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Individual Acts of Excellence

February 18, 2013 in 1960s-1970s, Primary source, Social history

Throughout the 20th century many group efforts were made to end segregation across the Kentucky community. However, there were many women who made individual efforts to stop segregation. Two women who made great strides to end segregation were Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd. These women helped to stop the segregation that they saw happening in their everyday lives. These women sacrificed their jobs, reputation, family and friends to help put an end to the injustice that was occurring in Kentucky during this time period.

Picture of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious was fortunate enough as a child to be able to go to school and get an amazing education. In her oral interview, she says that it was these teachers who taught her during her childhood and her mom that pushed her to work so hard to get a college education and become a teacher herself. Throughout college she worked three jobs to pay to go to Kentucky State and from this she understood how important education is. After college she took this hardworking mentality to her next job, a teacher at Kentucky Village Reform School, later known as Greendale Reformatory. She started teaching the girls that went to the school and was despaired that some of the eighth graders could only read at a second or third grade level. So she began to work hard, using the skills she learned while putting herself through school, to allow these kids to have the same opportunity at a great education that she had. Not only this, but she worked to desegregate the reform school as well. Her and her students would eat lunch in the White cafeteria and she talked to the school superintendent several times. While she often times feared that her job would be lost, she never stopped fighting for equal rights and opportunities for her students, and eventually received what she wanted. Grevious worked endlessly to allow Blacks to have equal rights, hold positions and go places that they had never previously been.

Just as Grevious worked to obtain equal rights for her students, Mae Street Kidd worked to allow Blacks across the state of

Picture of Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd

Kentucky to legally have equal rights as Whites. Kidd pushed for the Kentucky legislature to ratify the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, the 14th amendment, which granted citizenship to African Americans, and the 15th amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote. Kidd was able to accomplish this and much more, such as passing legislation for equal and fair housing for all. By being elected to Kentucky’s General Assembly, she was able to lead and participate in many campaigns to get each of these goals accomplished. As a Kentuckian, Kidd was proud of her state and heritage and didn’t want Kentucky’s history to be defined by unjust actions such as not passing these amendments.

Both of these women worked tirelessly throughout their lives to gain equal rights for the people that they fought for. With their individual acts against segregation and discrimination, they each pushed Kentucky further into being a state that was desegregated and granted equal rights to all. They put all that they had and believed in on the line so that others could live in a better environment. Their efforts were coupled with the efforts of great organizations such as the NAACP to end segregation and discrimination in Kentucky and across the U.S.

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“Audrey Grevious.” The HistoryMakers. <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/kidd-mae-street-1909-1999>. 18 Feb. 2013.

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

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

“Kidd, Mae Street (1909-1999).” The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/kidd-mae-street-1909-1999>. 18 Feb. 2013.

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.

 

 

by emme23

Desegregating Education in Kentucky

February 12, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

In Kentucky, as in many other states, the fight for desegregation did not come without great difficulty, and even after Brown v. Board passed true equality was not instantly achieved. The push for desegregation began in the 1930s with the NAACP, countering the Day Law which took effect in 1904,  decided to focus on desegregation at the highest level of education first, then work their way down to lower levels of education. In 1954, the Brown v. Board court case made integration legal. However, though it was legal in Kentucky, many communities, especially small rural ones, had no intentions of integrating anytime soon. Despite this reaction from parts of Kentucky, schools such as Lafayette High School in Lexington, the first desegregated school in Kentucky, made efforts to have an interracial school.

Protestors march for integration.

Though Lafayette was an integrated school, not all schools in Lexington were so easily integrated. In the 1970s, inner city schools, which primarily hosted black students, were closed in an effort to promote desegregation. In Louisville, similar efforts were being made. Judge James Gordon instituted a busing plan in Jefferson County to promote integration in public schools.

There might have been conflict over integration in Kentucky schools, but integration was still higher in Kentucky than it was in the rest of the south. In 1964 92% of Kentucky schools were integrated, as opposed to less than 20% in the rest of the south.

Even at schools that were integrated however, black students were not greeted as if they were equals. “On the second day when I [arrived], there was a crowd of people there that had shovels, pitchforks, that were outside of the school, name calling. The state police and National Guard were called in, I believe it was on the third day,” said James Howard.

For white students who supported integration, the backlash was sometimes just as prominent as it was for black students. “White students who accepted the blacks were called out as well. “They were called ‘nigger lovers’ and of course because they lived in the white community day in and day out, they were treated with disdain. In fact, some were beaten up… for no other reason than they didn’t participate in name calling or cursing or any agitation towards us. In many ways they paid as big a price as many of the black students that they befriended,” said Howard.

Though there was a plus side of integration – better facilities and materials — Nancy Johnson, an African-American student during the integration period, said that black students lost the sense of community they once had. “We lost our teachers. We lost that personal touch. Our kids are outnumbered, so they’ve been kind of lost.”

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“The Day Law.” KET. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 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.

