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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.

 

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

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/14-non-fiction/9004-maid-narratives-van-wormer

http://www.ci.paducah.ky.us/

http://www.cityofmayfield.org/

 

KY Governors for Desegregation

April 19, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Research methods, Uncategorized

Until I started researching on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and KET websites, I never knew that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson (of the Brooklyn Dodgers)stood on the steps of Kentucky’s State Capital building during the Civil Rights Era.  Civil Rights in Kentucky isn’t taught in many schools like the National Civil Rights movements of the 1950‘s and 60’s. Therefore, I found it interesting to know that people like Happy Chandler and Bert T. Combs made substantial contributions to the Civil Rights movements in Kentucky.

Happy Chandler served as Governor of Kentucky for two separate terms along with serving as a U.S. Senator and as the commissioner for the MLB, where he allowed the integration of blacks such as Jackie Robinson to play professional baseball.  Chandler, as governor faced some disgruntlement with Kentuckians when desegregation came into the Bluegrass; however he stated that “when the Governor takes office, he puts one hand on the Bible and takes an oath before God to protect the humblest citizen.  What we did today is in keeping with the oath I took.” This was after some trouble in two western Kentucky counties where he sent Kentucky State Guards to protect the African American students from the harm of white farmers.  Though Chandler was unsuccessful at keeping these two schools desegregated because they did not have an “orderly process” of desegregation, the children had to wait till the following year when the courts forced the school engage in desegregation.

Bert T. Combs, who succeeded Happy Chandler, also favored desegregation.  Combs appointed Galen Martin as the first Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.  The CHR was designed to supervise the legal rights of minority groups in Kentucky, looking for civil solutions for racial problem across the state.  Combs also emitted two executive orders that reviewed the states procedures and contracts to eliminate discrimination and also to discourage discrimination in public places including restaurants, hotels, and etc.  The bill did not pass the committee though thousands of people rallied in favor of this bill in Frankfort including Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson; however, after the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Rights Act of 1964 the bill was reinstated into the committee and passed.

I find it amazing how like Bert T. Combs and Happy Chandler have influenced this great state into what it has become.  Kentucky’s desegregation might have not been as harsh as those seen in Alabama or Mississippi, but all-in-all it makes me proud to live  in a state where people like this try to make a difference for the better good.  From my family that grew up in Versailles I have heard many good things about Happy Chandler, but I never heard about his time as the commissioner for MLB.  It makes me wonder that if he wasn’t the commissioner, how long it would’ve taken for the MLB to allow African Americans to play, and if Jackie would’ve still been on the steps of the Capital rallying for the desegregation in Kentucky.

 

She Shared A lot More Than The Dream

December 6, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

Georgia Davis Powers is and forever will be one of the most remarkable persons to have held a seat in the Kentucky Senate. She was honored for her contribution to the State by having a part of I-264 named after her earlier this year. Her push for equality in the state of Kentucky and by extension, the country is legendary but her connection to the noted civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King jr is what many would remember. Her book “I Shared The Dream” was written to clear up some misconceptions and misinformation about her relationship with Dr. King among other things.

In the book Senator Davis Powers is quite candid on a number of issues, the least of which are her past infidelities. Not many autobiographies are written with such candor. She warded off advances that she deemed inappropriate and succumbed to others that she knew was not the best thing to do. What some believe is still a question in many hearts and minds are how close her relationship with Dr. King was.

The book leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe there is more to come in the future because having heard from and spoken to this 87 year old firebrand, there has to be more in store for the eagerly awaiting public.

Senator Georgia Davis Powers has been honored with at least two honorary degrees from universities in Kentucky and there are more honors on the way.

To get a glimpse of her life, listen to her story on KET’s website and read her book.

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