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Race Matters Training for Fayette County RCCW Initiative

November 7, 2014 in Historiography, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

As part of the training sessions for the Race, Community and Child Welfare (RCCW) Fayette County (see more at the RCCW website)​, I presented on the “History of Racism and Anti-Racist Activism in Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky.” The goal is to provide an historical — and local — context for the understanding of racism here in our community.

This historical context should help to explain why the problem of racism is so deeply ingrained in our cultures and institutions. As anti-racist practitioners we need to be patient and persistent since racism has been an integral part of the creation and growth of Lexington and Fayette County as much as it is the reason for violence, inequities and apathy.

Here is my speech (History of Racism and Anti-Racism in Fayette County) for the participants in the training. I present it here for you to download and read. I invite you to reply and comment on this essay and how I have presented the history of Lexington and Fayette County.

The Work is Far From Over

April 28, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Oral history, Social history

The end of the semester has finally arrived and our final project on Audrey Grevious has been posted (http://www.kywcrh.org/projects/kchr-hall-of-fame/grevious). Without question, I thought rather pessimistically about our contributions to this project for most of the semester. Consistently, I thought in terms of quantity rather than quality in consideration of how much (or rather how little) information we were able to gather about Grevious. While our investigations and connections seemed less than successful at times, I have come to realize that our work has indeed been significant. I have learned SO much about Audrey Grevious and the movement in its entirety throughout this process and also hope that I have helped illuminate her life for others conducting similar research.

After utilizing the internet, texts, and most importantly, oral history interviews, I have observed the transformation of history and its record in just a period of 50 short years. The work my class has done this semester has been incredible – listening to the experiences of brave women, reading and analyzing literature about their lives, and even meeting them personally to record new history. I have never been more impressed with the success of a class.

Something I found very interesting from one of Audrey Grevious’ interviews that I studied closely was the following quote:

“And I feel like the generation now have lost out on that sort of thing. There’s not that closeness. There’s not that interweaving of cultures, of friendships, of anything.”

While this may be true from her perspective, from what I’ve gathered through all our research, today’s generation is better connected and more intertwined than ever. In examining the stories and backgrounds of students in our class alone, the sensitivity of our generation is ever increasing thus constantly embracing cultural difference and promoting friendships every day.

Nearing the End

April 22, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

Viola Davis Brown at graduation in 1959

As the semester winds down rapidly, I am working vigorously on two projects regarding amazing women of Kentucky. The first, my article on Viola Davis Brown, has been published to Wikipedia. Fortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I have had the wonderful opportunity to share my work with Mrs. Brown herself and request feedback from her. Mrs. Brown was extremely enthusiastic to review my article and was very appreciative of the work my class is doing. Mrs. Brown’s unique achievements in the field of medical education in Lexington, Kentucky deserve recognition and thus I was extremely proud to share her story with the Wikipedia community. Although members of the community will continue to review and edit my contribution, I am also working with Mrs. Brown to clarify any details crucial to her life and accomplishments. Mrs. Brown has sent me small facts to change or incorporate as additional information. Furthermore, Mrs. Brown gave me permission to add a photo to the article, which further strengthens its credibility and value in the Wikipedia community.

View the Wikipedia article I published on Viola Davis Brown here.

                My second project, a web project on the life and work of 2012 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductee Audrey Grevious, is progressing very well. My partner and I have been compiling the research we have gathered throughout the semester to provide a guide to the life and accomplishments of Audrey Grevious. Because we have not been able to gather significant amounts of new, original information about Grevious, we are organizing all the resources available on the web and in print that feature her. Many of these resources include oral history interviews which serve as perhaps the best resource for individuals looking to gain a perspective on the civil rights movement in Kentucky. While the resources are crucial, we are struggling to group the information appropriately on project pages because it is all very interrelated. We are building context around Grevious’ work via locations and events addressed in oral history interviews but also want to incorporate what already exists about her life.

