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Interviews of Black Women in Central Kentucky Now Indexed and Available Online

August 3, 2015 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

With many thanks to Danielle Gabbard and the Kentucky Oral History Commission, the public can now listen to the voices of Black women of Central Kentucky in the online system created by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries. The interviews are digitized and various segments indexed so they are more readily accessible for listeners. There are many more already done, but here’s the latest batch for you now available:

Interviewee Interviewer Date of Interview Summary by staff at UK’s Nunn Center for Oral History
Helen Higgins Joan Brannon for the East End Lexington Oral History Project April 9, 2009
(video)
Helen Higgins discusses her family background and talks about moving to Lexington, Kentucky when she was 18 years old. She talks about the various jobs she has worked over the years. She describes Lexington during the 1940s and ’50s when she was a young woman, including the restaurants and bars she frequented. She talks about how Lexington has changed and discusses feeling a lack of respect from younger generations. She talks about her experience with race relations in Lexington. (Accession Number: 2009OH106 EEL 012)
Eula Tatman Betsy Adler for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project May 18, 1993
(audio)
At the time of this interview Eula Tatman was the Director at the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center in Lexington, Kentucky. In this interview she explains the history of the Phyllis Wheatley Center from its beginnings on Upper Street to its current location in the East End neighborhood. She talks about the activities the center used to provide, including wig making and the Girl Reserves. She talks about the activities the center currently provides. She describes the East End neighborhood and talks about how the people in the neighborhood surrounding the center feel about its location. (Accession Number: 1993OH397 KH 559)
Sandra Richardson Boyd Shearer, Jr. for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project March 5, 1997
(audio)
Sandra Richardson is the great niece of Lucy Rowe Estill, one of the five members of the Board of Park Commissioners for the Black park system in Lexington, Kentucky. Richardson describes Estill’s early life in Hanging Fork, Kentucky before moving to Lexington. She talks about their family, and shares Estill’s philosophy on life. Richardson reads lists of programs offered by the Parks Department during Estill’s tenure, and reads a description of a play Estill produced on slavery in America. (Accession Number: 1997OH030 KH 609)
Lillie H. Yates Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project July 15, 1986
(audio)
Ms. Yates recalls her family history including relatives who experienced slavery, their white overseers, the practice of “hiring out,” Jonestown, “Black troublemakers”, and her educational background. She reminisces about farm life in the early twentieth century including methods of home heating, harvesting corn, soap making, food preparation and preservation, making burgoo and “homebrew”, ice-making, making clothes, and holiday traditions. She also talks about wages, treatment of African American farm workers by white farm families, tobacco production, commercial farming, farm labor, hired help, obtaining credit at the country store, and difficulties faced by African American farmers of the time period. Ms. Yates recounts the role of religion in the country churches in the African American community, church parties and dances, ostracism by the church, attitudes toward alcohol use, country preachers, religious revivals, and country baptisms. (Accession Number: 1986OH202 KH 332)
Frances A. Smallwood  Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 11, 1986 (audio)

The granddaughter of former slaves in Mississippi, Mrs. Smallwood was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama where her father worked at the Tuskegee Institute. She recalls growing up surrounded by role models including Mary Bethune Cookman and Margaret Mary Washington, and speeches and concerts her family attended at Tuskegee. She remembers listening to the first public radio broadcasts, the establishment of a veteran’s hospital for African Americans, and attending high school and college in Tuskegee. After receiving her nursing degree from Meharry, she was employed in North Carolina and New York before marrying a classmate and settling in Lexington. Mrs. Smallwood remembers being hired and working as a school nurse in the Fayette County school system. She recalls that her education, which she considers much better than her colleagues, helped tremendously with employment opportunities and raises. Only the second African American nurse in the public health service, Mrs. Smallwood reminisces about her nursing career at Douglass and Dunbar High Schools, as well as Russell Cave, Harrison, Arlington, and Garden Springs elementary schools. She discusses how the civil rights movement changed the schools and businesses, and remarks upon the participation in the movement by her white minister. She comments upon her participation in church and community activities, and the lack of African American Episcopalians in Lexington. She reminisces about social life in Lexington during the 1940s and 1950s, living in the same neighborhood for 37 years, the effects of divorce upon African American families, and the lack of interest by parents in their children.

