According to the book, Freedom on the Border, the conclusion of World War II initiated the return of nearly twenty thousand African Americans from Kentucky who had served overseas. These soldiers had heightened expectations for social equality when they returned to the States, however, they soon faced the unfortunate reality that equality had not yet been leveraged. To promote the radical change demanded by society in order to uproot long-standing traditions of prejudice and discrimination, mass action had to be taken. The key to success during the 1940s-50s was organization. Groups supporting these causes already existed but the masses observed that no change would come if national campaigns were not launched.
In order to open public accommodations to all citizens of the United States, professional groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were formed to promote progress. The SNCC held a much stronger following within the Deep South, while CORE made significant strides in the Bluegrass State. Alongside the NAACP, members of CORE began planning – they were planning for the attention-grabbing actions and protests of the early 1960s. While leaders of this time for these organizations were predominantly men, women composed overwhelming majorities of membership within each organization. Women, such as Audrey Grevious, would hold membership within these organizations and work actively within chapter projects in order to promote local change. These women gathered petitions and plan sit-ins while men within the organization rallied support throughout the region in the public eye. This example also unfortunately showcases another form of discrimination and stereotype that has traversed racial boundaries – gender equality.
One crucial action of the local NAACP and CORE organizations within Lexington, Kentucky prompted the integration of the University of Kentucky in 1949. While this is largely credited to Lyman T. Johnson’s successful case against the state’s Day Law, many women of color, who were part of these organizations, played a crucial role in gaining support for Johnson’s case. Upon integration, many women of color capitalized on the opportunity to attend the University of Kentucky as well. Two of their stories can be heard here, via oral history interviews regarding their experiences at the University of Kentucky upon the era of integration.
Without question, Kentucky women supported the official mobilization of organizations and movements within the state during the 1940s-50s. Their activity, however, is largely overshadowed by their male counterparts who often represented the face of campaigns. It should be noted, however, that women’s roles within this portion of the movement are not insignificant as their membership and commitment to the cause gave way to radical demonstrations during the 1960s that finally demolished the barrier preventing equality in Kentucky and in the United States.
Wikipedia contributors. “Congress of Racial Equality.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality>. 3 Mar. 2013.
Wikipedia contributors. “Lyman T. Johnson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyman_T._Johnson>. 3 Mar. 2013.
Wikipedia contributors. “University of Kentucky.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Kentucky>. 3 Mar. 2013.
Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.