 

 

Desegregation Breeds Unity

February 12, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

The late 1800s was marked by the norm of racial segregation in schools and other public places. The Day Law of 1904 further reinforced the harrowing institution, making it more difficult for African-Americans to pursue education without resistance. While there were schools established solely for “colored” folks, there was less funding, and the conditions of the textbooks and facilities were quite poor.

Remarkably, the NAACP was a key leader in the fight against segregation in education. In Lexington, Kentucky, Audrey Grevious—who was the president of the local NAACP chapter—was the one of the main torchbearers in the movement towards desegregation in schools. Grevious taught at the Kentucky Village, a reform school for delinquent children, where she decided to integrate the lunchroom by simply going in and taking a seat. It was no surprise that the white employees reacted negatively, “throw[ing] their food … on the floor and march[ing] out.”

It was clear that integration would be a long-fought battle despite the ruling of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. There was a massive wave of resistance in the 1950s, led by the emergence of the White Citizens Council and the rise to prominence of the Ku Klux Klan.  Desegregation was beginning to take place in schools, but at a deliberate pace that sometimes required lawsuits.

Integration in schools

Integration in schools

According to Grevious, integration didn’t always have its perks: “the best black teachers were put in the white schools, and the worst white teachers were put in the black schools,” which still made it a struggle for African-Americans to get good quality education. In Freedom on the Border by Catherine Fosl and Tracy K’Meyer, there were several accounts of hardships experienced by African-Americans when going to predominately white universities. In an excerpt by John Hatch—who attended law school at the University of Kentucky—he explained the physical and emotional separation he experienced as a student. Other white students would sometimes speak to him, but the university had a policy that “there should be a chair between [him] and white students.” Hatch also talked about the daily humiliation of always sitting down at a table alone because “everyone at the table would get up and leave.” Hatch’s account pained me the most because of his feelings of loneliness and inability to fit in.

After reading the excerpts in Freedom on the Border, it seemed that African-American men and women dealt with the desegregation in schools differently. Men were often treated worse and often felt isolated. Women also felt out of place, but accepted that they were left alone and sometimes ignored. Interestingly, athletics seemed to have become a mechanism that brought unity between African-Americans and whites. It was also a way to help desegregate schools, especially when African-Americans began being bused to places with better teams. I find it fascinating that at the University of Kentucky today,  a predominately black basketball team—one of the best in the nation, nonetheless—has also been able to bring people together, regardless of race.

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.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Brown v. Board of Education.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 11 February 2013.

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Berea College v. Kentucky.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 June 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“White Citizens’ Council.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 June 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Desegregation in Education

February 11, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

picture of Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston

 The Day Law of 1904 mandated segregation between blacks and whites in public schools in Kentucky. Of course, with this segregation came inequality in the quality of schools (and therefore education) between blacks and whites. This was not tolerated by the more prominent members of the black community and by the 1930’s attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and the NAACP began to battle this segregation. This began by his persuasion of the Supreme Court that the Missouri Law school was denying black students equal protection under the law. With this at the forefront, the NAACP continued to fight segregation at a legal level through the 1950’s. The most prominent example in the ’50’s would certainly be the Brown vs. Board of Education case in which Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned.

As far as men’s experiences being different than women, I would argue that any difference was minor. In most cases, being black was enough to isolate these students in an integrated situation. The only differences would be in examples of extracurricular activities, in which boys would be more likely to be bussed to white schools to enhance the athletic departments. Women, such as Alice Wilson, were discouraged from attempting to try to cheerlead or sing because of the already strained relations between her and the other white students.

Pro-segregationists, needless to say, were outrage in general about integration, inciting riots against incoming black students and expressing outrage at the busing options that were offered up. Black students were subjected to ridicule and death threats across the board. However, although the pro-segregationists were upset with integration, not all cases were as dramatic as others, especially since Kentucky was a border state. White supremacy was much more subtle and nuanced in this time, even though KKK was growing. This means that much of the racism that was happening was happening in the quality of materials that black students would get or where they were allowed to sit in public places.

Overall white women and men probably remember these times similarly because they are both viewing this period through the same lens. Stated another way, this being more of a race-focused issue verses a gender focused issue so whether one was a man or woman remembering, the story was probably still the same. If the interest in is difference of perspective, the true comparison would be between blacks and whites, as they were on completely different playing fields.

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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.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Brown v. Board of Education.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Charles Hamilton Houston.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

“Separate but Equal: Segregation in the Public Schools.” Separate but Equal: Segregation in the Public Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

1975 Kentucky Busing Law

February 10, 2013 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

Segregation in schools has always been a de facto thing in Kentucky until the Plessy vs. Ferguson case ruled separate but equal was constitutional. With this segregation in schools around the state became legal and remained this way until Brown vs. Board of Education. However, the schools remained segregated de facto until 1975 when the court ordered mandatory busing to make sure schools were desegregated. However, this movement was met with great resistance from the white population. In fact, many of the Whites that stood up to the busing movement were women who didn’t want their children to be bused so far from their homes and be in class with black children.