(Accession Number: 1986OH252 KH 379)

Bettye Simpson Ann Grundy for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
August 11, 1986
(audio)
 Ms. Simpson talks about her family history and graduation from Dunbar High School and Kentucky State University. She reminisces about “Irishtown,” her career as a social worker, and the discrimination she encountered at the Chestnut Street YWCA. She discusses the role of African American clergy in the civil rights movement in Lexington, and the churches’ influence upon the community. She recalls an attempt to establish an independent African American school in Lexington. (Accession Number: 1986OH223 KH 351)
Virginia Anderson Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project August 22, 1986
(audio)
Virginia Hawkins Anderson was born in Fayette County, Kentucky in 1907. She reflects upon her educational background at Bracktown Elementary and Louisville Central High School, as well as the background of her parents and grandparents. Her father raised hogs, performed handyman jobs, and served as a deacon in the church. Mrs. Anderson looks back on her childhood, the relationship between neighbors in Bracktown, and the changes which have taken place within the community. She recounts the stories of white ancestors within the Hawkins family and other family history. The Bracktown Violet Social Club is recalled, as is the one room building which served as a school house. Mrs. Anderson discusses both her work as a domestic and the white employees who have worked for her, recounts her relationships with whites, and talks about selling land in Bracktown. While not recalling segregation on the Lexington buses, she does remember the African American boycott of Purcell’s store, the businesses owned by African Americans on Deweese Street, and her non-participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1986OH240 KH 367)
Verna B. Clark Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
September 23, 1986
(audio)

Mrs. Clark’s parents and grandparents were all born in Kentucky. Her grandfather was a Native American raised by African American slaves, and she recalls family stories of slavery including dress, treatment and misuse, religious observations, classification system based upon shade of skin color, and the white slave owner who was her great, great grandfather. Her parents were farmers who owned their own land and Mrs. Clark reminisces about her close, tight knit neighborhood and her religious upbringing. Mrs. Clark graduated from Kentucky State and taught in Montgomery County for a year before her marriage. She recalls the teaching conditions at Grace Lee and Spruce Schools, discusses the achievements and education of her children, and recalls the death of her husband, a carpenter and brick layer. Mrs. Clark remembers the community in which she and her husband raised their children including the neighbors, white and Black, who helped each other, as well as the interaction within the community and attendance at each others’ churches. She wonders if integration has helped or hindered the African American community, and discusses the changes in social conditions and their impact upon the community. (Accession Number: 1986OH251 KH 378)

Sophia D. Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 15th, 1987
(audio)

Mrs. Smith talks about her family’s relationship with the discovery and early tours of Mammoth Cave National Park; her grandparents’ endurance of slavery; additional family history; and recreational activities. She explains how her father taught himself to read, attended Kentucky State during the summer and later taught school in Barren and Hart counties; reviews her mother’s education at Norton (??) University in Kentucky; recalls the family owning and operating a restaurant in Cave City in 1918-1919 until it burned in a fire and also running a slaughterhouse for cattle and hogs. She discusses her educational background and experiences with both integrated and segregated schools; recalls attending Kentucky State College; the evolution of the African American church and religious community; her participation in politics; and, explains how voting practices have changed. She recounts the difficulties encountered in establishing her own business after graduation from beauty school and talks about returning to teaching after her husband obtained a position in Louisville. Mrs. Smith retired in 1977 and returned to Russellville shortly thereafter. (Accession Number: 1987OH090 KH 421)

Sidney Bell Johnson Nancy O’Malley for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
March 5, 1998
(audio)

