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Not separate nor equal

February 4, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Primary source, Social history

Picture of the cover of

“The Maid Narratives”

In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Plessy vs. Ferguson trial. Up until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954, things in Kentucky and around the United States were anything but separate and definitely not equal. There were the obvious examples of the inequality that occurred in Kentucky. As Suzy Post describes it in her interview, there were white and black water fountains and white and black waiting rooms that no one really took notice to. To those living in Kentucky, this was the norm, an everyday thing. However, where the inequality mixes with there being no separation comes in the terms of the help; the maids that worked to help the white women around the house. It is in these jobs that it is seen that nothing about Kentucky in the early 20th century was separate or equal.

The Maid Narratives is a book written specifically about the black women that helped around the white houses. It tells the story of these women and the things that they had experienced throughout the years; the story of a society that was completely unequal and rarely separated. In fact, in the introduction of the book the authors talk about the paradoxes seen in this time period.

                “Small white children sometimes felt closer to their black caretakers than they did to their mothers, a love that often was not acknowledged by others… Black women servants were sometimes treated like children by the ‘lady of the house,’ but during tough times the white women looked to them for strength and comfort” (Maid).

While these words seem to be very interesting, the stories behind them are even more so. In the book, “Freedom on the Border: An Oral History

Picture of the cover of

“Freedom on the Border”

of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky”, white men and women reveal that these statements are true. Governor Edward Breathitt and Judge James F. Gordon talk about having “black help” in their homes. However, rather than this being a distant relationship, they describe it as one that was quite intimate. They always saw the women who helped their mothers out and became quite fond of them. They both recount memories of playing with these women’s children and saying that during their youth these little black boys were their closest friends. In their youth, there was no separation; color didn’t matter to the children.

However, as they grew from children to young adults, the separation began to occur. They stopped talking to each other outside of the games that they played, the black women stopped bringing over their children to play, and eventually the white teenagers were referred to as Mr. and Ms. Before this age, the “help” had no problem with bringing their children over to play, but as their children grew so did the inequality.

Although Plessy vs. Ferguson ruled that society should be separate but equal, this was far from the reality of life in Kentucky. The black women that helped out in the white homes were often times more of a mother to the white children than the white women were. however, they were treated with little to no respect from these women expect in times of great need. It is in this part of civilization that the greatest divergence from this ruling is seen because not only is it unequal but it is far from being separated.


“Freedom on the Border:.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013

“The Maid Narratives:.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Greater New Orleans.” The Times-Picayune. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Freedom on the Border – An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Kobo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.


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