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Black women artist/activists of note

February 22, 2013 in Social history

The Kentucky Foundation for Women sent a message recognizing the rich history and legacy of African-Americans across the Bluegrass by highlighting two women who made important contributions to art and social justice in Northern and Eastern Kentucky. You can read about more great Black Kentuckians by visiting the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights’ gallery online at


Jane Roberta Summers, 1895-1992

Born in 1895, Jane Roberta Summers was a longtime activist against social injustice, racism, homelessness, and hunger in Covington. Ms. Summers was the first woman manager of government subsidized apartments in Covington and held this post for 25 years. She played an important role in the original local Meals on Wheels organization and joined the staff of the Covington Community Action Commission. At the age of 77, Ms. Summers earned a paralegal degree to help meet the need for low cost legal services in her community. She was an active member of the NAACP and the Poor People’s Coalition. She passed in 1992 at the age of 97. The Jane Roberta Summers Foundation was organized to continue her work for social justice. See more at the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (


Effie Waller Smith, 1879-1960

Effie Waller Smith was born in 1879 on a farm in Chloe Creek to parents who had been formerly enslaved. Ms. Smith completed 8th grade and then trained as a teacher at Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons in Frankfort, but her passion was writing. Her first poems were published in 1902 in local papers, followed by a volume of poetry Songs of the Months, which was published in 1904 by a press in New York City. Three short stories were published in Putnam’s before two more volumes of poetry were published in 1909, Rhymes from the Cumberland and Rosemary and Pansies. Her writing examined life, spirituality, religion, and the land. Although Ms. Smith only published for a span of 15 years, her work remains in publication today. See more at the Kentucky African Americans Database ( and Wikipedia (

The Fight for Equality in Housing

November 18, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

Ruth Booker Bryant of Louisville KY, 2003

Ruth Booker Bryant, KY Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame 2003

The effects of segregation in Louisville, Kentucky led the city to be split into two major sections. On the Black side of the city, the living conditions were rough, harsh and dirty for most African Americans. The claim ‘separate but equal’ was clearly not equal here. Some neighborhoods could be compared to third world country living conditions. While working as a social worker, Ruth Booker Bryant saw with her own eyes the way that some people were living, due to the poverty and the lack of upkeep by the cities garbage companies and housing companies.

Mrs. Bryant quit her job after seeing first hand people sleeping in the dirt, eating out of cans, having no furniture, etc. Mrs. Bryant lived in “Little Africa” (a segregated section of the Parkland neighborhood) for some time when first arriving to Louisville in the late 1940’s. This part of town had outside toilets and pigs and chickens running around people’s yards. This style of living needed to be upgraded, and seeing the things she did while being a social worker and then after living in Little Africa, she started to get involved with political activism on a small scale.

Ruth Booker Bryant joined the Women’s Committee of the Louisville Urban Renewal League, which had both white and black members. It was designed for progressive thinkers from bothe races to meet and “break the ice.” This was the first step in stopping segregation and for raising the bar for women’s rights in Louisville. Soon there after in the early 1960’s she became the chairman for the Housing Committee and joined the Louisville League of Women Voters. Mrs. Bryant’s new goal was to drastically improve the housing aspect of poor African Americans living in Louisville. She worked with leaders from government funded agencies such as Head Start as well as non-government groups active in Louisville during the early 1960’s during the War on Poverty. Her goal was to make the entire city of Louisville a better place to live.

Through her constant vigilance, Mrs. Bryant was able to impact her community  and bring about positive change to the people of Louisville. She crossed over racial and gender lines by being a black female. Mrs. Ruth Booker Bryant always carried herself in a positive light and never had time for hate. Women like her have helped change Louisville and Kentucky as a whole.

Most of my information came from:

Mrs. Ruth B. Bryant. Interview by Kenneth L. Chumbley. Digital recording and transcript. July 24, 1977. Tapes No. 592 and 593, Oral History Series, University of Louisville Archives, Louisville, KY.

Ruth Booker Bryant, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, KY.

See also the Lois Morris papers at the University of Louisville Special Collections:;cc=klgead;view=text;rgn=main;didno=klgar57k

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