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Culture Shock!

October 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Note:  It became my realization early on that “apartness” often produces shock waves among citizens of the same general culture when one arm does not fully know or understand how the lives of the other arm differs or function.  And, sometimes the less dominant arm expects that the more dominant arm lives (lives) of perfection as standard bearers. The advent of ever-changing, ubiquitous television has served to make for a more realistic transparency over the years.


Generic Freshman Adjustment Plus Racial Overtones, Innuendos, etc.

For me, it was both during my initial on-campus stay at the University of Kentucky. On the one hand was the distance of being many miles away from home reached only by a long and laborious Greyhound Bus ride with quite a few layovers if I had an emergency. (Most undergraduate students were not allowed cars at that time and flying home into Bowling Green was not a reality then.)

The very physical freshman adjustment was rather generic and can be thought of as being separate and basically devoid of the racial concerns that the civil rights era presented. On the other hand loomed unmistakable “in-your-face, hard-to-dismiss”
racial occurrences. This post in this series on campus life as a Negro in the early 1960’s addresses both as sometimes one gives context for the other and thus presents a “double whammy” with which to concurrently contend.

Questions I pondered often … Were my expectations of what college life should be like on a predominantly white campus that were totally out of sync with the realities of that time? Or had I been sheltered too long and too often by a large helicoptering family of kin, church, and school? Or was it the University and its environs that were so different that I had every right to exist in wonderment at my newly-found experiences? In hindsight, I suppose the real answers encompass all of the preceding.

“Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.”

To begin with and to this day, I continue to be amazed at how any of us survived the first week of all day long and all night long screaming sirens sounded from Good Samaritan Hospital located right next door and up closely to the freshmen dormitories for girls. I am not sure which institution came first, but juxtaposition was a “Very Bad Idea.” Took me forever to become oblivious.

Then there were Limestone and Upper Streets, main thoroughfares which students needed to cross several times a day. I stood in shock as longtime students just crossed these streets wherever, whenever, and however without stopping or looking out for cars as though they, themselves, were non-destructible. And the next miracle was that the traffic seemed to expect it. Believe it or not the cars slowed down or stopped as though everyone expected that phenomenon! As a young person of color, I was afraid to take that risk as I had read about too many Southern tragedies involving my kind in similar circumstances.

I was literally beside myself when I finally found my advanced algebra class, and encountered a huge auditorium-sized room with a young professor accompanied by two proctors who monitored the center and outside aisles to assist students as needed. Of course, and as usual, I was the only non white student present. I struggled with that class! An entering test score put me there, but I certainly did not belong and as I would find out later, many others didn’t either.

Most of my math mates had come from large, highly ranked schools with advanced math classes like calculus and trigonometry. My minority school offered only Algebra II as the top math class in which I had made an A. Not enough. Curiously enough, what I remembered most about this class was an event that took place after the exam and our return from Christmas break. Some students complained that the answer posted in the display case in the hallway was not the answer they could attain. After the young teacher struggled at a front board to show them how to get the answer, and couldn’t, he turned crimson, faced the class, and exclaimed: “Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.” Needless to say, I heard later that he was placed on probation one semester for awarding too many F’s, and still later terminated. Unheard of by any teacher I had ever known.

Strewn Panties, Bras, etc. A Regular on Botanical Gardens Pathway

Socially, I was nonplussed to see panties, and bras scattered all over Botanical Gardens most mornings before the cleanup crews arrived. I suppose they were leftovers from the night before. Botanical Gardens then was a beautiful, large conversation-like sculptured pit with beautiful (some exotic) plants and flowers. It contained concrete benches that separated academic building on campus and were probably designed to give those who passed through a place of repose. I had to go through that enclave to reach my freshman English and speech classes. I finally became accustomed to seeing such paraphernalia each dewy morning that I had to go to those classes.

Botanical Garden photo from UK 1960 yearbook

Photo of UK’s Botanical Gardens, page 7 from the Kentuckian 1960


(To be continued)

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.
Return to text.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” Or Is it?

September 6, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Fall of 1961.

It was during the days of the University of Kentucky’s legendary Wildcat Coach Adolph Rupp (who wanted no Negroes* on his team) and one of the most famed players of all time: Cotton Nash.

