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by emme23

Desegregation in schools: Not separate, but not equal

January 28, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

In an oral history interview with Jennie Wilson, she depicts life in Mayfield, Kentucky during the early 20th century as a community where segregated was prevalent, causing many African-Americans were forced to live in fear.

Jennie was born in 1900, the child of former slaves. Although she was free, Jennie still carried many of the same burdens as her parents. As a girl she worked in tobacco fields along side the men, while also cooking and cleaning in white households for a meager wage. She calls the events that took place in Mayfield “scary times,” with one especially horrific event occurring on the third Monday of every month, when white men would get drunk, harass, and sometimes kill members of the black community.

Although Jennie’s daughter Alice was born over 40 years later, she also dealt with prejudice and violence in her daily life. In 1965, Alice and nine other black students decided to integrate with white students and attend Mayfield High School. The reason Alice and her peers wanted to attend the school was not so they could study with white students, but because they would have access to better educational resources. In all black schools, students were given old books and other school supplies that had come hand-me-down from the white schools. Once Alice started attending Maysville High School, she was threatened and harassed by members of the school and community. Alice also felt like she was ignored by her teachers and mistreated by her classmates. Unfortunately, situations like this were not uncommon after the Brown v. Board of Education court ruling, such as in the case of Ruby Bridges, a six year old girl exposed to violence after integrating into an all white school.

Despite the struggles Alice faced in school, she continued to get an education and is now a music teacher. Her three other siblings also attended college. Though integration during this time period was a struggle for African-American students, it helped pave the road to a future where segregation is not an issue, where children are able to attend school no matter their ethnicity, and where learning is a priority in the classroom – not skin color.


“Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 27 January 2013.

“Ruby Bridges.” Wikipedia. N.p., 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Progression of Education Amongst African Americans

January 27, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s


Define education.  Education is the ability to progress as an individual.  It is the greatest equalizer.  Furthermore, it exists in such a manner that it can divide as well as equalize.  This picture of the dividing and equalizing nature of education can be vividly seen in the history of African Americans.

In an interview with Jennie Hopkins Wilson by KET  (, Wilson, born to slave parents discusses how minimal of an education she was able to receive.  Her “formal” education lasted only six years.  This limited education was all she needed to serve the tasks of cooking and agricultural labor from which she supported herself alongside her family.  In this way, education kept her in the slave like, subservient role historically served by her slave parents.  If all she learned was vocational tasks, it was all she would be able to do.

Although eventually granted education, blacks were still denied true equality as society progressed.  Separate but equal was not equal.  Students in black schools knew resources were better in white schools, and as such when integration became required by law in 1954, many decided to take advantage of them.  Among these was Alice Wilson, (also interviewed by KET, see above link), who joined friends in Western Kentucky in choosing to integrate.  In the documentary, opposition by whites was displayed largely, but I would be curious to know if there was such opposition on both sides. (A quick internet search did not lead me in a direction supporting or contradicting this idea, but I would like to look further).

Even when integration was legalized, strong opposition disabled black students from reaching their full potential within these systems. Teachers ignored black students, stealing their opportunity within the classroom.

Life after “Freedom”

January 27, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

picture of Jennie Wilson

Jennie Wilson, aged 102

Jennie Wilson, the daughter of slaves is a prime example of what being a black in
America looks like after the slaves were freed. In her oral history interview she speaks of her work in the field when men were wounded and her work within the homes of whites at the time. She speaks of her parents, her father who was able to “slip off to Paducah” to freedom, and her mother who was sold into slavery from Virignia. What is interesting about Wilson’s story is how although she was born in 1900, in a time after slaves were freed, she found herself working menial, slave-like jobs in order to make a life for herself and her four children. She only attended 6 years of school and only attended three months out of each of those years. This is because she had to help support her family from a very young age as this predated the mandatory minimum wage laws to black help with in the home. Therefore, her education was limited because of a tilted, self-fullfilling cycle. What contributes to her interesting story, however, was her ability to put four kids through college.

One of her children, Alice Wilson, also speaks of her experiences integrating a local high school in her home town of Sturgis, KY. Although on their first day govenor A.B. Chandler had to call in the National Guard to allow the children’s entrance, Alice Wilson reports her experience quite indifferently. She relates that although she and her peers were doing something important, to them it was just a chance to experience a better college prepatory education. What makes her story interesting is its contrast to that of her mother’s. While her mother was barely educated, doing the best she could under the oppression of whites in her own childhood, Alice considers the opposition to her intergration was quite lack-luster. Although she relates many people calling names and particular instances in which she felt threatened, overall other students reported her as “nice and clean.” This battles a lot of prejuides that contemporary researchers probably have because of the idea that all integration was fought against and led to violence. Although violent riots did of course occur, Alice’s testimony reveals that maybe the largest influence of those who opposed integretation only did so for attention, and that once their stage was darkened there was no longer a point.