The busing movement was met with great resistance from the white community in a variety of forms. There were the well-known white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen Council that combated the busing rule. There were other people who contributed to trying to end this mandatory busing rule and a huge portion of these people were women. These women organized demonstrations and boycotts such as having their children stay home from school. In fact Sue Connor lead an anti-busing nonviolent demonstration to show support for ending mandatory busing of black children from inner city schools to schools in the suburbs of Louisville.

Picture of white women protesting busing to desegregate schools

Women protesting busing

The more interesting thing about women leading these demonstrations is the women who did lead them and the reasons why they did. There were two main groups that participated in the fight to end busing in Kentucky. The first was a group of women that from the beginning opposed the law. This was a group of white women that didn’t want their white children having to go to school with black children. They disliked the idea that their children would be associating with the African American children and viewed that the schools that their children were now going to be going to were in the slums, not as good, didn’t live up to the standards they set for their children, dirty and unacceptable for their children. The other group, comprised to of both white and black women, stood up against busing because they felt that busing took away from their children’s schooling rather than helping it out. Students were being bused 30-45 minutes away from their homes so that the schools could make sure that each school was not over 45% African American and many parents felt that busing their children so that schools would be desegregated was causing more problems than it was helping. Many of the worries concerned the students being on the buses for so long and feeling uncomfortable being so far from their homes especially at such a young age. Parents didn’t feel comfortable with their children being taken so far away for a cause that had little to do with their children receiving a quality education. While these women didn’t hold protests, demonstrations, or were rude to the students who were bused, they did work to get their children out of the busing system and allowed others to know that they stood against this law.

Women played a crucial role in working to end the measures that were taken to desegregate schools, especially concerning the law that required busing to be mandatory in Louisville, Kentucky. These women actively spoke out against the issues, held protests to stop busing, and withheld their children from getting on the bus to boycott the law. Both black and women worked to end the busing law in the community and in their homes. They felt that it caused more problems than it cured. Whether they felt this way because they were uncomfortable with their children going to school so far away and their grades dropping, or because they didn’t like African Americans, these women worked to end the busing law.

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“6 Sep 1975 Jefferson County.” Kentucky: National Guard History EMuseum. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

“Labor Unions Protest Busing Plan in Louisville, Kentucky.” Mike Jackson, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 12 Oct. 1974. NBC Learn. Web. 5 September 2012.

Marriott,, Michel. “Louisville Debates Plan to End Forced Grade School Busing.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Dec. 1991. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

“1975 Year in Review.” UPI. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

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.

Educators for Integrated Education

February 10, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Primary source, Social history

Book cover, Freedom on the Border

Freedom on the Border

As a result of the constitutional affirmation of Kentucky’s Day Law in 1908, schools throughout Kentucky continued to be segregated. The developing movement to end segregated education, however, came in two distinct waves, according to oral history accounts in Fosl and K’Meyer’s “Freedom on the Border”, with the first beginning in the 1930s, and the second in 1950. Initially, active members of the NAACP made the decision to target the integration of education beginning at the highest level first. Thus, medical education and graduate level integration were of major concern to actions toward segregation.

The second wave of segregation, beginning in 1950, was recognized as “massive resistance” to the numerous, public grade schools that had yet to see reform. Schools began to rapidly desegregate in the coming decade with nearly 92% of all Kentucky schools having been integrated by 1964, however policies of implementing “freedom of choice” plans in schools would not contribute to complete integration. These plans involved students deciding where they would like to attend school and often put African American youths at risk because of deeply-rooted prejudices throughout the White community. These prejudices were not only espoused from major racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan but from within average families. As a result of the Cold War, white supremacists traditions, such as the defense of segregation, could carry on at the familial level as perpetrators eradicated any threat of communism.

During the second major wave in support of desegregation, models for the movement emerged such as Audrey Grevious. Grevious worked at the Kentucky Village, formerly Greendale Reformatory, for delinquent children. This campus was segregated in terms of race and gender. Integration efforts throughout the community had already begun in the form of stand-ins, sit-ins, marches, etc. Grevious, during an oral history interview, discusses the fact that while growing up, she lived under the confines of segregation but wasn’t unhappy because she possessed no knowledge of any other kind of life. Although Grevious “didn’t know any better to be unhappy”, her attendance of a conference in New York drastically changed her perspective and motivated her to become radically involved with the movement for integration in Lexington. Grevious became an educator because the smartest people she had ever known were teachers and she wanted to give back to her community and those who had prepared her “to live in a world that wasn’t split in the middle”. Her goal became to prepare her students in case “the change ever came” – that change being integration. She also acknowledged the fact that she “could not ask others to make a change and while she worked in a segregated environment” herself.

Photo of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious and others share their stories and memories of educational segregation but she illustrates an important point in her interview that no one tries to remember the negative that happened. In summary, Black youths, of both genders, enrolled in public education during the movement for integration were placed under the scrutiny of society yet they received immense support from within their own community and were under the guidance of many strong-willed educators such as Grevious who would continue to work for the permanence of equality for all in Kentucky schools.

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Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Cold War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

The History Makers. “Civic Makers: Audrey Grevious.” The HistoryMakers. Web. 10 February 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.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 10 February 2013.

 

 

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.

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