Sidney Johnson moved to Charlotte Court in Lexington, Kentucky in 1941. She talks about how she applied for the apartment, and describes her new home and her children’s reactions when moving in. She talks about the neighborhood dynamics, including rivalries between various streets in the neighborhood. She talks about how the neighborhood has changed over the years. Johnson discusses her family, including her children and their accomplishments. She talks about her family members that moved to Detroit, Michigan, and talks about family reunions. She talks about working for the Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity. She describes floods and snowstorms in Lexington. She talks about University of Kentucky basketball. (Accession Number: 1998OH037 KH 630)

Susie E. White Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 16, 1987
(audio)
The daughter of self-sufficient sharecroppers, Mrs. White recalls staying with her grandmother to be closer to the schoolhouse; leaving school in 1922 after her mother’s death to help raise her younger siblings; her father’s employment at Hillenmeyer’s Nursery; and skills learned for survival. She talks about her dreams of becoming a beautician; her first beauty course in Chicago; and returning home during the Great Depression. Mrs. White discusses her marriage; her first beautician’s job; attending beauty school in Lexington; and raising her nieces, daughter and stepdaughter. She remembers her career; training apprentices; and managing her money and her business. She reminisces about Consolidated Baptist Church; talks about differences in ministerial education, roles and leadership; and recalls her involvement in church-related activities and fundraisers. Mrs. Smith examines the evolution of the African American community over her lifetime: changing behavior of the younger generations, less emphasis on moral values and teachings, loss of faith, the increasing influence of television, and higher crime rates. She talks about the importance of education to the African American community and the lack of quality of education since integration; the impact and effects of the civil rights movement, citing both the advantages and disadvantages; and discusses how Lexington has changed while noting what has stayed the same. (Accession Number: 1987OH096 KH 422)
Helen Smith Emily Parker for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project September 12, 1988
(audio)
Helen Smith discusses her family background, including her Native American heritage, and her great grandmother who was a slave. She talks about her parents’ educations and occupations. She talks about her grandmother’s work as a midwife in Danville, Kentucky. Smith talks about her experiences living in a mixed community, and discusses race relations in Danville and Maysville, Kentucky. She talks about changes in the church, schools, and the community since her childhood. She talks about her own education and career, specifically her work raising children as a baby nurse. She discusses whether the Black community is better off since the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1988OH163 KH 456)
Evelyn Livisay Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project
June 19, 1978
(audio)
Evelyn Livisay was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during integration. In this interview she discusses the teaching conditions in all-Black schools prior to integration, and says that they had fewer supplies and lower salaries than their white counterparts. She talks about her experiences as one of the few Black teachers chosen to integrate the white schools, and says she was sent to Linlee Elementary School first as a librarian in order to acclimate the faculty and students to the change. She talks about reactions to her being in the school, and talks about how the Board of Education felt about teachers’ participation in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH078 KH 044)
Madeline C. Jones  Edward Owens for the Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project June 21, 1978
(audio)
 Madeline Jones was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky during the integration of public schools. She discusses her experience teaching in an all-Black school, Booker T. Washington School, prior to integration and says that the schools were separate but not equal. She talks about the lack of supplies and overcrowding in the Black schools, but says that they had parental support and offered many activities for the students. She talks about the changes that occurred during integration, and discusses the white teachers’ reactions to the Black students. She talks about why many teachers did not participate in the civil rights movement. (Accession Number: 1978OH081 KH 047)

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See Danielle Gabbard’s previous posts

Oral history interviews with Black women in Kentucky–Part 2

April 16, 2015 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

While listening to oral histories featuring Black women in Kentucky I’ve gotten to hear some amazing stories directly from the women who lived them: women who marched in demonstrations in Lexington during the 1960s, women who taught at integrated schools, women who faced discrimination daily no matter what job they held. It is so important that these stories not only be saved, but also passed on. So I’d like to share a few with you.