Inspiration from Audrey

April 16, 2013 in Social history

This semester, I have been working on a Hall of Fame project on Audrey Grevious with granestella. I have learned so much about this local activist and have come to greatly admire her past work while researching about her life and accomplishments. Indeed, it surprises me that she has not received much recognition for the many trials she experienced during the civil rights movement in Kentucky, but I hope that through this project, Audrey Grevious can receive a little bit of recompense for the work she has done in the Lexington community.

While there are many articles looking back at her previous achievements, we have found virtually no articles published about Grevious from before the 1980s. There are also very little pictures of her except for the two from The HistoryMakers and KET Living the Story. There seems to be many roadblocks to finding more about Audrey Grevious. I feel as if her story is one that must be told to all African American women aspiring to make a change in their communities. She truly took steps to make changes to things she saw as wrong and stayed true to what she believed in. This is well exemplified in the time when Grevious decided to desegregate the lunchroom of the Kentucky Village. She simply went into the lunchroom reserved for the white staff members and sat down!

Grevious was very much involved in the local efforts to fight segregation, whether it was in participating in sit-ins or as the president of the Lexington chapter of the NAACP. She shows us that just one person can make a difference through their actions and character. In fact, we can all use a trailblazer like Audrey to look up to and celebrate in her achievements that will bring inspiration to our own quests in making a difference in the world.

Sources

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious.          http://www.ket.org/cgi-bin/cheetah/watch_video.pl?nola=kcivs+000112&altdir=&template=

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_in_Kentucky

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013.              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious

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.

Finding Audrey

March 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

When you mention the name “Audrey Grevious”, it will most certainly ring a bell among activists and Lexington civil rights advocates alike. While it is a taxing struggle to find many pictures of Grevious, there is much information on her efforts in local schools and protests during her younger years.

Grevious was quite active in Lexington, participating in various protests and sit-ins, while being involved with the local NAACP and CORE chapters. She eventually became the president of the Lexington NAACP and worked as a teacher before becoming the principal at the Kentucky Village Reformatory School (now called the Blackburn Correctional Complex) and Maxwell Elementary School. Grevious’s time at the Kentucky Village allowed her to bring about desegregation in the lunch rooms, a landmark moment that nearly echoes a sit-in at a local restaurant in which Grevious continued to persevere while the owner repeatedly swung a chain at her leg.

Indeed, Grevious was one of the pivotal leaders during the civil rights era in Lexington, KY, but it is difficult to find pictures from her active years. Grevious is still alive, but much weaker and ill, making it more challenging to get in touch with her. In attempting to find more information, granestrella and I are looking at the transcripts for a couple oral histories. I am also working on getting in contact with Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, and possibly Dunbar High School (though the existing one is not exactly the same as the one previously attended by Grevious). If we succeed in our quest, we may be able to bring more insight into the life of a dynamic woman underrepresented in the playing field of civil rights.

Sources

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 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.

Audrey Grevious: A Project of Obstacles

March 24, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

Photo of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Without question, our project on Audrey Grevious has presented numerous challenges in obtaining information about this woman’s life and work.  According to Belinda Robnett’s classifications of women leaders in the civil rights movement (see her book How Long? How Long?, I believe Audrey Grevious falls in between the categories of Professional and Community bridge leaders. Grevious, though an extremely successful woman in her endeavors in the local civil rights movement, worked largely out of the public eye and utilized her community resources well in order to accomplish her goals, thus making much information about her specific work unavailable.In regard to internet searches of Audrey Grevious, many web pages have yielded the same information.

We are certain of her attendance at segregated schools (Dunbar, a city high school in Lexington, Eastern Kentucky University and Kentucky State University), involvement with the NAACP and CORE organizations within Lexington and her work at Kentucky Village Reform School. These facts are crucial to creating the framework of her life and accomplishments; although, we feel we owe more to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame than what is already in existence.  In an effort to learn more about Grevious’ specific involvement within these organizations, we have reached out to all of the local chapters of the organizations listed about with little luck. We have been referred to her church in Lexington, in which she was an active member, but have not yet received a response.

