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I Ain’t Jumpin’ No Rope

September 22, 2016 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Picture the landscape and its undoubtedly accompanying collective prejudicial attitude during the early years of the civil rights movement.  That was the case with the University of Kentucky in 1961—the time when I naively fearlessly embarked upon my college journey.

It had been only six years since the horrendous death of young Emmett Till who had the audacity to whistle at a southern white woman (August 28, 1955).   His awful demise at the hands of southern Klansmen and others rocked the nation.   Also, President John F. Kennedy, a beacon of hope to “Negroes” –as we were called then, the country over– would be assassinated in 1963 during my tenure at UK, just two years before my graduation in 1965.  Kennedy’s death affected me in many ways; however, one was most salient in that environment. Because many Caucasians on campus had viewed him and his brother Robert, the attorney general, as being in alliance with or overly sympathetic towards Negroes, some uttered negative statements under their breath about the tragedy while others  more blatantly negative,  made overtly disparaging statements. within my earshot.

“Negroes” were not valued, obviously, during those times; their lives did not matter—then as now–in some circles, and most were considered intellectually inferior.  If one did perform well mentally, s/he was hailed as an aberration.  That was the mindset.  Thus, anyone who demonstrated academic or intellectual prowess which debunked such notions was lionized by the “Negro” society in the same manner as were outstanding athletes such as Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson.

“Antidistablishmentarianism.” *  “The belligerent astigmatic anthropologist, annihilated, innumerable chrysanthemum.” We were so proud of 12 year-old Gloria Lockerman of Baltimore when she correctly spelled that word and that sentence on the “$64,000 Question,” an extremely popular quiz show that aired in prime time from 1955 to 1958.  The African American communities were inundated with pride.  As a young female student myself, I was tremendously impressed as well as influenced, and to this day, I have never forgotten Gloria, the word, the sentence or the spelling.

Angela Alexander Townsend headshot

Angela Alexander Townsend at the University of Kentucky

Again, those were the times, the overarching collective perspective, and a few of the events that defined the era. Each always call upon my related memory of an old lady in our neighborhood who would shuffle slowly out to her porch each day and plop down in her glider and blow disappointingly heartedly. When asked, “How are you today, Granny?” She invariably replied: “I ain’t jumpin’ no rope, honey.” Similarly, my attitude about going to the University of Kentucky to thrive in an environment with such a conglomerate of whites who had been to the best schools (many befriended at those schools with each other}, had participated in so many advanced courses, had been beneficiaries of many more monetary resources and experiences, and whose teachers valued and sometimes catered to those who were their mirror images, was simply overwhelming. I didn’t feel as though I could jump some of the ramifications of that rope either, despite the fact that I had been class vice-president, president of the student council, runner-up to Miss Homecoming and valedictorian. I had real doubts about making that transition from a small, all Negro high school in a small town to the largest, well known white university in the state. I had been taught to never let my reach overwhelmingly and unrealistically exceed my grasp, thus I learned to be realistic about both. My expectations at that point were to just survive.

Rhetorical question: Are most blacks of today still considered intellectually inferior despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary?


Footnote

Gloria Lockerman became one of the most famous people in the U.S. after spelling ‘antidisestablishmentarianism.’ “There was a slightly racist aspect to people’s fascination with her: This was before the civil rights movement gained momentum, and Gloria Lockerman was black. Her brilliance was in direct contrast to many Americans’ stereotypes of black people, and there is no question that in countless living rooms, amazement was expressed not only that a girl of her age could spell the word, but that a girl of her color could do it.” Note: some have her hailing from Chicago not Baltimore. Bob Green, “Fame is Certainly not Gloria’s Game.” (December 09, 1987) Chicago Tribune; also see, “Has Anyone Seen Gloria Lockerman? (November 24, 1987) Chicago Tribune.
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Project Collins

April 22, 2013 in Historiography

Martha Layne Collins

As of right now, as a group we have made a lot of head way but have encountered some road blocks where they were least expected. After getting help from Miss Puckett about some new leads, we found that in most cases they were either disconnect or not the quality of source that we were expecting. However, we have quite a bit to go on as of now as we near the completeionof the project, namely some old classmates of Collins’ that we still have yet to contact. We are meeting this week before class to try and consolidate our research so that way we can put the information into the webpage as quickly as possible. We’re still in the gathering information stage however, so asthetically, the webpage may not be very pretty, but we still hope to fill it with as much information as possible on Collins from before she was governor. Hopefully once we get a good look at her nomination for the Hall of Fame, we’ll have a better idea of what she contributed to in the context of Kentucky Women in the Civil Rights Era. Until then we just have to continue to meet and bring our ideas into one cohesive unit.