Picture of Julia Etta Lewis (1932-1998), from 2001 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Julia Etta Lewis (1932-1998), leader in Lexington chapter Congress of Racial Equality

Marilyn Gaye‘s interview in 1978 by the great historian George Wright (now President at Prairie View A&M University) is one of my favorites out of the entire collection. Gaye grew up in Lexington and was a teenager during the civil rights movement. In her interview she talks about what life was like as a child living in Lexington under segregation, describing her experiences of having to sit in the balcony of the Ben Ali Theater to see shows. She talks about how she became involved in civil rights demonstrations in Lexington and describes the experience of a march from the very beginning, waiting in a basement for a phone call from Julia Lewis, the head of Lexington’s chapter of CORE, to tell them it was time to go.

She describes what it was like to march through downtown Lexington and talks about the songs they sang as they marched. She discusses the reactions of white Lexingtonians to the march, and what the demonstration accomplished. I think this is one of my favorite interviews because the perspective it offers is so uncommon. Of all of the interviews in this collection there are actually very few with women who actively participated in the civil rights movement in Kentucky, and to have done so as a teenage girl makes Marilyn Gaye even more unique.

RosettaBeatty

Rosetta Beatty during her interview with Joan Brannon on February 2, 2009

I found the Rosetta Beatty interview interesting mainly because of her detailed descriptions of the East End area of Lexington during the 1960s. The East End encompasses an area north and east of downtown Lexington, between Main Street and Loudon Avenue. Beatty describes many of the streets in the neighborhood and lists the businesses, churches, and restaurants along each street, including Shiloh Baptist Church, Club Hurricane, and the Lyric Theater. Listening to her describe the neighborhood gives you such a clear picture of the area that you feel like you’re walking along it with her. She talks about which businesses were owned by African Americans, and also describes the relationships between neighbors on Elm Tree Lane, stating that everyone looked out for each other’s children.

Lillian Buntin

Lillian Buntin during her interview with Joan Brannon on April 9, 2009

Like Rosetta Beatty, Lillian Buntin grew up in the East End area of Lexington. Her interview also provides a great description of the neighborhood, focusing mainly on Ohio Street where Buntin lived as a child, as well as local churches, restaurants, drugstores, and the Lyric Theater. Along with her descriptions of the area, Buntin’s interview is also interesting because she talks about attending a segregated school as a child before becoming a teacher at an integrated school. Her interview provides a personal account of not only what it was like to be a student under segregation, but also what it was like to be a teacher throughout the changes of integration in Lexington, including discussion of her relationships with students, parents, principals, and her fellow teachers.

Patricia R. Laine talks with Emily Parker about her family history, including her ancestors who were once slaves in Kentucky. Her interview (August 6, 1986) also provides an interesting look at the role of the church in the Black community and how it has changed since her childhood in the 1940s. One of the most compelling parts of Laine’s interview were her stories of the discrimination she faced both in her job as a domestic worker for a white family near Midway, but also throughout her employment at the National Institute of Mental Health Clinical Research Center (then known as “The Narcotics Farm” or “Narco,” now called The Federal Medical Center, Lexington). Narco housed both prisoners and self-committed patients attempting to overcome drug addictions. Her discussion of the treatment of Black employees is eye-opening, and Laine says that because there was also gender discrimination, Black women received the fewest promotions. Her description of the treatment of the patients is also fascinating, especially when she discusses the facility becoming a federal prison. Laine also discusses the impact of the civil rights movement in Lexington, stating that racism has not been reduced, it has only become more covert, and that many Black businesses closed because of desegregation.

Mrs. Charles Chenault Jones was the first African American teacher at Arlington Elementary School in Lexington after integration. During her interview she describes what it was like being the only Black person at PTA meetings, and discusses her interactions with school staff, students, and parents. She talks about witnessing discrimination against the Black students. Jones also discusses the effects of integration on Lexington businesses, neighborhoods, and, most interestingly, attitudes in the Black community. She gives her opinion on the decline of ministers’ and churches’ involvement in the community since her childhood days in Madison County of “basket meetings.”

