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KY Governors for Desegregation

April 19, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Research methods, Uncategorized

Until I started researching on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and KET websites, I never knew that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson (of the Brooklyn Dodgers)stood on the steps of Kentucky’s State Capital building during the Civil Rights Era.  Civil Rights in Kentucky isn’t taught in many schools like the National Civil Rights movements of the 1950‘s and 60’s. Therefore, I found it interesting to know that people like Happy Chandler and Bert T. Combs made substantial contributions to the Civil Rights movements in Kentucky.

Happy Chandler served as Governor of Kentucky for two separate terms along with serving as a U.S. Senator and as the commissioner for the MLB, where he allowed the integration of blacks such as Jackie Robinson to play professional baseball.  Chandler, as governor faced some disgruntlement with Kentuckians when desegregation came into the Bluegrass; however he stated that “when the Governor takes office, he puts one hand on the Bible and takes an oath before God to protect the humblest citizen.  What we did today is in keeping with the oath I took.” This was after some trouble in two western Kentucky counties where he sent Kentucky State Guards to protect the African American students from the harm of white farmers.  Though Chandler was unsuccessful at keeping these two schools desegregated because they did not have an “orderly process” of desegregation, the children had to wait till the following year when the courts forced the school engage in desegregation.

Bert T. Combs, who succeeded Happy Chandler, also favored desegregation.  Combs appointed Galen Martin as the first Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.  The CHR was designed to supervise the legal rights of minority groups in Kentucky, looking for civil solutions for racial problem across the state.  Combs also emitted two executive orders that reviewed the states procedures and contracts to eliminate discrimination and also to discourage discrimination in public places including restaurants, hotels, and etc.  The bill did not pass the committee though thousands of people rallied in favor of this bill in Frankfort including Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson; however, after the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Rights Act of 1964 the bill was reinstated into the committee and passed.

I find it amazing how like Bert T. Combs and Happy Chandler have influenced this great state into what it has become.  Kentucky’s desegregation might have not been as harsh as those seen in Alabama or Mississippi, but all-in-all it makes me proud to live  in a state where people like this try to make a difference for the better good.  From my family that grew up in Versailles I have heard many good things about Happy Chandler, but I never heard about his time as the commissioner for MLB.  It makes me wonder that if he wasn’t the commissioner, how long it would’ve taken for the MLB to allow African Americans to play, and if Jackie would’ve still been on the steps of the Capital rallying for the desegregation in Kentucky.


Happy Chandler’s reaction to Sturgis and Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Works Cited

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

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

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