CORE logo

CORE logo

The Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky has been helpful in releasing the transcripts of two of her oral history interviews. From these documents, we can hear Grevious’ voice and understand her personal motivation for participating in the local civil rights movement. The oral histories have thus far been our most important source of information regarding Grevious’ life deserving of publication in the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Flamenco dancer clappingFlamencoclap and I would like to find pictures of Grevious from this time period as well, if at all possible, to build the context of her work. After searching through archived documents in the Special Collections at the King Library, we have gathered a few articles that feature information on Dunbar High School but nothing directly pertaining to Grevious’ attendance.  Alexis is in contact with EKU and Kentucky State University to obtain any information that has been saved regarding Grevious in the schools’ archives.

Selection in the Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History

Without a doubt, Grevious’ work is deserving of publication but it has been extremely difficult to locate details that delve beyond her surface involvement in the local civil rights movement. Because Grevious is elderly and loved dearly by many members of the community, many are trying to protect her from being bothered or any negativity that could arise regarding her work. This complication has proved very challenging but Flamencoclap and I will continue to persevere in search of photographs and other details to elevate Audrey Grevious’ life and work.

“Quiet” Determination

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

In the years after World War II, protests began to invade society with calls for change among the African-American community. Peaceful demonstrations were common after being inspired by Gandhi’s pacifism in India. Sit-ins by young people became widespread among members of the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), in hopes of stirring change in the hearts of Kentucky legislators.

Most of the prominent activity of the 1940s and 50s were in the larger cities of Lexington and Louisville. Often times, demonstrations would be in front of or inside stores or restaurants refusing to cater to African-Americans. One such demonstration involved Audrey Grevious, a former president of the NAACP and member of the Lexington chapter of CORE. She and a group of NAACP and CORE members decided to have a sit-in at a restaurant. They had been sitting at the lunch counter for some days, when one day, the manager decided to chain off the area. While sitting on a stool, he swung the chain at Grevious’s leg. To keep herself from trying to “wring his neck”, Grevious began to sing, not realizing how much damage the man would be doing to her leg in years to come.

CORE members in protest

CORE members in protest

Youth and others working in menial jobs performed a lot of the protests. In fact, young people comprised most of the members in the NAACP and CORE. According to Mary Jones of Lexington, if “it had not been for the children, young people in this town, CORE would not have survived.” Often times, women workers would recruit their students to join them in protests. Helen Fisher Frye—who was president of the Danville NAACP and worked with youth at her church—would meet her students after school to have sit-ins at the local drugstores.

Interestingly, smaller towns outside of city life handled segregation a little differently. In an account by Anna Beason, she describes how she and her friends had engaged in a sit-in unknowingly. They had gone in to a drugstore for sodas and were waiting for a long time, until the waitress finally served them. It was as if these smaller towns did not know how to handle segregation. Another instance was when George Esters and a group of his friends went to the white teen center to dance in Bowling Green. The next year, a teen center was built for African-American teens.

Out of all the women in this chapter of Freedom on the Border, Helen Fisher Frye seemed to be the most striking. Living in Danville, race relations were not severe, but she had a few white friends through church. Because of her Christian philosophy, Frye felt it important to have a place in politics, specifically through organizations such as the NAACP. In fact, Frye re-organized the Danville chapter of the NAACP and even worked to integrate public housing. Like Mae Street Kidd, she was a fearless woman who was not afraid to voice her opinions. Kidd would demand what she wanted and stand firm in her beliefs, as seen in the time when she was working for the Red Cross and did not want to travel to a humid location. In the same way, Frye threatened to drive away when the gas attendant left her to attend to a white customer. Through the leadership of these two women, much was accomplished for the advancement of African-Americans by making known their societal inequalities.