Jennie and Alice’s stories are great ones to look at because they show a decent timeline of what the “freedom” of blacks looked like in the postbellum period.




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.

Carl D. Perkins: Appalachia’s Voice in Washington

April 20, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Political history

Carl Dewey Perkins served the people of eastern Kentucky as their 7th Congressional District U.S Congressman from 1949 until his death on August 3, 1984 and during those 36 years the Knott County Democrat became one of the most powerful voices in Congress. Born in Hindman, Kentucky on October 15, 1912, Perkins attended local schools and later would go on to earn his law degree and hold several local and state political offices, but it was his time in Washington D.C and his service to the people of his native eastern Kentucky and Appalachia that he will be forever best known for.

Described as a ‘iron horse” for the people of Appalachia it did not take Perkins long to gain national recognition. After taking office as Kentucky’s 7th District Congressman on January 3, 1949, Perkins became an early supporter of civil rights by backing President Harry Truman’s attempt to establish a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FPEC) in 1950. A permanent FEPC called for anti-lynching legislation and the abolishment of the Poll Tax among others. The bill was passed by the U.S House but the U.S Senate’s Southern Democrats “filibustered” the bill and it failed in the U.S Senate. Over the next decade Perkins continued to support the call for civil rights in America and he was one of only eleven Southern Democrats to support and vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also in 1964 Congressman Perkins became a central part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty in the U.S Congress. One of those bills was the creation of the U.S Job Corps under the Economic Opportunity Act, the Job Corps provides a free education and training program that helps the youth of America learn a career, earn their high school diploma/ GED, and find a good paying job once completed. Since 1964, Job Corps has served over 2 million young people and currently serves around 60,000 youths throughout the U.S each year. Perkins’ legacy while in Washington would have to be his relentless work for the under-privileged in America, especially eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. He became chairman of the U.S House’s Committee on Education and Labor in 1967 and held that position until his death in 1984. During that time he sponsored and backed many of the modern public schools federal legislation like the free school lunch program and vocational education which is currently known as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006. The federal student loan program or better known as the Perkins Loan also honors his name and has given the opportunity for thousands of Americans to attend college in the U.S. Also Perkins was seen as a strong advocate of the Head Start program in America.

Another lasting legacy that Perkins created was perhaps felt most by the people he served for  those 36 in Congress and that was he never forgot where he came from or who he worked for. He made frequent trips from Washington to the area and knew many of his constitutes by their first name. He stood up for his mountain people and the oppressed in America and never quit until he was satisfied that everyone was getting a fair shake no matter their economic status or background. Congressman Perkins has been decreased for nearly 30 years now, but the impact he made in America, especially in Appalachia will live on for generations to come. Carl D. Perkins’ personal and political papers are stored in the Archives section of the library at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

Works Cited

Photo Courtesy of WSGS Radio Station, Hazard, Kentucky

Dr. Grace Marilynn James: Serving the Underserved

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Just this year, on March 16, Dr. Grace Marilynn James was inducted into the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit in Frankfort, an honor given to outstanding women in Kentucky history by the Kentucky Commission on Women.  While relatively unknown to many, Dr. James was an important figure in the struggle against both racial and economic injustice.

Grace James was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1923. She was a very educated woman, beginning her post-secondary education at West Virginia State College.  After completing her post-graduate work there and at the University of Chicago, she entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with an M.D. in 1950.  Upon earning her M.D., James moved to New York City and completed an internship and pediatric residency at Harlem Hospital; while there, she also became a clinical fellow at both Babies’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic.  James further expanded her formal training by studying child psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens Village and by becoming a fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University’s Jacobi Hospital, where she practiced caring for children with disabilities.(1)

In a fellowship application addressed to the National Urban League, James explained that she had wanted to go to medical school because she had an “interest in human suffering,” that of African Americans in particular.  She further noted that she had been inspired by a visit to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx to help “the ones who needed to be taught, educated and given a chance to learn sound principles of health.”(2)

James moved to Louisville in 1953, where she began teaching at the University of Louisville in a non-paying, part-time post; she was the first African American woman on the faculty at Louisville’s School of Medicine, and she continued teaching at the university for twenty-five years.(2)  When James moved to Louisville, the city hospitals were segregated by law.  Although James became the first African American woman to be granted membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society, she still had to defend her status to the medical community.(3)  Not only did she face discrimination from white practitioners because she was black, she was criticized by both white and black men for being a woman in this field and for choosing to serve the poorest clients.  James realized that there were many people other doctors were hesitant to serve because they were too poor to afford services.  James also saw that many doctors would not serve single mothers and their children.

