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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.

Suzanne Wolff Post

March 25, 2013 in 1960s-1970s, Oral history

If I have found out anything about Suzy Post over the course of our research this semester, to be quite frank, it is that she has one hell of a spirit.  Up to this point, much of the information we have acquired has been through her oral history interviews. Despite her age in some of the interviews, her spunk remains strong.

Post spent a life dedicated to activism. She was a prominent figure in the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union.  She was a strong supporter of school desegregation in Louisville and open housing. She was also strongly involved in the anti-war movement.

She was raised in the Louisville Jewish community. From an early age, she was exposed to the horrors of World War II.   In a 2009 interview she describes seeing a connection in the genocide and the treatment of African Americans in the U.S.*

Her feminist ideology stems from the treatment she experienced throughout her life because of her gender.  She describes in detail a situation in which she realized how blatantly men expected her to remain silent, and how dramatically that encouraged her to do the absolute opposite.**

Overall, research on Post has gone well, and we have been almost swamped with good information to use and organize.  Even more exciting in regard to our research is that Post has agreed to meet with us!!! Needless to say we are thrilled about the opportunity to speak with this remarkable woman.

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* Timothy, Patrick McCarthy. 2009. Interview with Suzy Post. Journal for the Study of Radicalism 3, (1): 145-173. http://ezproxy.uky.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/213913050?accountid=11836 (accessed March 3, 2013).

**”20B1 Suzy Post.” Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Kentucky Historical Society. 205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14969 (accessed January 30, 2013).

See also:
“Suzy Post,” Wikipedia. January 13, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzy_Post. Accessed March 27, 2013.

“Hall of Fame 2007 – Suzy Post.” Kentucky: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. http://kchr.ky.gov/hof/halloffame2007.htm?&pageOrder=0&selectedPic=10 (accessed January 30, 2013).

Scientific Racism, Germ Theory and Segregation – A Woman’s Story

March 10, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Social history

Segregation blossomed in the U.S. not just from a rigid adherence to codes of behaviors but also from so-called scientific findings based on race. In the early twentieth century, new disciplines of the social sciences (such as anthropology) and the sciences (such as new research in evolutionary biology, racially based pathology and genetics) promoted scientific racism. Public intellectuals, politicians and educators began attributing “race” or “culture” to the reasons for the disparities between the health of people of color and whites. By blaming the victims of injustices such as disproportionate access to healthcare and proper nutrition, leaders could avoid addressing the difficult, systematic social inequalities of their times.

Scientists, bolstered by scientific racism, undertook unethical studies that would never have been allowed with white subjects. While many emphasize the horrors of Nazi-supported science, white supremacists in the U.S. conducted their research and published their findings with impunity. While working as the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a controversial report in 1965 (The Negro Family: The Case for National Action) using sociological methods to define a “pathology” inherent to families of African-Americans — that black mothers caused their own poverty and destroyed their own progress toward economic and political equality. Another federally supported study took place at the Tuskegee Institute, where black men (many were sharecroppers without formal education) infected with syphilis were followed in a 40 year study, 1932-1972. Even after penicillin had been found to treat syphilis and ethical standards had been created for medical research, researchers in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study continued to deny those infected with syphilis any medical advice or treatment. In all areas of the U.S., public health policy followed racist interpretations of heredity by promoting involuntary sterilization and abortion to address black women’s ill health.

The Maid NarrativesGerm theory influenced by scientific racism came to influence public policy for segregated water fountains, bathrooms even public transportation waiting rooms. Casual contact between the races could, in this racist interpretation of germ theories, transmit the illnesses from blacks to whites. In the clip below (from the BackStory episode “Rinse and Repeat,” broadcast in February 2013), Charletta Sudduth –co-author of The Maid Narratives — talks about the contradictory ways cleanliness was understood. A black woman worker was not allowed to use the same wash basin as her white employer, even if she was about to prepare his meal.