On the eve of school opening, UK’s incoming freshmen at Boyd, Patterson, and Jewell Halls combined into one huge sea of young white female faces—excepting one–in the lobby of Boyd Hall. That one exception was a little dark, shy girl from south-central Bowling Green, Kentucky, who had never before been away from home, who had never before gone to an integrated school, who had never before been in a class with more than 25 students, who had never before been intimidated by students putting on such airs, posturing, using terms such as “rush” and names of connected sororities that she had never before heard. That poor wretched little creature who had survived the long ride from her safe home haven to this large formidable institution, who had bravely wished her family goodbye without encountering a single kith of her color, and who had unpacked to join the others in a university-planned welcoming event, my dears, be me.

They were singing lyrics to a melody that I had only heard but never really listened to that closely. As this was the state Flagship school, the song was the Kentucky State Song “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night.” Yes, I had heard the melody and knew the first fifteen words, but as the 13th word approached me, and I looked around that lobby filled with people not like me at all (the face of the students hadn’t been changed yet as it was only 1961 at UK), I suddenly had a horrible, paralytic realization. People had been singing “darkies” all this time. And
as hard working, underprivileged, abused people, they were supposed to be gay? And as the only darkie I had seen all day and the only darkie in that surrounding, I was supposed to understand and respect their assumed mindset of feeling gay?

Today, I can’t believe that I was the one that was embarrassed, though I can’t believe that I should have been. I was certainly humiliated to the point of tears as I stumbled back up to the third floor at the end of the hallway to my unoccupied room with the names Angela Alexander and Anna Catherine Scott written on the side of the door. All of the other rooms had two or three persons entering as occupying roommates; I had no one but myself. My thoughts were that the other name was made up, that there was no such person as this Anna C. Scott. My fears were substantiated by the fact that there was no Anna C. Scott the next day either, but I would not divulge to my mother when she called (and who wanted me to attend UKin the first place) as I did not want to worry her as the adult pleaser that then I was.

Finally on the second school day, a tall, attractive Negro young lady and her father rapped at the door. When I opened it she said, “Hi, I am Anna Catherine Scott from Mount Sterling and this is my father Reverend Scott. I am sorry that I am late.” That was the upside; the down side was that I would have 303 Boyd Hall all alone on Fridays, Saturdays and half the day on Sunday as Anna’s Mom was very ill and she had to go home to tend her and to church on Sunday, her father being the minister and all.

Angela Townsend, UK dorm room with hall mates

I had adjusted so well by the end of that sorrowful and horrible beginning that I am pictured here with hall mates after a date that I returned from and shared the experience with them. Pictured (l-r) are Linda, Angela, Maureen, and Kate.

Small guess that I did not mind that small inconvenience as I was just so glad to have a roommate to accompany me down to the cafeteria which served all three freshman dorms on the bottom floor of Boyd, and to talk to, to complain to, and to share experiences with. (Anna Catherine shared her experience with me that as she and her father were walking toward the dormitory, a group of Caucasion young men shouted nasties at them and her father admonished her to “just keep walking.”)

Though I was painfully shy, I seemed to garner attention from almost everyone else in the dorm, and I soon made many friends. Plus, there were two senior Negro girls who were transfers from Paducah Junior College: Mary Catherine Broady and Kay Grimes (now Jones). Mary and Kay joined me in making a total of three of us females on the whole of the UK dormitory campus. They lived across two yards in Holmes Hall and sort of took me under their arms to make certain that I attended a Negro Church, find the fast food establishments within walking distance of UK, and had dates. Also, the young Negro males from Louisville became my friends as there were more of them than there were females. So, by the end of my freshman year, I was pretty well entrenched again as a Negro social being with many white friends. “All’s well that ends well…” Sometimes. (To be continued.)