Inspiration from Audrey

April 16, 2013 in Social history

This semester, I have been working on a Hall of Fame project on Audrey Grevious with granestella. I have learned so much about this local activist and have come to greatly admire her past work while researching about her life and accomplishments. Indeed, it surprises me that she has not received much recognition for the many trials she experienced during the civil rights movement in Kentucky, but I hope that through this project, Audrey Grevious can receive a little bit of recompense for the work she has done in the Lexington community.

While there are many articles looking back at her previous achievements, we have found virtually no articles published about Grevious from before the 1980s. There are also very little pictures of her except for the two from The HistoryMakers and KET Living the Story. There seems to be many roadblocks to finding more about Audrey Grevious. I feel as if her story is one that must be told to all African American women aspiring to make a change in their communities. She truly took steps to make changes to things she saw as wrong and stayed true to what she believed in. This is well exemplified in the time when Grevious decided to desegregate the lunchroom of the Kentucky Village. She simply went into the lunchroom reserved for the white staff members and sat down!

Grevious was very much involved in the local efforts to fight segregation, whether it was in participating in sit-ins or as the president of the Lexington chapter of the NAACP. She shows us that just one person can make a difference through their actions and character. In fact, we can all use a trailblazer like Audrey to look up to and celebrate in her achievements that will bring inspiration to our own quests in making a difference in the world.

Sources

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious.          http://www.ket.org/cgi-bin/cheetah/watch_video.pl?nola=kcivs+000112&altdir=&template=

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_in_Kentucky

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013.              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious

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.

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by mookygc

Martha Layne Collins

March 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Research methods

My group and I are working on a web based project designed to honor Governor Martha Layne Collins’ contribution to the Civil Rights history of Kentucky. We are struggling to find footing with a thesis about Governor Collins, because a good portion of the information we are finding about her is in relation to her time as Governor of the state of Kentucky, which is after the time period we are looking at, from 1920 to 1970.

Also, people close to the former governor are extremely hesitant to speak about anything regarding Governor Collins, because of a scandal involving her husband after her governorship. We are not interested in what she did as a governor though, instead, we are looking for any information regarding the work she did to promote fair civil rights for all.

We are aware that she had a lot to do with education reform, due to her background as a teacher, but are having difficulty finding anything about her life before that, aside from the fact that she was in a lot of beauty pageants and a young adult and created an organization called the “Jaycettes”. WE had an interview set up with a family friend of Collins’ but said interview was later cancelled. Our next step is to go to the Woodford County Historical Society, where there is a file about Governor Collins during her time there. Hopefully while there we will be able to form a thesis about why Collins was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Finding Audrey

March 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

When you mention the name “Audrey Grevious”, it will most certainly ring a bell among activists and Lexington civil rights advocates alike. While it is a taxing struggle to find many pictures of Grevious, there is much information on her efforts in local schools and protests during her younger years.

Grevious was quite active in Lexington, participating in various protests and sit-ins, while being involved with the local NAACP and CORE chapters. She eventually became the president of the Lexington NAACP and worked as a teacher before becoming the principal at the Kentucky Village Reformatory School (now called the Blackburn Correctional Complex) and Maxwell Elementary School. Grevious’s time at the Kentucky Village allowed her to bring about desegregation in the lunch rooms, a landmark moment that nearly echoes a sit-in at a local restaurant in which Grevious continued to persevere while the owner repeatedly swung a chain at her leg.

Indeed, Grevious was one of the pivotal leaders during the civil rights era in Lexington, KY, but it is difficult to find pictures from her active years. Grevious is still alive, but much weaker and ill, making it more challenging to get in touch with her. In attempting to find more information, granestrella and I are looking at the transcripts for a couple oral histories. I am also working on getting in contact with Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, and possibly Dunbar High School (though the existing one is not exactly the same as the one previously attended by Grevious). If we succeed in our quest, we may be able to bring more insight into the life of a dynamic woman underrepresented in the playing field of civil rights.