Soon after moving to Louisville, James opened a private pediatrics practice and a walk-in clinic that would serve the impoverished residents of Louisville’s West End neighborhoods.(4)  She accepted all patients that came through her clinic, regardless of whether they could pay.  James became an advocate for both preventative care and universal health care, and spoke about the growing infant mortality rate among black babies and about the medically underserved black community.  At her own expense, James kept items such as diapers, blankets, clothes, and books on hand for the poor mothers that needed them, all at her own expense.(3)

Dr. James’ career was long and distinguished.  She headed the Council on Urban Education and established the West Louisville Health Education Program.  She founded the Teen Awareness Project, its purpose to reduce the teenage birth rate among blacks.  James also became president of the Louisville chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.(1)  Eventually, she became affiliated with eight Louisville-area hospitals and became the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital.(4)



(1)  Kleber, John.  The Encyclopedia of Louisville.  (Lexington:  University Press of Kentucky, 2001).  Pp. 430-431




Omer Carmichael: Louisville Public Schools

April 18, 2011 in 1950s-1960s

            In the years following the 1954 Brown v. Education decision, public schools in Kentucky and across the nation were to become integrated. Written by George C. Wright of the Kentucky Historical Society, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-1980 follows how blacks in Kentucky have pushed for equality since the beginning of the 20th century. In a chapter concerning the 1950s to the present, school integration interested me.

            The 1956-57 school year in witnessed two landmark events in Kentucky school integration. As has been mentioned before, the events that took place in Sturgis would draw national attention that required Governor Happy Chandler to send in the Kentucky National Guard to protect the black students involved. In the shadow of the events in Sturgis, the Louisville Board of Education began to enact its desegregation plan that same September.

            The superintendent at the time was Omer Carmichael. Carmichael and the school board ignored much criticism from the Louisville NAACP on their delayed start of integration, as well as criticism from much of the black population. Carmichael would state “it is very important for everything to be well in place before proceeding.” Carmichael also mentioned that immediate integration never garnered enough support and that “Louisville’s articulate Negro leadership showed helpful restraint and moderation in allowing the desegregation process to develop uncomplicated by impetuous or intemperate demands for speed.” Carmichael was also very voiced in refusing to work with the NAACP calling them “radical and often pushy.”

President Eisenhower(left) and Carmichael(right)

            Carmichaels plan included several parts, including redistricting of students to schools that were closest to their homes. However, within in his plan, “freedom of choice” was most important. Blacks could choose to attend mixed schools and whites could choose to attend segregated schools if they wished. Due to housing problems in Louisville, many whites found themselves living in close proximity to blacks. This “freedom of choice” allowed these students to attend all-white schools in all-white neighborhoods.

            Louisville’s desegregation would gain national attention and become a model of school integration across the nation. Superintendent Carmichael would receive an invitation to the White House by President Dwight Eisenhower in recognition of the peaceful integration of the Louisville public school system. However, very little integration actually occurred. There were only a few blacks enrolling in white schools and no whites going to the black schools.

            Furthermore, to those living in Louisville the few blacks that attended the white schools were seen to be chosen because of their certain attributes. The black students who enrolled at Male High School at the time had very high intelligent test scores. Also, many of the first black students at white schools were outstanding athletes, a pattern that became to be present across many schools in the nation.

            The moderate plan that Carmichael and the Louisville Board of Education implemented was praised by educators and politicians across the nation. Again showing how Kentucky was of utmost importance and a frontrunner during the American Civil Rights movement.


Wright, George C. “A History of Blacks In Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality.” 1992 Kentucky Historical Society. 203-205.–M0C&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=omer+carmichael&source=bl&ots=2ObGFZr2KV&sig=LPSHCwBSOADdfoSo6J3vLhybML4&hl=en&ei=bLusTfbtMZKG0QGZtbysCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=omer%20carmichael&f=false

by OneTon

Continuing the Work

December 19, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Social history

As I have posted before, I come from a loving family comprised of successful individuals. Newspaper clipping of Tad Chapman and Sophia Alcorn I am proud of my mother and father as they have led a hardworking and fulfilling life. My father served in the Air Force while my mother took care of my older brothers, Sean and Nick, and myself back home in Omaha, Nebraska. I also have the pleasure of having the sweetest sister-in-law, Jennifer. My mother eventually began her teaching career and taught for over ten years in the elementary level. Jennifer graduated from the University of Kentucky and now teaches disabled students in Charlotte, North Carolina. Being surrounded by two incredible teachers, I have had the opportunity to gain a new respect towards a career in education.

