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Louisville, Kentucky: Social Segregation

February 3, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Social history

Image of Freedom on the Border, including Kentucky Oral Histories

Freedom on the Border, including Kentucky Oral Histories

Without a doubt, segregation plagued Kentucky in the mid twentieth century, in cities and rural areas.  In the urban areas, however, segregation infiltrated all public forums and created immense segmentation of communities. In areas such as Louisville, segregation not only limited education and workplaces, but also leisure activities and social environments. In the book Freedom on the Border, an oral history from Eleanor Jordan of Louisville discusses segregation in a local amusement park. She recalls, “We would always ask the same question: “Can we go?” My mother and father would almost simultaneously say, “No, you can’t go.” We’d kind of sit there and then as we passed it, we’d say, “Well, why can’t we go?” That’s when there was just this deafening silence in the car.” (Life under Segregation, 17) This conversation was undoubtedly shared among many African American families in the area whose children experienced similar societal limitations. The children of this era, however, would grow up to live in a society that would not see public equality for quite some time.

Photo of Anne Braden, ALCU

Anne Braden, ALCU

In a similar mode, housing communities were segregated, especially in urban areas such as Louisville, where neighborhoods were in close range of one another. A home should be a beacon of safety, regardless of the location, yet many African American families were forced from their homes and from all-white neighborhoods. Anne and Carl Braden of Louisville attempted to eliminate the housing segregation of the area by purchasing a home in an all-white neighborhood for an African American family to live in. This house was soon bombed, threatening the safety of the family, and placing the blame on Carl Braden for his attempt at integration. At his trial, he was defended by a member of the ALCU, the American Civil Liberties Union, and his conviction was eventually overturned, making headway for the integration of the community and membership in the ALCU. These gains were small, but notable, and were important steps toward equality in Kentucky’s urban areas.




Wikipedia contributors. “Anne Braden.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “American Civil Liberties Union.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “History of Louisville, Kentucky.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Anne and Carl Braden. Web. 3 February 2013.

Sallie Bingham project

January 14, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Primary source, Social history

Sallie Bingham

Sallie Bingham, Wikipedia article

My essay for an Honors class at the University of Kentucky focuses on the long-term impact of the writings of feminist and philanthropist Sallie Bingham from Louisville, Kentucky.   Please feel free to read it and add your comments at the project page:


Dr. Grace Marilynn James: Serving the Underserved

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Just this year, on March 16, Dr. Grace Marilynn James was inducted into the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit in Frankfort, an honor given to outstanding women in Kentucky history by the Kentucky Commission on Women.  While relatively unknown to many, Dr. James was an important figure in the struggle against both racial and economic injustice.

Grace James was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1923. She was a very educated woman, beginning her post-secondary education at West Virginia State College.  After completing her post-graduate work there and at the University of Chicago, she entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with an M.D. in 1950.  Upon earning her M.D., James moved to New York City and completed an internship and pediatric residency at Harlem Hospital; while there, she also became a clinical fellow at both Babies’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic.  James further expanded her formal training by studying child psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens Village and by becoming a fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University’s Jacobi Hospital, where she practiced caring for children with disabilities.(1)

In a fellowship application addressed to the National Urban League, James explained that she had wanted to go to medical school because she had an “interest in human suffering,” that of African Americans in particular.  She further noted that she had been inspired by a visit to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx to help “the ones who needed to be taught, educated and given a chance to learn sound principles of health.”(2)

James moved to Louisville in 1953, where she began teaching at the University of Louisville in a non-paying, part-time post; she was the first African American woman on the faculty at Louisville’s School of Medicine, and she continued teaching at the university for twenty-five years.(2)  When James moved to Louisville, the city hospitals were segregated by law.  Although James became the first African American woman to be granted membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society, she still had to defend her status to the medical community.(3)  Not only did she face discrimination from white practitioners because she was black, she was criticized by both white and black men for being a woman in this field and for choosing to serve the poorest clients.  James realized that there were many people other doctors were hesitant to serve because they were too poor to afford services.  James also saw that many doctors would not serve single mothers and their children.

