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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.

Sources

Wright, George C. “A History of Blacks In Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality.” 1992 Kentucky Historical Society. 203-205.

http://books.google.com/books?id=8eFSK4o–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

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