Born in 1883, Sophia Alcorn, pledged a life to teach disabled children in Kentucky. A native from Stanford, Kentucky, she was “a foremost educator of the disabled, Sophia developed the Tad-Oma Method to teach deaf and blind children to speak through the sense of touch.” The innovation of the Tad-Oma Method has made an impact on all students, teachers, and families affected by disability. The Tad-Oma Method works by the student placing his or her hand on the teachers face and matching the vibrations with words. “This method enables a child to learn to speak clearly by copying the teacher’s vibration pattern,” which is a helpful tool to last in the world of today.

A toast and special thanks to all teachers and professors who challenge students in order to better themselves and others around them!
Resource: “Famous Kentucky Women,” Kentucky Cooperative Extension Services, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, last revised, May 1997,

by OneTon

First Woman Dentist in Kentucky

December 1, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history

The first woman dentist in Kentucky was born near Warsaw, Kentucky in 1842. This well educated young woman accomplished many obstacles before her death in 1922. Lucy Dupey Montiz had a midlife career change before committing herself to the study of dentistry. A wife, mother, school teacher, and finally a dentist, Mrs. Montiz showed determination as she became Kentucky’s first female dentist.

A graduate from the Cincinnati College of Dental Surgery, Mrs. Montiz, showed courage and an abundant amount of knowledge as she graduated with honors in 1889. Dentistry was primarily a career for males which is why Mrs. Montiz is such an incredible woman in the history of Kentucky. Her feat is more amazing by the fact that she was listed as Kentucky’s only female dentist at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

She was active in dentistry til 1921 and had to remove herself due to health reasons. She passed away a year later. Mrs. Lucy Dupey Montiz was a stunning woman, but was given few awards because of her gender. This author believes thanks is in order for all women who made great strives to better themselves and others around them!

by OneTon

Breckenridge Memory

November 19, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Growing up in any city, it is human nature to memorize street names. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky for the majority of my twenty two years. I lived in the east end of town, in a prosperous little city called Saint Matthews. I became very knowledgeable of my surroundings and the streets that I was constantly traveling on. Now that I am older and attending the University of Kentucky, I have had the opportunity to meet new and exciting individuals each day. I recently spoke to an older woman who lives in the neighborhood located on Henry Clay’s former Ashland Farm. The lady was a retired teacher who taught history at Breckenridge Elementary. As we spoke, she revealed impressive knowledge of Madeline McDowell Breckenridge who is one of many famous Kentucky women who fought for suffrage in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Once she dropped Mrs. Breckenridge’s name, I immediately remembered Breckenridge Lane in Louisville and finally understood the importance of the name.

Mrs. Breckenridge was born on May 20, 1872 in Woodlake Kentucky. She grew up on the Ashland Farm and was related to Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Coming from such a distinctive family, she was raised in the spirit of emancipation and social justice. She received an excellent education in Lexington, Kentucky and Farmington, Connecticut. After that she studied from 1890 to 1894 at the State College (University of Kentucky). She married Desha Breckenridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald but never had children. On November 25, 1920, Madeline McDowell Breckenridge passed away due to Tuberculosis.

 In 1908, Breckinridge became chairman of the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, performing that duty until 1912. She successfully lobbied to allow women to vote in Kentucky school board elections, and helped secure legislation to create a state library commission and a forestry commission. In 1912, Breckinridge became president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) succeeding her cousin, Laura Clay, who founded the organization. The association became Kentucky’s leading women’s suffrage organization, advocating for women’s right to vote.

During World War I it became increasingly difficult for women to propagate their cause, as the eyes of the nation were focused on the war. Suffrage members thus increased their effort to re-evoke the interest in women’s rights. Breckinridge traveled across the American South, giving a series of speeches in all major cities there. After a long battle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed women the right to vote under official constitutional protection, was finally passed by Congress. Its ratification in Kentucky in January 1920 was largely credited to Breckinridge’s efforts. She lived to cast her first and only vote in the November 1920 election, dying that month at the age of 48.

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