Soon after moving to Louisville, James opened a private pediatrics practice and a walk-in clinic that would serve the impoverished residents of Louisville’s West End neighborhoods.(4)  She accepted all patients that came through her clinic, regardless of whether they could pay.  James became an advocate for both preventative care and universal health care, and spoke about the growing infant mortality rate among black babies and about the medically underserved black community.  At her own expense, James kept items such as diapers, blankets, clothes, and books on hand for the poor mothers that needed them, all at her own expense.(3)

Dr. James’ career was long and distinguished.  She headed the Council on Urban Education and established the West Louisville Health Education Program.  She founded the Teen Awareness Project, its purpose to reduce the teenage birth rate among blacks.  James also became president of the Louisville chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.(1)  Eventually, she became affiliated with eight Louisville-area hospitals and became the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital.(4)



(1)  Kleber, John.  The Encyclopedia of Louisville.  (Lexington:  University Press of Kentucky, 2001).  Pp. 430-431




Kentucky School Integration

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history

 I’ve been interested in Kentucky history for a while now and with the subject of Civil Rights, it got me thinking about the perfect topic the write about.  The topic is easy: education and one subject seems to be forgotten, when Kentucky schools integrated.  With the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, I thought it meant an immediate decision to integrate all schools in the country.  That wasn’t the case in Kentucky.  Something didn’t happen, at least in Lexington, until the summer of 1955 when Helen Caise Wade became the first African-American to enroll in an all white school.  Wade was a student at Douglass High School and was interested in American history.  She wanted to take a course on it, but only one was offered at Lafayette High School.  She was able to register for the class and when it started she says she had no big problems.  “It was not a bad experience because nobody really mistreated me,” she said. “They weren’t mean to me. They just ignored me.”  Wade had to have escorts with her for a while, but soon after they weren’t necessary.

Integration in schools was happening in 1955 when a school for the blind in Louisville approved for integration.  According to The Lexington Herald, the small article talks about the Kentucky School for the Blind allowing 16 Negro students and three Negro teachers integrating to the school when the year started in 1955.  This school became the first school in Jefferson County to have mixed classes.

One story from the Lexington Herald that was very different was something of the mere opposite of integration, sort of.  In early 1955, in Louisville, Ky. a young white boy was allowed to enroll in an all black school and his mother wanted him to.  The article goes on to say that David Rogers Russell’s family lived in Tokyo and he didn’t understand about segregation.  David knew he would be attending a Negro church, a Negro Scout troop and a Negro YMCA, but everyone seemed to be happy with this decision.

That wasn’t the case in Clay, Ky. on September 13th, 1956 when a boycott happened at the Clay School when two Negro students were admitted.  News of this event spread around the school and ten teachers refused to show up and two of those teachers even resigned.  I couldn’t believe that.  White students came to the school, but all they did was gather their personal things and quickly left the school.  One little girl became scare of the empty halls.  “I’m afraid.  There’s nobody inside.  I ain’t staying.  I want my momma.”  The little left the school in tears.  Principal Irene Powell wanted these two Negro students, Theresa and James Henry Gordon, to be treated like any other student.  She says “they’re being taught regular classes and will be served in the cafeteria.”  The Gordon children said they were unafraid and felt good about going to the Clay School.  Their teachers even “treated them fine.” 

I even asked my father if there were any problems with integration.  My father grew up in Hazard, Ky. in the 1950s, but he told me that there weren’t any Negro schools.  The businesses and restaurants were segregated but not the schools.  He told me there wasn’t a real problem with integration and there was a fair enough population of black people at that time.

Lexington is a different story.  I am becoming more and more interested in integration in Fayette County schools, but I haven’t found anything on that subject, at least in newspapers.  All I know was that my mother was class of 1962 from Lafayette High School and she told me the there were two black students who enrolled the beginning of the 1961 school year and they were scared.  My mother seemed fine about it.  But it would be nice to know about all the Lexington schools from the 50s and 60s to find out when school integration affected all the schools and which grade schools were for Negros and which ones were for whites.     

Work Cited:

Lexington Herald.  September 14th, 1956

Lexington Herald.  September 1, 1955

Lexington Herald.  September 2, 1955

Nurses In Eastern Kentucky

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Everyone knows that since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has done more in the emergency field of aid than any other organization of its kind. It helps as relief aid, war victim’s support, and other disaster relief across America and even the world. But in some parts of rural Kentucky in the late 1910s and 20s, it was hard to find these public service operations because of the hazardous mountain ranges that are in the eastern part of the state. It goes to a place where you leave the comfort of the city and the railroad, and go into the rural mountain style of life. To a place where the knowledge and cures of Red Cross nurses would help save many lives.

