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Segregation in Kentucky

February 4, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Oral history

Researchers are given an ever evolving view of segregation in Kentucky, and the rest of the United States, as more and more information comes to light. Recently, I have read two books highlighting women during the civil rights era, some of which are in Kentucky.  Freedom on the Border and The Maid Narratives both give insight to the life black women coming out of slavery faced.  Also included in these books are narratives from whites that lived at the time.

I am most fascinated with the role of African American women during the 1920’s at this point in my research.  My interest began when watching the movie The Help and further research continues to intrigue me.  Black maids were responsible for much more than just caring for the white home.  They were role models and status symbols.  (You can read more about post civil war black women and their contributions to white society in one of my past blogposts.)  Although black maids were imperative to white women, they were not always treated as well as maids today are.  Even after the civil war and the freeing of slaves, having a colored person working for you was a status symbol, particularly when that person was for help around the household.  Relationships between whites and blacks did not change until much later and after a lot of hard work.  Whites were highly attached to having a black maid but did not treat their maids like they were important to them or their children.

Being able to read stories from my hometown in Freedom on the Border rekindled my interest for the topic as a whole.  History becomes much more intriguing when it can be placed somewhere that is personal.  I had heard stories about some of the things that happened in my hometown, but seeing it written in a book and told by a notable person from my town helped to solidify details and an understanding of why the event was such a big deal back then and still is today.  Also, I came across a name that was very familiar to me while reading Freedom on the Border.  The father of one of my previous employers wrote one of the narratives.  The man died before I knew him, but knowing his family extensively and being able to picture the land that the atrocities was happening on makes me proud to know that so many people were standing up for what is right.

“Hope is a dream as the soul awakes.”  This quote from The Maid Narratives describes the time so well to me.  All of the stories told in these books are of men and women facing oppression or seeing oppression happening.  Their hope that the world will change is what keeps them fighting for equality.  The stories they tell display their passion and dedication to the cause.


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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