I wonder whether similar racial greeting experiences still slip through in our multicultural society of today.

~~~ Footnote ~~~
* The time was a few years before black activist Stokely Carmichael in a national march called for an unthinkably unheard of “Black Power,” which made previously “colored” people recently called Negroes suddenly “Black” people, and a time when renowned soul singer James Brown stomped and bellowed: “I’m Black and I’m Proud” etc., etc., and it seemed as though we newly named Black people were on the cusp of some sort of revolution. Click here to return to narrative.

The Work is Far From Over

April 28, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Oral history, Social history

The end of the semester has finally arrived and our final project on Audrey Grevious has been posted (http://www.kywcrh.org/projects/kchr-hall-of-fame/grevious). Without question, I thought rather pessimistically about our contributions to this project for most of the semester. Consistently, I thought in terms of quantity rather than quality in consideration of how much (or rather how little) information we were able to gather about Grevious. While our investigations and connections seemed less than successful at times, I have come to realize that our work has indeed been significant. I have learned SO much about Audrey Grevious and the movement in its entirety throughout this process and also hope that I have helped illuminate her life for others conducting similar research.

After utilizing the internet, texts, and most importantly, oral history interviews, I have observed the transformation of history and its record in just a period of 50 short years. The work my class has done this semester has been incredible – listening to the experiences of brave women, reading and analyzing literature about their lives, and even meeting them personally to record new history. I have never been more impressed with the success of a class.

Something I found very interesting from one of Audrey Grevious’ interviews that I studied closely was the following quote:

“And I feel like the generation now have lost out on that sort of thing. There’s not that closeness. There’s not that interweaving of cultures, of friendships, of anything.”

While this may be true from her perspective, from what I’ve gathered through all our research, today’s generation is better connected and more intertwined than ever. In examining the stories and backgrounds of students in our class alone, the sensitivity of our generation is ever increasing thus constantly embracing cultural difference and promoting friendships every day.

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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Kentucky Women in Civil Rights after WWII

March 5, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s

At the beginning of the 1940s, the suffering and unemployment created by the Great Depression created nationwide protest movements, which continued after WWII. One of the issues that invoked protest was the treatment of African-American soldiers. Those these men were traveling overseas to fight in the war just as white soldiers were, when they came home they were still not allowed to eat at the same counter as whites in a restaurant or sit in the same section on a bus. This segregation created national movements that are well known, such as the 13month bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, however efforts to stop the segregation were also taking place in Kentucky.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the NAACP Youth Council would host sit-ins and pickets in an effort to desegregation Louisville. This council was led by Lyman Johnson, who had earlier helped desegregate the University of Kentucky in 1949.

Other organizations such as CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also help protest efforts. CORE was an especially active group in Central Kentucky. The organization help regional workshops on non-violence for students, which helped students prepare to handle the abusive language they might face.

NAACP members protest against segregation.

Not only did organizations play a large role in addressing racial discrimination, but Kentucky women did as well. Anne Braden lead a hospital desegregation drive in Kentucky, and was arrested in 1951 after she protested the execution of an African-American man who was convicted for raping a white woman. She is most famous for her attempt to purchase a house for the Wades, a black family who was unable to purchase a home on their own because of the Jim Crow laws.

Another outstanding woman, Helen Fisher Frye, worked to organize the Danville chapter of the NAACP and worked to desegregate public housing as well as hosted sit-ins with students.

These women, though not made famous by history books, played a key role in creating a desegregated America. Often times their efforts are looked over, however it is important that we realize what a large role Kentucky women played in desegregating America.

***Resources***

“Anne Braden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Braden. 04 Mar. 2013.

Fosl, Catherine, and K’Meyer, Tracy Elaine. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

Frye, Helen Fisher. Interviewed by David R. Davis.   Eastern Kentucky University. 1980. http://nyx.uky.edu/oh/render.php?cachefile=keu1981oh065-Frye.xml. 04 Mar. 2013.

“Notable Kentucky African Americans – Frye, Helen Fisher.” University of Kentucky Libraries. University of Kentucky. http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=764. 04 Mar. 2013.

The Women Behind the Movement

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Social history

Most people recognize the civil rights movements as the 1960’s, a time characterized by Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful movements, Malcom X, sit ins, protests, and many more actions like these. However, the civil rights activists of the 1940s and the 1950s are the people who paved the way for such great and momentous actions that occurred later in the movement. While the 1940s and 1950s played a great role in the civil rights movements there was a lot more behind the scenes and smaller actions compared to the big mass movements that were organized later. These actions were largely made possible through the efforts of many women of the time. Many petitions and advancements for African Americans were directed by and gained respect for women across the state of Kentucky.

Many women organized the efforts that were made to gain equality during this time period. Petitions were huge during this

Picture of Anne Braden

Anne Braden