While this type of rural living has a certain charm, it comes without proper (health) care for the most part. There are isolated cabins with neighbors living up to several miles away, slopes of the mountains that leave many questioning the safety, and many valley ways. There are few schools that are several miles apart as well with teachers who devote themselves to teach children who are less than privileged than other parts of the state. That includes raising health awareness and learning how to take care of themselves when they are sick. Money is always often very tight in those parts of the country (a tiny bit of cash and items like milk or eggs are bartered as payment sometimes), so being able to go see a doctor in a larger city when sick would not be very likely happen.

So instead, a small hospital was set up in connection with these schools as part of a way to help take care of people. Several nurses would go make household calls instead of having people come to them, handling all sorts of problems and illnesses. It was not just nursing companies that were having a hand in this either. Sanitary cooperation’s were working with water rights and privileges, disease facilities like those for tuberculosis were trying to help and even the United States Public Health Services were trying to get an official hospital train to these certain parts of eastern Kentucky in order to help those who did not have easy access to hospitals. Nurses also help abandoned orphans find other suitable homes once their parents die or are no longer able to take care of them.

These “mountain nurses” as they were often called would ride horse back from town to town to help any and everybody that she could while she was there. Things like childbirth midwives were very needed, as there were doctors around but not a single nurse most of the time. Having nurses in the mountains of eastern Kentucky would be a blessing to the people at this time. The idea of having someone personal there for them was new and the welfare of all in the rural mountain areas of Kentucky would be greatly improved because of these nurses.Rivers in parts of eastern Ky.

Even though not necessarily in eastern Kentucky and not directly affiliated with the Red Cross, the Red Cross Hospital and Training Department opened in Louisville. It was founded in 1899 by Dr. Ellis D. Whedbee (whose wife is considered to be the first African-American woman on the Louisville police force), Dr. W. T. Merchant, Dr. Solomon Stone, Dr. E. S. Porter and Dr. William H. Perry. Later in 1905, a second building facility was opened as the only nurse training program for African-Americans in Kentucky. The program was discontinued in 1937 and later re-established in 1948, where it served as a cancer treatment clinic for the people of Louisville and others, and then in 1975 it was closed down for good.


-American Red Cross,
-Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, –
Prospective Red Cross Nursing in the Kentucky Mountains (photos also from here),


The Fight for Women’s Rights

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Historical Decades, Social history

Carol Hanisch, powerful civil-rights activist starting in the late 1960’s bringing awareness to black oppression, and women suffrage. I found most of my information from her formal website, and from “Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America,” by Alice Echols, published in 1989. “Daring to Be Bad,” explains how Hanisch worked together with other activist on women rights. Hanisch was born on a farm in Iowa; she graduated from Drake University in the early 1960’s. She started working with the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) around 1966.

The SCEF was established in 1946 which was the leading proponent of integration and civil-rights. The SCEF held offices in New Orleans, Louisville, and Atlanta. After working with the SCEF she moved to New York City, and help established the New York Radical Women (NYRW), by the fall of 1968, over one-hundred women had joined the liberation movement (Daring to Be Bad, 1989).  These women wanted to fight for their rights that was wrongfully denied to them because of their gender. And in 1968 these women took their stance when they protested the Miss. America Pageant in Atlanta City. Over one-hundred and fifty women from six major cities join them. The huge group of women stood outside and threw feminized items into a trash can: high-heels, bras, aprons, skirts and make up. Hanisch helped some women sneak a banner inside the pageant and shown it to millions on national television. The banner and protest worked, springing huge amounts of attention for the movement.

“One of the reasons we came off anti-woman was our lack of clarity. We didn’t say clearly enough that we women are all forced to play the Miss America role-not by beautiful women but by men who we have to act that way for and by a system that has so well institutionalized male supremacy for its own ends.” Carol Hanisch (Page 95, Daring to Be Bad.)  The NYRW soon fractured after the huge success from the protest.  Hanisch went on to help recreate the Redstockings of the Woman’s Liberation Movement, which is a radical feminist group that was most active during the 1970’s. Redstocking is a compound word red coming from the revolution being created, and “stockings” from the Bluestocking movement of higher intellectual women. The Redstocking’s helped fight for the rights of abortion, funded speak-outs and radicalized thousands of women by distributing movement literature (free of charge), the organization is still being operated today.

