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Culture Shock! (continued)

October 5, 2016 in 1960s-1970s

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaimed loudly, beginning to shed my usually shy, intimidated mantle.

I did so to my own surprise—without any statistics or the names of students that I could call to back me up. Such an outburst even jolted my “Individual Difference” teacher of psychology. He had just made the statement (while talking about I.Q.) that no “Negro” that he ever had in class had made above a C. Surprisingly to me and maybe even to him, the graduate students in class began to “get my back” about his contentions of race and I.Q. by quoting all kinds of statistics and studies that proved otherwise. The professor shut up. In the end I received a B out of the class though I strongly felt that I deserved better.

“I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.”

My European History teacher, Mr. I., on the first day of class of an exceptionally large group, canvassed the class with eye scan and winked at us all as he began with, “I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.” I am sure that he did that for effect at that time — or maybe not. Only one other black person was in that class, a commuting student by the name of Wanda, the first and only that landed in a class with me though there were other commuting Negro students on campus. She and I got to be the best of friends, and years later, she became my bridesmaid. As we were leaving class, I said of the professor, “Did you hear him?” She replied rather quickly: “Oh, you know they don’t consider us as people. so he wasn’t talking about us.” That was a common belief among many blacks — and rightly so — considering what had happened during slavery. But I intuitively liked the man then, and after my watching televised Roots, and studying intensely Louis Lomax’s Freedomways, I felt more assured that Dr. I. must have been on the level.

Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings.

The next semester there was a small influx of more out-of town, and some out of state off campus black students for some reason or other. The few from the North seemed to exhibit an air of superiority over those of us Kentuckians as we shared the same break table—dining for some—at the student union building. Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings. The uppity ones from out of town who dressed differently, danced better, spoke with a northern twang, and won at card games that they played all day long were soon on their way back home after a semester or two and were the last ones to register the immediately following semester.

They had students register by GPA.

I have been to other colleges and universities and have seen registration processes, but never have I seen what the University did one year I was enrolled. They had students register by GPA. What an embarrassment to all students—white and black– who did not have decent grades!! No more secrets, no more lies, no more pretenses. The students, parents, and others probably howled so much about that experiment until I don’t think the University ever tried that again. Probably to all who didn’t realize as I did (having had access as a honest and trusted student worker to all grades from the Registrar’s office) that some of those students did not even garner a point! Hard to imagine. So nosy Wanda and I walked by and viewed their comeuppance–so to speak—We saw those black students who played cards all day long as well as whites who tried to sound ultra intelligent in classroom discussions in those low GPA lines. I thought that was an awful thing for them to experience.

White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

Another element of culture shock for me involved the street dances where very few blacks danced, giving the scarcity of match mates. At that time students of color didn’t dare dance with those out of their culture. Large segments of the street were blocked off around Memorial Coliseum where whites danced and blacks for the most part looked on. The experience was an intriguing first for me though I did not participate in that activity. White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

A Smoking Campus

UK was one smoking campus culture as almost everyone smoked. I don’t imagine that I should have been surprised, Kentucky being a tobacco state and all, but it was shocking to see some pied female professors break out a cigarette when walking across campus, light up and begin to puff. I didn’t begin that terrible habit until I was older and transferred to a college in Tennessee for a couple of semesters for the explicit reason of having fun that I could not have at UK with dances, sorority and fraternity events governed by overarching remnants of grandfather clauses, etc.

Female Struggles through the Civil Rights Era

February 19, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

Women across the nation aided in the civil right movement, each in their own way.  Some women, such as Mae Street Kidd and Audrey Grevious led movements while having to cope with their own personal, internal struggles.  The sacrifices did not end with black women, all types of women aided in the movement.

Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd

Readers learn about Mae Street Kidd’s life through Passing for Black, a book written by Wade Hall about Mae Street Kidd, with her help. Kidd’s mother has some “black blood” making Kidd ten percent black.  Because of the connection she has with her mother she spends her entire life trying to “pass for black”.  Most people regard her as white because she is so light skinned but Kidd prefers to be considered black.  Throughout her life she is faced with the difficulty of not being able to fully identify with any race.  When she was young, other black students would taunt her and throw rocks at her.  Kidd describes feeling as though neither race wanted to claim her and that she did not actually belong in any of them.

