it by yourself.” And so he went in, you know, with me. And a whole lot of people threw their food in the trashcan, and on the floor, and everything else and marched on out but I was there to stay.

Photo of Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd

Audrey Grevious was not alone in her actions. Stories have surfaced regarding other fearless women who strived to make racial equality a reality, especially here in Kentucky. Mae Street Kidd is no exception. From the compilation of oral histories in Wade Hall’s book, Passing for Black, Kidd expresses a similar burning passion to obliterate the racial divide that plagued Kentucky communities. Like others, Kidd shareed a drive to consistently improve upon strategies and demonstrations that will continue to make a bigger impact with each movement. The section of the book that I found particularly striking is entitled “Today’s Problems, Tomorrow’s Solutions”. In this section, Kidd shares the commonalities among women and those who strive for justice and acknowledges that several core values comprise those who can attain success. Her concern foBook cover, Passing for Blackr a fortified family structure is particularly valuable to her strength as a mother-figure for this movement. She shares, “We all need a better self-image…We need pride in ourselves, but a healthy pride based on true self-worth. Children must be taught that education and hard work will pay off.”

As you can see, women of this movement were not only fearless and resilient, although this aided their tremendous successes. Women such as Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd are representative of women who acknowledged the injustice around them, even though they had never been exposed to a world without segregation.

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Sources:

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb. 2013.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd>. 17 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” (1999). The Civil Rights Movement In Kentucky. Kentucky Historical Society. <http://205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14984>.15 February 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious>. 17 Feb. 2013.

Hall, Wade. Passing for Black. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

by mookygc

Segregation of schools in Kentucky

February 10, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Oral history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

The Day Law of 1908 required the forced segregation of schools in Kentucky, and it was in place for nearly fifty years. With the argument that separate was not the same as equal, the NAACP organized resistance against the Jim Crow laws in the 1930s. They began fighting for African American entrance in to higher education institutions. In the 1950s, a mass resistance began, and people all over the state began entering previously segregated schools. I found it very interesting that the first African American student to enroll in a previously segregated high school, Lafayette, was in fact female, in 1955, and she faced little to no resistance.

There were many lawsuits filed in the state of Kentucky, which were met with difficulty by many white communities. Unlike many states in the further Deep South, the school board and state government were more or less committed to abide by the desegregation laws. By the mid 1960s, nearly all of Kentucky’s schools were in fact desegregated. The first African American person to attend the University of Kentucky was male, but both males and females received somewhat equal discrimination. Different accounts in the oral histories in “Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky” describe different experiences of different students attending the University of Kentucky. One narrator describes harsh reactions from other students, but rather levelheaded reactions and attitudes from professors, who seemed to discourage unfair treatment from other students. George Logan of Lexington described a time when the students in one of his classes put rope around a chair that said “For Colored Only”, and the professor that promised “Tomorrow you will be treated as a human being.” Iola Harding recalled “Nobody spoke to you, nobody engaged you and stuff like that. But after I was around there a while, a few people did.” There were boycotts and mobs in many parts of the state, and many faced very difficult opposition and had to be escorted by police to and from school.

In general, the feeling I got from the oral histories that both men and women were treated equally unfairly in terms of desegregating the education in Kentucky.

by mookygc

More is Less

February 5, 2013 in Oral history, Social history

I can not pretend to know much, if anything about life before the 1990s, especially not as an African American, and I have no basis to know what it was like to grow up in Kentucky, or anywhere else for that matter, during the civil rights movements, and the decades of strife that faced our ancestors.

By most accounts, living in Kentucky as an African American would have been terrifying in the early twentieth century. Jennie Wilson, who was born in 1900, spoke in an interview about “Third Monday”, the day of the month when all the white men would get drunk and go harass anyone who was African American: “We always dreaded third Monday we didn’t know what they were going to do. And they didn’t shoot through the house but they shot through the one up on the hill. But they told my father to come out, and he told them to come in; and they didn’t, And my mother was on her knees praying that they wouldn’t come in. ‘Cause she knew they would kill all of us. I don’t know why they hated us so.”