Sources

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

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.

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by mookygc

African American Representation in Fayette County Publications

February 26, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

Today, I found a copy of a book published by the Fayette County Board of Education in 1955 entitled: “Let’s Go To School”  (pdf link). A very brief book composed primarily of pictures, it appears to have been an informational resource for parents of students. There were several things I found interesting in this book.

The book begins with a quote:

“Your Board of Education believes in your child’s right.”

This book was published at a point in our education history when schools were still mostly segregated. Of over one hundred pictures, only a mere four show an African American student or teacher. I am including these here:

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

African American students are only shown under the heading of “Sports” and “Music”, and teachers are only shown within a group.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library, reading old newspapers and looking at any books and pamphlets I could find that even mentioned African American education in Lexington and Fayette County prior to the 1980s. In 1963, Lexington Schools were still segregated, while Fayette County schools were all integrated but for one exception, Douglass Elementary School, which housed 385 students.

Because Douglass School closed in 1971 following integration, there remains little to no information in one location about the school, which opened in 1929. However, after much digging, I was able to find a variety of pictures and newspaper articles about the school, and received a brief history of its changes over time  from an elementary school to a high school back to an elementary school from the superintendent’s office at Fayette County Public Schools .Now, I just have to put all the pieces together and try to complete a history so that in the future all of this information will be in one place.

Defying the Norms of Racial Etiquette

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Social history

In the 1960s, there was an unspoken protocol as to how African-Americans should act around whites. As maids or “help”, African-Americans were segregated, to an extent, in the homes where they worked. They were often confined to the kitchen, entering and exiting only through the back door, and use of a separate toilet or none at all.

Despite the binding rules maids adhered to in the decades after slavery, these African-American women sometimes overstepped the boundaries. In an experience by Elise Talmage in The Maid Narratives, she told an account of one of the maids who ate lunch with her and her friends and would often come into the house through the front door. In another account, a man recounted when his father allowed their maid to sit in the family pew during his brother’s wedding. Though these two stories were of maids who were either unaware of the rules or were helped by their white family, in each case, the norms often created by whites were shattered. This is especially shown in the reactions of whites being “absolutely aghast” or “completely stricken” by the unusual events.

The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

Although Audrey Grevious never worked as a maid, she also experienced segregation, but in the schools where she taught. Growing up, Grevious had not noticed the harsh effects of segregation, until she visited New York for a convention. The differences between New York—where there was more tolerance—and Lexington were made very clear in the treatment African-Americans received from whites.

As an educator, Grevious first decided to overstep the norms of segregation in the integration of the Kentucky Village in Lexington. At the time, the lunchroom was separated into two different dining rooms: one for whites and one for African-Americans. After about 6 months after joining the teaching staff in the late 1950s, Grevious decided to sit in the lunchroom designated for whites.  The reactions of the white workers were comparable to that of the whites who witnessed African-American maids defying the rules: they “threw their food in the trash can and on the floor […] and marched on out.”

Interestingly, looking at these two different stories of Grevious and the “help”, things did not change much in the treatment of African-Americans. Though they were no longer in subservient roles, African-Americans were still segregated in the workplace. The steps they took to defy the norms of racial etiquette were not in vain, however. Each bit of progress was but a stair in the walkway to equality.

Sources

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.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 February 2013.

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

Working towards Equality

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Primary source, Social history

Throughout the civil rights movement many  white Americans have helped the cause by participating in sit ins, street demonstrations, protests, and helped integrate and desegregate schools, housing, and parts of town. In the book The Maid Narratives,

Picture of the

“The Maid Narratives”

there is an entire section that is devoted to the white family members’ perspectives. In this section, white members of the community recount tales of how they defied the social norms to work towards gaining social justice for African Americans in their towns. Just as the people in this book work towards social equality, Suzy Post worked to desegregate schools in Louisville, KY by defying the social norms that were in place at the time. Suzy Post and other Whites worked effortlessly to move the civil rights movement forward.

Suzy Post is a civil rights activist who works tirelessly throughout her life to end the inequality faced by African Americans. She worked to allow more open and fair housing, to desegregate schools, to gain more rights for women, and to campaign against the war efforts. However, one of her biggest accomplishments is her work to desegregate schools through getting the busing law passed in Jefferson county, Kentucky. This law was one wanted by many African Americans because the white schools traditionally had better resources, better facilities, and more opportunities for the children who went there.