**** Additional Resources ****

Semmes, Clovis E. Racism, Health, and Post-Industrialism: A Theory of African-American Health (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996).

Solinger, Rickie. Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade (Psychology Press, 2000).

Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Random House, 2006).

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:

Mapping neighborhood diversity over time and segregation in Louisville

February 17, 2011 in Research methods

Go to http://www.mixedmetro.com, 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 **

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by dawn

The Integration of The University of Kentucky

December 10, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

In 1941, a teenager named Charles Eubanks volunteered to play a part in an attempt to integrate the University of Kentucky. He applied to the UK College of Engineering and was turned down because he was African American and the Kentucky Day Law did not allow African Americans and whites to attend the same school. The suit led to the creation of a “separate but equal” program at Kentucky State University. Though it did not lead to a huge change within the University of Kentucky, it is a notable instance of a step in the right direction.

A man named Lyman T. Johnson is considered one of Kentucky’s greatest fighters for integration. In 1948, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Day Law. The next year UK admitted the first black students to its graduate and professional schools. In 1954 the University of Kentucky finally opened admission to undergraduate studies to black students; University of Louisville followed in 1955.

While interviewing Mrs. Gaylord and Rev. & Mrs. Jones for our service learning project (“Lexington Women, African-American Churches and Civil Rights Activism” – see more at: www.kywcrh.org/voices/churches), I began to think about the University of Kentucky in the 1950s and ‘60s and what it would have been like to attend UK as one of the few African American students. Coming here as a freshman was scary enough for me; not knowing where to go or what to do. Coming here with fear and the isolation that both Mrs. Gaylord and Mrs. Jones expressed to me would be traumatizing. They both lived on campus and discussed the difficulties of eating at surrounding restaurants. Mrs. Jones was not allowed to eat at Jerry’s, a restaurant directly across from her dorm. While living on campus they would have lacked the community and support which one needs to be successful while getting an education. Luckily, Mrs. Jones was able to rely on Pleasant Green Baptist Church where she was an active member. She experienced many difficulties within her biology major at the university. I was shocked to hear that her genetics teacher told her that she was “genetically inferior”.

As a proud UK student, it saddens me to learn these things about a school which plays such a vital role in my life.

Resources:

Oral History Interview – Jones, Kay and La Mont. Interview by Dawn Bailey. Digital recording. November 29, 2010. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Oral History Interview – Gaylord (not uploaded yet)

See also:
“Civil Rights Timeline” – http://www.ket.org/civilrights/timeline.htm
Hardin, John A. Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

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by Mary

Taking another look at influential women in Kentucky: Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks)

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

bell hooksGloria Jean Watkins better known as bell hooks (her pen name) is a very influential woman that has come from Kentucky.  She has written multiple books that bring light the injustice that women go through in our patriarchal society.  Some of her books are even used at the University of Kentucky in gender study classes.  Watkins is a social activist that ties in race and gender to get her message out about how women are treated as lesser individuals than men.  

Watkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952 to a working class African American family.  Watkins grew up in segregated schools but in high school was exposed to the integration of black and white schools in her region.  She has written about her accounts and the difficulty of going from an all black school to an integrated school where most of the children and teachers were white.  This is where she first saw the role that gender and race played into our society.

Her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism explores the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women.  She has published 30 books that explore the ideas of feminism, race, class and gender.  She discusses how we learn our gender roles from an early age so we are accustomed to women being treated unfairly and not equal to men.  Watkins has taught at Yale, but she now works for Berea College in Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in residence, she has expressed that she wanted to return to her home of Kentucky.


She speaks of how loving communities (see for example her articles in Shambhala Sun) can help to overcome the inequalities that race and gender have put into our society.  I think that she should be considered an influential woman of Kentucky because she puts limelight on the unfair treatment of women in society and incorporates race with these injustices.  Although it does not really have to do with the history of Kentucky she has everything to do with the treatment of women in history and how it affects women today in our patriarchal society.

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