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Jennie Hopkins Wilson Interview

January 28, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history

After watching the Jennie Hopkins Wilson interview by KET, reading the first four chapters of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have found many overlaps.  The culture throughout the southern states was similar although states and parts of states were better or worse to blacks than other parts.  After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war conditions were not improved in most places. Blacks were chained to the same jobs and people as they were in slavery.

In Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, watchers learn that both her parents were slaves.  Her father ran to freedom in Paducah, Kentucky from Mayfield, Kentucky.  He made the twenty five mile trek so he could join the Union army.  Paducah was supposed to be a free city but when Wilson’s father reached the city he found a great deal of discrimination.  One of Wilson’s most feared moments was on third Mondays of each month.  Those were the days that some of the men in the got drunk and harassed the colored people in city.  Wilson recalls one occasion when some of the men came to her house.  Her parents knew their intent was to kill all of them so when the men called her father out of the house he would not go.  According to Wilson, harassment like this was not uncommon.  Wilson also recalled a story she had heard about lynchings in Paducah.  She said that before she was born (1900) lynchings had become so common in Paducah that the state threatened to take away their courthouse if they hung anyone else.  (After further research into this I did not find an official threat.)

Similar to Jennie Hopkins Wilson and her mother, women from The Maid Narratives held jobs similar to the ones they and their mothers had as slaves.  Many black women cooked and cleaned and took care of children for the white families.  Their role went further than that though.  The families the black maids, also referred to as mammies, worked for often formed special bonds with them.  The children felt especially attached to their maid and the adults of the household would ask for advice from the maids because of their greater amount of life experiences.  Besides their physical and emotional roles to the family, colored maids also had a larger societal meaning for the families they worked for.  The man of the household could prove how wealthy and useful he was by the amount of money he brought in.  Women, on the other hand, used household affairs to prove themselves.  This meant that the better, or larger number of maids you had, the richer you were.  Having a maid became an imperative sign of social status.

Through watching Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, reading parts of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have learned that stories from across the south are quite similar.  Commonalities include harassment, social status of both whites and blacks, and discrimination of all kinds.




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.

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