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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?


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

by Syle

March on Birmingham

November 19, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

Charles Moore photo for Life Magazine of Young Protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, 3 May 1963In 1963 a movement led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and by Martin Luther King Jr. marched into Birmingham, Alabama. At the time Birmingham was known as one of the most, if not the most segregated cities in the southern states. There goal was to use non-violent demonstrations and make a stand to fight laws that were unfair to African Americans. The thinking was if they could successfully fight segregation in Birmingham, then it would help them fight it everywhere else.

I chose to write about the March on Birmingham, because as I learned more about it I was more amazed at how dedicated these people protesting were. They were, not surprisingly, met with police brutality led by one of the most famous supporters of segregation, Eugene “Bull” Connor. Police violently tried to discontinue these protests and sit-ins with jailings, beatings, police dogs, and even used fire hoses to break them up. The demonstrators did not retaliate however and continued to use their non violent demonstrations.

What also amazed me while learning about this, was not only how, but who was part of these demonstrations. Of course there were the leaders of the movement including Martin Luther King Jr. (who was also arrested here), but once in Birmingham they recruited students not only from high school but even from Elementary Schools. Young children participated in all of these movements and yet were still subject to the police brutality. They were however successful in their movement, by attracting much media attention and slowly began desegregation, and even resulted in Eugene “Bull” Connor losing his job.

*** for more on this topic, see…
We have a Movement” excerpt in Free At Last – The U.S. Civil Rights Movement, “,” U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs. Accessed 19 November 2010.

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