You are browsing the archive for Jennie Wilson.

by mookygc

More is Less

February 5, 2013 in Oral history, Social history

I can not pretend to know much, if anything about life before the 1990s, especially not as an African American, and I have no basis to know what it was like to grow up in Kentucky, or anywhere else for that matter, during the civil rights movements, and the decades of strife that faced our ancestors.

By most accounts, living in Kentucky as an African American would have been terrifying in the early twentieth century. Jennie Wilson, who was born in 1900, spoke in an interview about “Third Monday”, the day of the month when all the white men would get drunk and go harass anyone who was African American: “We always dreaded third Monday we didn’t know what they were going to do. And they didn’t shoot through the house but they shot through the one up on the hill. But they told my father to come out, and he told them to come in; and they didn’t, And my mother was on her knees praying that they wouldn’t come in. ‘Cause she knew they would kill all of us. I don’t know why they hated us so.”

On the other hand, while listening to Reinette Jones speak I was surprised to learn that Kentucky was more ahead of the times in terms of desegregation, especially in schools. I learned that Kentucky had several counties with desegregated schools much earlier than was required by law, and those schools were in fact forced to segregate at one point. There seem to be quite a few contradictions in our history between fact and perception. This research is forcing me to look at things I never would have, and I feel that the more I learn, the less I know.

Alice Wilson – Perseverance

January 29, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Oral history, Social history

“Separate but equal” was a huge part of life, legislation, and the degradation of human beings throughout much of our country’s history. After the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, African American schools remained sub-par to white schools, using secondhand books and materials, as well as being deprived opportunities reserved for white children. Only 56% of teachers in “colored” schools were college graduates (http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/subject.php?sub_id=124).  In some parts of Kentucky, there was no option for children of color to go to high schools. Their under-funded schools were limited to younger grades, and most African American children had no high school to attend, even if their families could spare them for the time required to gain an education. Alice Wilson, of Mayfield, Kentucky, and nine of her friends saw this ridiculousness for what it was and took a stand. Without asking permission, they walked into the white high school and demanded the education they deserved.

The video about Jennie and Alice Wilson was fascinating to me. I love history, and I’ve always been really interested in the desegregation of schools in particular. Education, for me, is one of the most fundamental ways to improve a person’s life. Being denied education as a child limits possibilities, opportunities, and the life of the children. Having been extremely blessed as a child to grow up in the best school district in Georgia, I have seen the benefits that can grow from a full educational experience.

When those kids walked into Mayfield High School on Registration day, they took a stand for the most important part of any young life – knowledge. I loved watching this video and seeing the passion behind the people who stood up for their right to education when the mere suggestion of desegregation made people ignorant, belligerent, and hateful. Change is never easy, but what I’ve found in my life is that when a strong group of people want change enough, they can find a way to make it happen. These high schoolers took a stand for their futures, and the strength in the face of adversity that they demonstrated was far beyond their years. Their dedication, strength, and perseverance really makes one stop and consider just how lucky kids today are, and just how much we take education for granted. I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I’ve said the phrase “I don’t want to go to school,” in my lifetime. But these kids, including Alice Wilson, took a leap of faith and bravery and stood up to say “I DO want to go to school.” They knew they deserved a proper education in schools that were up to date and up to par with the times, and they stood up to take what was rightfully theirs. My hope for today’s generation is that we would be able to stand up and appreciate the education we deserve and receive.

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Resources:

http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/subject.php?sub_id=124

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal

http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_jwilson.htm

Persistence of Inequalities

January 28, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

As a student, I’ve heard and read many different accounts of the civil rights movement, but listening to an oral history interview seemed more personal and intimate. I could see how emotional Jennie and Alice Wilson became when they told their stories and somehow, the struggles that African-Americans endured during the days of extreme racism and segregation became more of a reality to me. I doubt the effect would be quite the same if I were reading a book or watching a fictional account in a movie.

The fact that these women came from Kentucky also made the interviews more poignant. As an African-American with very protective parents, I was very much shielded from racism and thankfully never had any overt racist encounters growing up, but it is interesting to learn Kentucky’s history of racial relations and see how things have changed since then.

I felt like I could relate the most to Alice because of her personal struggles when she went to high school. She and her small group of friends were the only African-Americans at her school, making it difficult for them not to feel out of place. I didn’t always think about this, but there were moments when I would count the number of African-Americans in my classes. Often times, I would either be the only one or there would be a small handful of us.

Young girl protesting segregation

The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was the main focus of the civil rights era. Schools and other public places were segregated, allowing overt racist encounters to become a common occurrence. Jim Crow laws also legitimized segregation as a normality in American society. There were separate schools for whites and African-Americans, but by no means were these different groups getting the same education.

My high school wasn’t exactly predominately white, but there was an overwhelming number of African-Americans in the lower Comprehensive classes compared to higher Advanced classes, which I took. Interestingly, the Honors classes—which were one level below Advanced and one level above Comprehensive—were much more diverse, but for some reason, the number of minorities dwindled when it came to Advanced classes. I had a diverse group of friends anyway and no one was racist at my school as far as I could tell, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way to fix this sort of separation.

I think this stigma further perpetuates the idea that African-Americans are sometimes seen as inferior to other races. This hits home for me because I feel like I am constantly trying to surpass the expectations society has for us. Even though racism is not quite as huge an issue as it used to be, the stereotypes still exist in hidden forms. I can’t help but ask: Is there a way to expose the inequalities that underlie our institutions? And if so, how do we get rid of them?

Resources

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 28 January 2013.

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.

***Sources***

“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.

Inequality within Equality

January 27, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

Photograph of Jennie Wilson, 102

Jennie Wilson, 102

According to the oral history interview with 102-year-old Jennie Wilson, African Americans in Kentucky experienced intense discrimination especially in the realm of education. Jennie describes fearing for her safety at home and hearing of horrendous public displays of racism but also explains how she was only permitted to receive six years of education. Her education, received from her mother and father and other members of the community, included instruction on how to cook and clean and do whatever necessary to provide for your family.

Jennie went on to have four children, all of which would graduate from college. Jennie’s daughter, Alice Wilson, launched a very important movement for the education of African Americans and the integration of schools in Mayfield, Kentucky. Alice and a group of her friends chose to integrate their all-white high school independently at age 14. In her portion of the interview, Alice Wilson says that the integration was extremely unexpected and she and her friends had no idea how their actions would be received. As a group of typical teenagers, Alice and her friends entered Mayfield High School to register for school. When she was admitted, the first thing she noticed was the distinction in text books and the fact that the school remained segregated within even though it had been integrated in the eye of the public. The observations from within the school that Alice shares closely parallel efforts to desegregate across much of the southern United States. Alice’s commentary regarding the inequality experienced although she was admitted to attend the school is representative of prolonged injustice for African American education in Kentucky and across the nation following the overturned rule of the “Separate but Equal” doctrine in 1954.

Intregration of public schools

Intregration of public schools

In expressing her pride for her daughter’s actions, Jennie Wilson explains that her feet have endured quite a lot in her 102 years including the transformation of a society. She came from a world of “scary times” and she and many other members of her community thought they would merely have to learn “how to deal with society” rather than be accepted as an active and equal member.

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Resources:

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

“US History/Eisenhower Civil RIghts Fifties.” Wikibooks. Web. 27 January 2013.

“Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.” Notable Kentucky African Americans. Web. 27 January 2013

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