These hardships did not end when she was out of school.  While Kidd was working in the Kentucky General Assembly, after an incredible amount of hard work, she got a bill passed for low-cost housing.  This bill helped thousands of low income families get decent housing.  Because of this achievement, her picture is hung in the Kentucky Housing Corporation Office in Frankfort.  Many people openly told Kidd that the reason her picture is there is because she is light skinned.  They look over the hard work and dedication she put toward the goal and merely attribute her race.  The internal and external struggles Mae Street Kidd had to deal with were common for other civil rights activists and people of all races during the 1930s through the 1970s.

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious was a key player in the civil rights movement in Kentucky.  Born in 1930, Grevious was raised in a time desperate for change.  Grevious’ mother was a domestic servant, otherwise known as a maid, and Grevious spent some of her childhood helping her mother in the homes she worked in.  Racism was a common thing to Grevious and her childhood friends, as she describes in her oral history, “…we had not paid that much attention to it (racism) because we had all grown up with it.”  It wasn’t till Grevious got a job as a secretary at the Town Crier in Lexington, Kentucky that she realized the depth of racism.  This prompted her to become active in the NAACP and first become secretary, then to become president.

Grevious encouraged people to notice the injustices they were living with and in and called them to action.  Grevious is still an active member in the NAACP and calls blacks around the nation to stand up for their rights. See the transcripts and videos of the 1999 oral history interviews of Audrey Grevious archived in the Kentucky Historical Society’s Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky website.

Katherine van Wormer

Dr. Katherine van Wormer

Katherine Van Wormer, author of The Maid Narratives, spoke with my class last week and introduced us to an array of new ideas including that white women aided the movement even when facing opposition from their husbands, causing conflict within the household.  All women that participated were important to the movement, even if it was only driving their maids home so they could more easily boycott the bus system.  The struggle within their household introduced their children to the civil rights movement and what was happening outside of their homes.

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Resources:

Defining a Movement Through Two Bold Kentucky Women

February 18, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

If I were to formulate a definition of Kentucky women based on the lives and work of Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd I would start by saying, Kentucky women were strong, independent, self-motivated, and hard working.

Passing for BlackIf you can wade through the vain portrayal of Kidd in Passing for Black­, you will see a highly self-motivated woman. Kidd faced a peculiar situation, because she was not quite white and not quite black.  To quote her directly, she was “too white for this situation and too black for that one.” However, she truly seemed to take her circumstances and use them to suit her own interests. Much of this stems from her unique upbringing. Although raised as a black woman, Kidd’s mother never allowed her to work as a maid, to develop a “servant mentality.”

Kidd was career driven, constantly making moves which she thought would further her career. Upon a quick glance at her life and accomplishments, one can easily see that this mentality served Kidd well.

Kidd considers her successful career her greatest asset to the civil rights movement. She clearly articulates in Passing for Black, how it never suited her to lead rallies or sit-ins. Instead she stated that her “most important service to my sex and my race is my life, which I have tried to live as an example of what a black person could achieve- not just a black person- but a black woman.” This idea, that making progress in the movement by simply living a driven, successful life struck me as being simply brilliant. What a better way to promote progress than by taking life by the hands, and showing you could make change happen.

Kidd best illustrates who she was in page forty-one of the book. “I never made an issue of my race. I let people think or believe what they wanted to. If it was ever a problem, then it was there problem, not mine. I never, ever advertised my race, and I still don’t. The Declaration of Independence says we’re all created equal, and I believe it.”  When reading the book, I never took Kidd’s work as being some push for justice as much as a strong will to lead a good life, and to use that life as an example of what others were equally capable of.  Kidd does not exceed any other Kentucky women, in fact she exemplifies the work-ethic that continues in the state today.

Grevious speaks of a segregated Kentucky that Kidd does not as thoroughly mention. However, Kidd had the advantage of being able to pass for white, and Grevious did not. Grevious was much more aggressive in her activism, participating in picketing and other activities with the NAACP.

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“Audrey Grevious.” The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Kentucky Historical Society. 13 April 1999. <http://205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14984>. 16 Feb. 2013.

“Oral History Interview with Mae Street Kidd.” Interview by Kenneth Chumbley on November 11 and December 5, 1978. African American Oral History Collection. University of Louisville Libraries Digital Collections. <http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm/search/field/creato/searchterm/Kidd,%20Mae%20Street,%201904-/mode/exact>.

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

 

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