Portrait of Suzy Post

Suzy Post

Naturally then most of the people who sat on the case were Black but Suzy Post defied the norm and was the only white person to sit on the trial. She allowed the community to see that white Americans could and did stand up for civil rights and worked towards ending the injustice experienced.

       The Maid Narratives tells of many white Americans that have stood up to the injustices experienced by African Americans. Elise Talmage, Flora Templeton Stuart, and Hal Chase stood up to segregation by picketing segregated institutions, blocked the streets with protests they were involved in, and taught on the subject of African American history and the civil rights movement to gain more awareness on the issue. Along with these people who actively participated in the more well-known actions of the civil rights movement, there were many Whites who fought against the pressures of the social norms in their everyday lives. One story told by a sixty-six-year-old man explains of how his family allowed their house maid Anna to sit in the front of the church by his parents instead of in the back pew. While the bride’s side of the church was appalled by this action, all of the groom’s friends and family saw this as a natural occurrence. Actions such as these showed that Whites worked to end the injustice faced by Blacks.

From the 1920’s to the 1970’s the civil rights movement has been one that has dominated our society and been a long time struggle for everyone in our communities. While most people mainly think of this movement dominated by African Americans, many white Americans worked to help move this movement forward and gain equality for Blacks. These white Americans participated in large scale community movements such as sit ins and protests as well as smaller scale movements such as treating their black maids as equals in community events. These movements helped to gain equality and civil rights for African Americans across the country.

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“Maid Narratives.” Iowa Public Radio News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

“Hall of Fame 2007.” Kentucky: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights –. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

Thuesen, Sarah . “Documenting the American South: Oral Histories of the American South.”

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

 

Lead by Subtlety: Viola Davis Brown

February 24, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Social history

By researching Viola Davis Brown and her accomplishments to publish a Wikipedia page about her life, I have discovered one of the subtle leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Viola Davis Brown, born in 1936, was certainly a pioneer of the movement in Kentucky, although not in the traditional context. The contrast in Brown’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement does not exist in her outward protest and open discrediting of segregation, but rather in her career and her personal accomplishments.

Photo of Viola Davis Brown

Viola Davis Brown

My research, though not complete, has not yielded any indication that Viola Davis Brown was involved with any organization such as NAACP or other traditional movements promoting integration during her lifetime. I found no record of Mrs. Brown openly addressing her race as a limiting factor or protesting for equality. Rather, her achievements and perpetual promotion in the work place has led her to be an extremely prominent figure of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.Viola Davis Brown became the first African American student in Lexington to attend and graduate with a nursing degree. She continued her education at the University of Kentucky, where she became a certified Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.  Mrs. Brown’s career was merely beginning when she was appointed Executive Director of the Office of Public Health Nursing for the Kentucky Department of Health Services in Frankfort, Kentucky. The accolades have not since halted.

Book cover, The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

The most appropriate connection I was able to draw between the life of Viola Davis Brown and the ideas regarding the themes of The Maid Narratives fell among the ideas of Cognitive Dissonance and the Defiance of the Norms to Stand Up against Injustice. Viola Brown did not have to join strident organizations that proudly announced their cause within the movement. Brown’s actions, including the pursuance of higher education and career promotion at her own discretion, represent the subtle ability of an individual to overcome substantial barriers such as those dividing race in Lexington, Kentucky during her lifetime.

The descriptions in the text of The Maid Narratives carefully describes the acknowledgement of racial difference and the societal belief that two races, namely Black and White, are psychologically inconsistent. Viola Brown did not have to address this societal injustice head on. Rather, she committed herself to education and advancement within the sector of public health. Not only did she overcome the customs of her society and traditional role of the Whites to assume positions of medical care, she did so without personally addressing her race as a reason to see justice through. The textual example of the maid employer, Elise Talmage, would directly parallel, I can only imagine, the description of a white observer commenting on Brown’s progress in the field of health management. While it was entirely unheard of for a Black woman to hold such a position of prestige, Mrs. Brown continued to secure these positions and became a representation of triumph over segregation for the community and state, at large.

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Sources:

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

College of Public Health. “Hall of Fame Past Inductees: Viola Brown” University of Kentucky College of Public Health (2011): n. pag. Web. 11 February 2013.

 

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