These are not the only interesting interviews in this collection, just a few I personally enjoyed or considered particularly important.  There are many more in the collection worth checking out that provide different perspectives and experiences.

Oral history interviews with Black women in Kentucky

March 10, 2015 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

While indexing interviews for the project on oral histories featuring Black women in Kentucky it’s hard not to become fascinated with a particular person or story. While every interview is, of course, valuable in its own right, some interviews are more detailed than others, and some interviewees have interesting perspectives or personal stories to add. These are the interviews I found particularly interesting while indexing the first batch of oral histories:

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins during her interview with Joan Brannon in 2009

Dorothy Perkins grew up in Lexington during the 1930s and ’40s. One of my favorite things about this interview is that she describes the neighborhoods of Lexington at this time in great detail, including businesses, schools, and churches once located in the East End of Lexington. She not only paints a vivid picture of Deweese Street in its heyday, but also describes the fashion and clothing styles that were popular at the time. Perkins gives great detail in her description of Lexington theaters and what it felt like as a child only being allowed to watch shows from the balcony. Perkins’ life was full of interesting stories, including the one about being expelled from school for fighting another girl by attacking her with her fingernails.

Valinda Livingston

Valinda Livingston in an interview with Brannon 2009

Valinda Livingston grew up in the East End of Lexington and discusses attending both Constitution Elementary School and Shiloh Baptist Church in the neighborhood. Livingston describes Lexington during her childhood in great detail, including parks, restaurants, drugstores, and funeral homes. She also talks about being warned to stay away from Deweese Street, which makes for an interesting comparison with Dorothy Perkins’ description of the area. Livingston attended college at Kentucky State before becoming one of the first African American students at the University of Kentucky when integration began. She became a teacher and later, principal at Russell Elementary School. Livingston provides a great deal of information on the founding of Russell School, her time as principal, and the closing of the school.

Mattie Jackson was a teacher at George Washington Carver School from 1914-1960. In her interview with Edward Owens, Jackson gives a first-hand account of the experiences of an African American teacher working in schools prior to integration. She discusses the conditions in all-Black schools, from the lack of equipment to the lower salaries for Black teachers. She talks about the students’ reactions to White teachers at the school, including a story about a music teacher who made racist comments to the students.

Wilhelmina Hunter was the wife of Dr. Bush Hunter, an African American doctor in Lexington. Mrs. Hunter grew up in Boston, Massachusetts where she studied business in college before moving to Washington, D.C. to work for the IRS. Hunter talks about the discrimination she and her family faced when they moved to Lexington, and discusses her involvement in organizations dedicated to improving conditions for Blacks in Lexington. Throughout the interview Hunter paints a picture of race relations in Lexington from the perspective of someone who not only lived it, but of someone who had also experienced different ways of life in Boston and Washington, D.C. An interesting side note from the interview: Mrs. Hunter mentions her relationships with famous entertainers Duke Ellington and Marion Anderson, both of whom gave performances in her home in Lexington.

Elizabeth Harris describes her childhood community and discusses the close-knit relationships between neighbors, who she says often disciplined each others’ children. I feel like this interview is unique among most of the others in this collection because Harris expresses an opinion that may often be felt but is not often mentioned in discussions on race relations: opposition to integration. She also discusses what happened to Black businesses in Lexington after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One of the most interesting parts of the interview for me was not only hearing about Harris’ experiences with segregation in movie theaters, hotels, and other Lexington businesses, but also her story about refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

As I said, these are not the only interesting interviews in this collection (nor even the only interesting parts of these particular interviews). Each woman interviewed offers a unique perspective on childhood, schools (both all-Black and integrated), race relations in Lexington, discrimination, and their own role in the civil rights movement, from the perspective of a Black woman in Kentucky.

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