Carol Hanisch is still promoting equality for women today. Her website contains information over her past achievements, you can read her articles, “Hard Knocks,” and “The Personal is Political.” The site sells online merchandise such as: her own publications, buttons and T-Shirts related to the  rights of women. Hanisch writings describe women’s rights for equal pay and to their own body. Carol has worked against racism, U.S. Imperialism, and even spent time in South Africa. She participated in environmental situations, and even saved a mountain from being destroyed and helped turn it into a state park. She currently works as an editor and a graphic design artist. She continues to find practical ways to get involved in the ongoing struggle for women’s liberation.

Omer Carmichael: Louisville Public Schools

April 18, 2011 in 1950s-1960s

            In the years following the 1954 Brown v. Education decision, public schools in Kentucky and across the nation were to become integrated. Written by George C. Wright of the Kentucky Historical Society, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-1980 follows how blacks in Kentucky have pushed for equality since the beginning of the 20th century. In a chapter concerning the 1950s to the present, school integration interested me.

            The 1956-57 school year in witnessed two landmark events in Kentucky school integration. As has been mentioned before, the events that took place in Sturgis would draw national attention that required Governor Happy Chandler to send in the Kentucky National Guard to protect the black students involved. In the shadow of the events in Sturgis, the Louisville Board of Education began to enact its desegregation plan that same September.

            The superintendent at the time was Omer Carmichael. Carmichael and the school board ignored much criticism from the Louisville NAACP on their delayed start of integration, as well as criticism from much of the black population. Carmichael would state “it is very important for everything to be well in place before proceeding.” Carmichael also mentioned that immediate integration never garnered enough support and that “Louisville’s articulate Negro leadership showed helpful restraint and moderation in allowing the desegregation process to develop uncomplicated by impetuous or intemperate demands for speed.” Carmichael was also very voiced in refusing to work with the NAACP calling them “radical and often pushy.”

President Eisenhower(left) and Carmichael(right)

            Carmichaels plan included several parts, including redistricting of students to schools that were closest to their homes. However, within in his plan, “freedom of choice” was most important. Blacks could choose to attend mixed schools and whites could choose to attend segregated schools if they wished. Due to housing problems in Louisville, many whites found themselves living in close proximity to blacks. This “freedom of choice” allowed these students to attend all-white schools in all-white neighborhoods.

            Louisville’s desegregation would gain national attention and become a model of school integration across the nation. Superintendent Carmichael would receive an invitation to the White House by President Dwight Eisenhower in recognition of the peaceful integration of the Louisville public school system. However, very little integration actually occurred. There were only a few blacks enrolling in white schools and no whites going to the black schools.

            Furthermore, to those living in Louisville the few blacks that attended the white schools were seen to be chosen because of their certain attributes. The black students who enrolled at Male High School at the time had very high intelligent test scores. Also, many of the first black students at white schools were outstanding athletes, a pattern that became to be present across many schools in the nation.

            The moderate plan that Carmichael and the Louisville Board of Education implemented was praised by educators and politicians across the nation. Again showing how Kentucky was of utmost importance and a frontrunner during the American Civil Rights movement.


Wright, George C. “A History of Blacks In Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality.” 1992 Kentucky Historical Society. 203-205.–M0C&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=omer+carmichael&source=bl&ots=2ObGFZr2KV&sig=LPSHCwBSOADdfoSo6J3vLhybML4&hl=en&ei=bLusTfbtMZKG0QGZtbysCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=omer%20carmichael&f=false

Working in a Louisville hospital during World War II

February 25, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history, Primary source

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945, UNC-Greensboro Library

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945

Constance Cline Phillips of North Carolina dropped out of college and signed up for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in February 1945.  After attending six weeks of basic training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, she spent  four months in X-ray technician school at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Then, she was stationed at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky from August 1945 to March 1946 when it was closed.

Phillips (1924- ) gave an oral history interview along with her papers and documentation about this time period in her life to the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where she returned after the war to finish her education in what was then called the Woman’s College).

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945. According to the identification on the back of the photo, "This is an example of the hard life we lead." Constance Cline Phillips is kneeling at left. From UNC-Greensboro Libraries Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945

In her interview, Phillips talked about the Nichols General Hospital in Louisville where her work as an X-ray technician was part of medical experimentations using wounded veterans.  She remembered Nichols General as a “nerve center” where soldiers whose injuries made them into paraplegics.  Many of them, she said, had extremity nerve injuries – some had been wounded quite a long time before – and the surgeons were experimenting with ways to rejoin the nerves.