On the other hand, while listening to Reinette Jones speak I was surprised to learn that Kentucky was more ahead of the times in terms of desegregation, especially in schools. I learned that Kentucky had several counties with desegregated schools much earlier than was required by law, and those schools were in fact forced to segregate at one point. There seem to be quite a few contradictions in our history between fact and perception. This research is forcing me to look at things I never would have, and I feel that the more I learn, the less I know.

Louisville, Kentucky: Social Segregation

February 3, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Social history

Image of Freedom on the Border, including Kentucky Oral Histories

Freedom on the Border, including Kentucky Oral Histories

Without a doubt, segregation plagued Kentucky in the mid twentieth century, in cities and rural areas.  In the urban areas, however, segregation infiltrated all public forums and created immense segmentation of communities. In areas such as Louisville, segregation not only limited education and workplaces, but also leisure activities and social environments. In the book Freedom on the Border, an oral history from Eleanor Jordan of Louisville discusses segregation in a local amusement park. She recalls, “We would always ask the same question: “Can we go?” My mother and father would almost simultaneously say, “No, you can’t go.” We’d kind of sit there and then as we passed it, we’d say, “Well, why can’t we go?” That’s when there was just this deafening silence in the car.” (Life under Segregation, 17) This conversation was undoubtedly shared among many African American families in the area whose children experienced similar societal limitations. The children of this era, however, would grow up to live in a society that would not see public equality for quite some time.

Photo of Anne Braden, ALCU

Anne Braden, ALCU

In a similar mode, housing communities were segregated, especially in urban areas such as Louisville, where neighborhoods were in close range of one another. A home should be a beacon of safety, regardless of the location, yet many African American families were forced from their homes and from all-white neighborhoods. Anne and Carl Braden of Louisville attempted to eliminate the housing segregation of the area by purchasing a home in an all-white neighborhood for an African American family to live in. This house was soon bombed, threatening the safety of the family, and placing the blame on Carl Braden for his attempt at integration. At his trial, he was defended by a member of the ALCU, the American Civil Liberties Union, and his conviction was eventually overturned, making headway for the integration of the community and membership in the ALCU. These gains were small, but notable, and were important steps toward equality in Kentucky’s urban areas.

 

 

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Wikipedia contributors. “Anne Braden.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “American Civil Liberties Union.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “History of Louisville, Kentucky.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Anne and Carl Braden. Web. 3 February 2013. http://www.ket.org/civilrights/glossary/popup_bradens.htm

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.

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

Helen Matthews Lewis, Appalachian activist and teacher

September 24, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

Dr. Helen Matthews Lewis

Dr. Helen Matthew Lewis speaks at Berea College's 2010 Midyear Graduation Service

Congratulations to Judi Jennings, Executive Director of Kentucky Foundation for Women, co-editor of a new book Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia which is due to be released on the University of Kentucky Press in January 2012.

Helen Matthew Lewis shaped the field of Appalachian Studies by emphasizing community participation and challenging traditional perceptions of the region and its people. Co-editors Judith Jennings and Patricia D. Beaver highlight the achievements of Lewis’s extensive career, examining her role as a teacher and activist.  The book begins with her job in 1943 on the yearbook staff at Georgia State College of Women with Mary Flannery O’Connor.  Her role as a teacher and activist at East Tennessee State University in the 1960s is described as well.  Lewis participated in many social justice struggles including opposing strip mining and the broad form deed, and supporting the civil rights movement.  The book provides a personal glimpse into the history of progressive activism in Appalachia.

Lewis served as the director of the Berea College Appalachian Center from 1993 – 1995, Appalshop‘s Appalachian History Film Project, and the Highlander Research and Education Center.  She is coauthor of Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia (see a review from The Journal of Southern Religion Reviews, 2003) and Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case.  Lewis currently lives in Morganton, Georgia.

For more information on this book, see the University Press of Kentucky’s catalog.

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