Sources

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.17 Feb. 2013. Web. 04. Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious

“Congress of Racial Equality.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 27. Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality

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.

Jones, Reinette. “Helen Fisher Frye.” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. University of Kentucky Libraries. 4 Mar. 2013. Web. https://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=764

Kidd, Mae Street, and Wade H. Hall. Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd

“Mohandas Ghandi.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi

“NAACP in Kentucky” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2 Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_in_Kentucky

Women as the Foundation, not the Face

March 3, 2013 in 1940s-1950s

NAACP Logo

NAACP Logo

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.

CORE logo

CORE logo

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.

UK Logo

UK Logo

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.

Sources:

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.

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African American Representation in Fayette County Publications

February 26, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

Today, I found a copy of a book published by the Fayette County Board of Education in 1955 entitled: “Let’s Go To School”  (pdf link). A very brief book composed primarily of pictures, it appears to have been an informational resource for parents of students. There were several things I found interesting in this book.

The book begins with a quote:

“Your Board of Education believes in your child’s right.”

This book was published at a point in our education history when schools were still mostly segregated. Of over one hundred pictures, only a mere four show an African American student or teacher. I am including these here:

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

African American students are only shown under the heading of “Sports” and “Music”, and teachers are only shown within a group.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library, reading old newspapers and looking at any books and pamphlets I could find that even mentioned African American education in Lexington and Fayette County prior to the 1980s. In 1963, Lexington Schools were still segregated, while Fayette County schools were all integrated but for one exception, Douglass Elementary School, which housed 385 students.

Because Douglass School closed in 1971 following integration, there remains little to no information in one location about the school, which opened in 1929. However, after much digging, I was able to find a variety of pictures and newspaper articles about the school, and received a brief history of its changes over time  from an elementary school to a high school back to an elementary school from the superintendent’s office at Fayette County Public Schools .Now, I just have to put all the pieces together and try to complete a history so that in the future all of this information will be in one place.

Defying the Norms of Racial Etiquette

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Social history

In the 1960s, there was an unspoken protocol as to how African-Americans should act around whites. As maids or “help”, African-Americans were segregated, to an extent, in the homes where they worked. They were often confined to the kitchen, entering and exiting only through the back door, and use of a separate toilet or none at all.

Despite the binding rules maids adhered to in the decades after slavery, these African-American women sometimes overstepped the boundaries. In an experience by Elise Talmage in The Maid Narratives, she told an account of one of the maids who ate lunch with her and her friends and would often come into the house through the front door. In another account, a man recounted when his father allowed their maid to sit in the family pew during his brother’s wedding. Though these two stories were of maids who were either unaware of the rules or were helped by their white family, in each case, the norms often created by whites were shattered. This is especially shown in the reactions of whites being “absolutely aghast” or “completely stricken” by the unusual events.

The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

Although Audrey Grevious never worked as a maid, she also experienced segregation, but in the schools where she taught. Growing up, Grevious had not noticed the harsh effects of segregation, until she visited New York for a convention. The differences between New York—where there was more tolerance—and Lexington were made very clear in the treatment African-Americans received from whites.

As an educator, Grevious first decided to overstep the norms of segregation in the integration of the Kentucky Village in Lexington. At the time, the lunchroom was separated into two different dining rooms: one for whites and one for African-Americans. After about 6 months after joining the teaching staff in the late 1950s, Grevious decided to sit in the lunchroom designated for whites.  The reactions of the white workers were comparable to that of the whites who witnessed African-American maids defying the rules: they “threw their food in the trash can and on the floor […] and marched on out.”

Interestingly, looking at these two different stories of Grevious and the “help”, things did not change much in the treatment of African-Americans. Though they were no longer in subservient roles, African-Americans were still segregated in the workplace. The steps they took to defy the norms of racial etiquette were not in vain, however. Each bit of progress was but a stair in the walkway to equality.

Sources

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.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 February 2013.

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

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