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Race Matters Training for Fayette County RCCW Initiative

November 7, 2014 in Historiography, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

As part of the training sessions for the Race, Community and Child Welfare (RCCW) Fayette County (see more at the RCCW website)​, I presented on the “History of Racism and Anti-Racist Activism in Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky.” The goal is to provide an historical — and local — context for the understanding of racism here in our community.

This historical context should help to explain why the problem of racism is so deeply ingrained in our cultures and institutions. As anti-racist practitioners we need to be patient and persistent since racism has been an integral part of the creation and growth of Lexington and Fayette County as much as it is the reason for violence, inequities and apathy.

Here is my speech (History of Racism and Anti-Racism in Fayette County) for the participants in the training. I present it here for you to download and read. I invite you to reply and comment on this essay and how I have presented the history of Lexington and Fayette County.

Perspectives of Teachers on Integration in Kentucky

April 25, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

Perspectives of Teachers on Integration in Kentucky

The integration of the nation’s public school systems, as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, caused a furor among most Southern states.  The general strategy that was established early on was to comply with the decision as slowly as possible through delay after delay, and violent incidents were not uncommon.  One Southern state that escaped the resulting upheaval was Kentucky.

From the outset, the outlook for integration in Kentucky was one of cautious optimism.  According to A. Lee Coleman, even the governor of the state predicted that Kentucky’s schools would be the easiest to integrate in the South; this sentiment would have arguably been political suicide had it not been correct, especially in states such as Alabama or Mississippi.  In his article in the Journal of Negro Education, written in 1955 – and which also gives the impression of being written for the purpose of encouraging his fellow educators – Coleman echoes the governor’s optimism, stating a number of compelling reasons as to why he believes this to be the case, which include the blindingly fast integration of colleges in Kentucky and the general lack of strong feelings among the white population.

Even in the “easiest state to integrate,” however, integration would not be without its challenges.  The main worry that Coleman seemed to have was that progress, while more substantial than the rest of the South, would prove to be positively glacial.  Legal wrangling over several state laws and their interaction with the Supreme Court decision, along with an administrative decision to ease the state into integration slowly to allow the population a chance to adjust, promised to slow the process to a painful crawl.  All of this can likely be attributed to the normal operating speed of a governing body whose capitol building is not under threat of being razed by angry citizens, rather than a concerted effort to delay the process as in the other Southern states.

Twelve years after Coleman had published his hopeful piece in the Journal of Negro Education, Eddie W. Morris published his own article regarding integration in the same publication.  By then, the integration of the student body of the public schools in Kentucky had been achieved very smoothly, with no especially major incidents.  Unfortunately, a problem which had not been predicted by Coleman had arisen:  the integration of the teachers and faculty.

Those Black teachers that had not lost their jobs outright – which effectively included most of those without training or tenure – had almost all taken a demotion when they were integrated with White faculty at other facilities.  Additionally, new Black teachers had not been hired in a number of years.  While budgetary concerns may have been to blame for at least some of these incidents (due to an effective surplus of teaching staff), the fact that the Black faculty members were being treated in such a manner almost exclusively indicated that integration had not been fully completed for everyone involved in the public school system.

Morris blamed this lack of faculty integration on several factors.  He asserted that administrators believed that black teachers in positions of power over white students would cause an uproar amongst parents – even though he says that there was no indication whatsoever that this would be the case – as well as a belief that black teachers were less qualified than their White counterparts.  He also said that prejudice among leadership councils on a community level who influenced the people on the school board played a part.  His plea was to keep qualified teachers in the Bluegrass, as many Black teachers were leaving for other states and better opportunities due to this treatment.

While Kentucky was easily the most open and accepting of the Southern states of integration, it was most certainly not integrated without its share of problems, as indicated by the continuing discrimination against Black faculty members over a decade after the initial decision.  Even though the violence, chaos, and terror that marked the event in other Southern states did not surface in the Bluegrass, it is important not to allow the dramatic events elsewhere to overshadow the challenges and triumphs of integration in Kentucky.


A. Lee Coleman, “Desegregation of Public Schools in Kentucky – One Year Afterward,” The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 1955: 248-257.

Eddie W. Morris, “Facts and Factors of Faculty Desegregation in Kentucky,” The Journal of Negro Education 36:1 (Winter, 1967) 75-77.


Happy Chandler’s reaction to Sturgis and Clay

April 13, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional with the historic 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, all the public schools in the country were forced to desegregate with “deliberate speed”.  As expected most southern states decided to take their time desegregating public schools and whenever the federal government pressured them to hurry the process, the southern would think of clever reasons why desegregation would harm the community in order to delay the process.

Desegregation in Kentucky went relatively smooth except for two instances in the western Kentucky cities of Sturgis and Clay, located in Union County and Webster County respectively.  Ironically, these two instances happened within a period of eighteen days.  From September 5 to September 22 of 1956, not only were the eyes of Kentucky on these two cities, but the eyes of the nation as well.  Fortunately for the commonwealth, Happy Chandler was our governor.  Governor Chandler had served as governor from 1935-1939 and then went on to be a U.S. Senator from 1939-1945.  Surprisingly, Chandler then went on to serve as the commissioner of  Major League Baseball from 1945-1951, where he helped to integrate baseball and even helped to bring Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Then he returned to the bluegrass to serve his second term as governor from 1955-1959.

The desegregation trouble in Kentucky started in Sturgis on the morning of Sept. 5 as a group of African-American children were walking to school and a mob of white farmers blocked the young children from entering the school.  Governor Chandler was informed of the incident and immediately order the Kentucky State Guard and the Kentucky State Police to protect the children so they would be allowed to attend school that very day.  At the same time a similar scene was occurring in Webster County in the city of Clay.

For the next eighteen days, the Kentucky State Police, the Kentucky State Guard, and the U.S. National Guard all worked together to ensure the safety of the African-American students in both Sturgis and Clay.  When the officers and guardsmen were only asked to escort the children to school and nothing more, Governor Chandler insisted that the men stand by the child in school in order to protect them.

Many white Kentuckians were upset with Governor Chandler because he supported the African-American students and some people even called for his impeachment, but Chandler defended himself by saying, “When the Governor takes office, he puts one hand on the Bible and takes an oath before God to protect the humblest citizen.  What we did today is in keeping with the oath I took.”  he also told the people of Sturgis to “go about their own businesses” and that they just might find out that “the children wouldn’t mind integration.”  Even after things started to simmer down in Sturgis and Clay, Chandler told the press that he would keep Guardsmen in the two cities as long as it was necessary to maintain law and order.  When Chandler released the executive order activating the Kentucky State Guard, he justified the whole process saying that it was deemed a federal law by the Supreme Court and since Chandler is Governor of Kentucky, it is his duty to see that it is enforced.

State attorney General Jo M Ferguson ruled that since neither school board in Union Co. or Webster Co. had any provisions for an “orderly process” of desegregation established, the black students could not attend.  She insisted that provisions who be made and then the students could attend the schools.  However, NAACP lawyer James A. Crumlin quickly filed a suit asking the court to enforce desegregation in Kentucky.  The court directed the two school boards to establish desegregation plans that would be enforced the following year in 1957.


Works Cited

“Albert Benjamin Happy Chandler.” Major League Baseball. Available from Internet; accessed 13 April 2011.

Trowbridge, John. Available from Internet; accessed 13 April 2011.

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