time period and women played a great role in making sure that people signed them and that they were presentable to the government. Anne Braden is an excellent example of a woman who organized one such petition. Braden and several other people worked towards getting a law passed that made hospitals accept everyone who was brought to their doors. However, this couldn’t happen unless Braden was able to show the benefit of this law and how many people supported this new law being put into action. So she organized a petition and went house to house and business to business getting people to see what injustice was happening and sign the petition to stop it. This is just one example of women taking control and moving the fight towards justice one step further.

Another way that women participated in gaining better and equal opportunities was by using their own personal skills and talents and putting the law on their side. They knew that they were great at what they did, deserved the same opportunities that white women received and were determined to work hard enough to get it. Helen Fisher Frye knew this and showed this through the hard work that it took to put on an African American concert at Centre College. Everyone at the school, especially the white male supervisors, doubted that she could get it done and do it in a professional manner. However, despite all of their doubts, she organized the concert, which ended up drawing people from all over the state and even from Cincinnati. The officials of the school were so impressed that they promoted her to being on their concert committee and opened up all concerts to African Americans. Frye showed through her great skill and talent that Blacks deserved the same exact rights that Whites did and gained that for all African Americans in Danville. Another woman that did this was Vallateen Virginia Dudley Abbington. Abbington was an African American teacher in Louisville who was getting 15% less pay than the white teachers in the area. So she took to the court to show and change this injustice. The school board was so shocked that this happened and wanted to change it so badly that they agreed that if Abbington withdrew the lawsuit all African American teachers would receive equal pay. By standing up for her and all other African American’s rights, she gained the equality in pay for teachers in the Louisville area.

All three of these women stood up for what they believe in, in their own ways. They didn’t organize mass movements to get the attention of everyone in the nation or in the state but rather worked on a smaller level to achieve smaller but equally as important milestones in the fight for equality in all areas of society. These movements paved the way for the bigger movements that were to come. Thanks to these women and many others like them the 1940s and the 1950s were first steps in making our society one that was fair and safe for everyone to live in.

***************************************************

“Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.” Notable Kentucky African Americans –. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

“Anne Braden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

“Civil Rights Movement.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 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.

Women as the Foundation, not the Face

March 3, 2013 in 1940s-1950s

NAACP Logo

NAACP Logo

According to the book, Freedom on the Border, the conclusion of World War II initiated the return of nearly twenty thousand African Americans from Kentucky who had served overseas. These soldiers had heightened expectations for social equality when they returned to the States, however, they soon faced the unfortunate reality that equality had not yet been leveraged. To promote the radical change demanded by society in order to uproot long-standing traditions of prejudice and discrimination, mass action had to be taken. The key to success during the 1940s-50s was organization. Groups supporting these causes already existed but the masses observed that no change would come if national campaigns were not launched.

CORE logo

CORE logo

In order to open public accommodations to all citizens of the United States, professional groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were formed to promote progress. The SNCC held a much stronger following within the Deep South, while CORE made significant strides in the Bluegrass State.  Alongside the NAACP, members of CORE began planning – they were planning for the attention-grabbing actions and protests of the early 1960s. While leaders of this time for these organizations were predominantly men, women composed overwhelming majorities of membership within each organization. Women, such as Audrey Grevious, would hold membership within these organizations and work actively within chapter projects in order to promote local change. These women gathered petitions and plan sit-ins while men within the organization rallied support throughout the region in the public eye. This example also unfortunately showcases another form of discrimination and stereotype that has traversed racial boundaries – gender equality.

One crucial action of the local NAACP and CORE organizations within Lexington, Kentucky prompted the integration of the University of Kentucky in 1949. While this is largely credited to Lyman T. Johnson’s successful case against the state’s Day Law, many women of color, who were part of these organizations, played a crucial role in gaining support for Johnson’s case. Upon integration, many women of color capitalized on the opportunity to attend the University of Kentucky as well. Two of their stories can be heard here, via oral history interviews regarding their experiences at the University of Kentucky upon the era of integration.

UK Logo

UK Logo

Without question, Kentucky women supported the official mobilization of organizations and movements within the state during the 1940s-50s. Their activity, however, is largely overshadowed by their male counterparts who often represented the face of campaigns. It should be noted, however, that women’s roles within this portion of the movement are not insignificant as their membership and commitment to the cause gave way to radical demonstrations during the 1960s that finally demolished the barrier preventing equality in Kentucky and in the United States.

Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Congress of Racial Equality.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality>. 3 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “Lyman T. Johnson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyman_T._Johnson>. 3 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “University of Kentucky.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Kentucky>. 3 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.

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.

 

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