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945 – from UNC-G Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

“…they used tantalum wire, is something I remember X-raying to see how close something was getting to something to rejoining.  But I think that was where some of the first paraplegics were kept alive. I don’t believe they understood the technology to be able to do that. So that was very interesting. And of course, most of our patients were male. Very few females. Which, of course, at twenty I thought was cool.

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945 - UNC-Greensboro Libraries

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945

Phillips remembered that the WACs had their own barracks at Nichols Hospital (“Well, see, we were peons and segregated”) – and the local nurses were in “another segregated area.”   However, Phillips does not address this issue of segregation as one of race (though later in the interview she indicates that she was a white supremicist).

Oneida Miller in 1943 before she started work at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville

Oneida Miller, Army Nurse Corps, 1943

Oneida Miller Stuart who served as an US Army nurse there then remembers that there were about 30 African-American nurses and 100 White nurses attending approximately 500 veterans and prisoners of war (most from Germany and the Pacific front).  She remembered the difficulties of working with Whites despite her professional status and experience: “We were called ‘nigger’ many a time… but you just kept on going.” (audio excerpt)

Phillips met her husband Mike at the Hospital in Louisville – he had been serving as a truck driver in an Army unit recently returned from Germany.  “They didn’t know what to do with all these people at the end of the war, because they were overstaffed.  So they put him on as a ward boy.”  He later became a professional football player, but her first memory of him was seeing him in the hospital: “So here came this great big fellow, moving a patient on a stretcher very gingerly. It didn’t bounce him off the walls.”

This memory is explains also why the young Oneida Miller, in her early 20s similar to Phillips, chose not to move her patients herself anymore. She described her pace of work as progressively becoming “too slow” since she was often accosted by the American GIs who did not want an African-American nurse.  The racism still an important component of the American day-to-day interactions allowed for her to rely on this future football player to serve as a “ward boy.”



Oral history interview with Constance Cline Phillips, 1999. WV0082.5.01. The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina-Greensboro Libraries. Full text transcript available online:

Listen also to the oral history interview with Oneida Miller Stuart, an African American servicewoman in the Army Nurse Corps who worked at the Nichols General Hospital in 1945 – Oneida Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/4850), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress,

Mapping neighborhood diversity over time and segregation in Louisville

February 17, 2011 in Research methods

Go to, click on the drop down list under the middle map and choose Louisville to study the change in population trends there from 1990 to 2000.  You can see how some parts of Louisville’s African-American and White communities have changed from very low diversity to a more mixed area.  Also, African-American households have grown in some areas that were nearly all White a decade before. 

This site was created by geographers at the University of Georgia, the University of Washington, and Dartmouth College. The primary individuals involved are Steven Holloway and Michael Wellman (Georgia), Mark Ellis (Washington), and Richard Wright and Jonathan Chipman (Dartmouth).  They use federal census data and overlay it with mapping software (ESRI GIS) to display using Google Maps to create a rich, interactive environment for us to discuss.

The Louisville neighborhoods undergoing rapid change in one decade include Smoketown (dicussed in Rhonda Mawhood Lee’s article, “‘Admit Guilt—And Tell the Truth’: The Louisville Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Struggle with Pacifism and Racial Justice, 1941-1945,” J of Southern History 76 [May 2010], 315-342) and Shively (the post-WWII racism and Red Scare in this area is an important focus of Catherine Fosl’s biography, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South). I wonder what Anne Braden would have thought of these changes today!

** See also Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky by Catherine Fosl and Tracy E. K’Meyer **

by OneTon

Jefferson County Native Shows Determination

December 10, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Social history

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I was raised by parents who agreed with equality and justice. My mother, Mary Fitzpatrick Singleton, has taught in Catholic elementary schools for more than ten years, while my father, John Alan Singleton, has a degree from the University of Kentucky’s business school and incorporates his scholarly knowledge into each day of work. Both of my parents are role models in my life and help me lead a more respective life of equality. My mother truly reminds me of another special woman from Kentucky as well.

An educator and advocate of womens rights this woman was an extremely important lady in the fight for equality. Lilialyce Akers is a special woman for all Kentuckians to investigate further. Dr. Akers was born in 1927 and has advanced equality in Kentucky since she arrived! As a particpant in the Equal Rights Association (ERA), Dr. Akers displayed her determination for the right of equality in the United States of America.  Akers was also a representative to the UN Commission on Women, and has presented seminars at the UN’s Third and Fourth World Conferences in Kenya and China.

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