Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky – KHS Oral History Project

Women’s Voices in the
Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project

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Joyce Hamilton Berry (1950s, 60s) Dr. Berry talks primarily about her experience in higher education and her decision to go out of state to Hampton Institute. Eventually she became the first African American female to get a Ph. D from the University of Kentucky – and she describes her first weeks as a graduate student at UK in 1962. Her father passed on his philosophy of looking out for yourself which proved useful to her as she faced various barriers in academia. She describes when she first realized that while growing up in Lexington she lived in a segregated society, and she remembers the day the Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional.
Lucille Brooks (1950s, 60s) Brooks tells about her growing up in Simpson County (segregated public accommodations and hospital), her educational experience and being a teacher in Franklin at the time of integration. She tells of sending/taking the Black students from Lincoln to a workshop for Student Council Members. She recalls her awareness of segregated public accommodations and some small acts of protest and resistance in Franklin in the early 1960s.
Anne Butler (1960s) Anne Butler describes growing up in Stanford at the time schools were integrating, not being able to be elected in student government at Stanford High School although she had written a respected speech, going to her high school guidance counselor to find out about the ACT then being asked to become a domestic after graduating from high school. She was encouraged by her mother and a white mentor to pursue education. She tells of her college experience at EKU and of the activities of the Black students who sought to have Black speakers, Black history etc. She traces her growing political awareness noting various early experiences and magazines she read throughout high school and college. Her current research on Kentucky African Americans has enabled her to learn about the slave heritage of her family.
Odessa Chestine (1950s) Chestine tells of her heritage of valuing education and of becoming a teacher. Chestine talks about growing up in a segregated school system and not being able to attend the public library in Hopkinsville, then later she was able to go into an integrated school.
Esther Costner (1960s) Esther Costner tells of life in the small town of Middlesboro where black families were scattered throughout the community and racial lines were not extremely sharp. She notes the limited economic opportunities and how her brothers and sisters left the community. She and her husband saw to it that their children were educated and could leave the community. She describes some of the grant programs that she worked on in which she sought to improve the lives of families and create more employment opportunities.
Julia Cowans (1950s, 60s) Cowans discusses her life growing up in Bell County, and life in Harlan County, race relations, segregation in education, public accommodations, the NAACP, and her role in local and regional civil rights activism.
Constance E. Ellison (1950s) Ellison tells of coming to teach in Benham, Kentucky after graduating from Talladega College. She describes the school environment under segregation and as the schools integrated and consolidated. She talks about Benham as a mining company town and about strikes there and in Lynch.
Helen Fisher Frye (1950s, 60s) Frye talks about how she dealt with discrimination – and the differences between white and black schools – while she was growing up in Boyle County in the 1920s and 1930s. She describes segregation in Danville, attitudes of the white Baptist churchmembers, NAACP in Danville and her experience and attitude as a teacher when the schools integrated in the 1960s. In the second interview Frye describes her graduate work at Indiana U and Ohio State, which involved intense summers and weekly travel from Danville to Jeffersonville, IN. Her first attempt at taking a University of Kentucky class was soon after the Lyman Johnson lawsuit. UK decided that only on campus classes would be open to Negroes therefore Frye was not allowed to take an off campus class in Danville. When she was burned out from grading so many 6th graders papers, she decided to get another Masters, in Library Science, at UK. She recalls some of the prejudice she experienced and her reluctance to take her oral exams. In recent years Frye has been active in promoting African American Historical Preservation in Danville.
Betty Gabehart (1950s, 60s) Gabehart describes the climate at UK from a white perspective when black students first enrolled. She tells of her own early struggle to make sense of racial attitudes and the transformation of her consciousness through her local and national YWCA experiences. She gives a brief history of the National YWCA’s work to achieve integration and racial justice and specifies various programs and activities of the student YWCA.
Ann Beard Grundy (1960s, 70s) Text only: Grundy discusses her heritage of placing high value on family and on education. She describes in great detail the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL where her father was minister when she was born–the same church bombed in 1963. Her own educational experience ranged from Parker High School in Birmingham to upstate New York (through an AFSC program) to Berea College. In Part III Ann discusses examples of resistance, including references to previous interviews. She describes her philosophy of informal teaching as political action and what she did in her various jobs working with young people and in her own family. She recalls her work with husband Chester and with Catherine Warner in founding the Roots and Heritage Festival and cultural activities at the University of Kentucky. She comments on the outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, especially the loss of black institutions and of her dream of forming an independent black school. She expresses her feelings about these interviews with a white woman and her perspective on the recent violence at Columbine High School in Colorado.


In Part II, Ann Grundy tells about her experience as a Black student at Berea College and the activities of the BSU including a trip to participate in the Selma March. She describes her life in Louisville after graduation, especially grass roots work at Plymouth Settlement House and her travels in Asia and Africa.

Lillian Hudson (1950s, 60s) Lillian Hudson describes her work in public housing and of being passed over for a manager position because she was a woman until a Rabbi Rabb intervened. She gives her perspective on her son Blaine Hudson’s civil rights activity at the University of Louisville.
Daisy James (1960s, 70s) James has lived in Owensboro all of her life except for a brief time with her husband who was in the military in Texas. James talks about being one of the few students to take a class at the all white Owensboro high school from her all black Western high school. She speaks of the reasons she and a few others were chosen to do this. She recalls her father helping build the streets and houses of Owensboro in the 1960s, and the various jobs she has had. She is a community leader who has served on several governmental commissions.
Nancy A. Johnson (1950s, 60s) Johnson tells of teachers who inspired her in Harlan County, her determination to get an education though coming from a poor family, and the various institutions she attended. She taught Bible stories to children, was a community organizer as well as a teacher’s aide and worked in social services as well as a local church. Johnson describes the racial climate in these environments and in the Harlan area in general. She tells of NAACP activity, segregation and school integration.
Mattie Jones (1950s, 60s) Jones’ story includes her experiences as a youth of limited contact with whites, becoming aware of prejudice once she graduated and encountered discrimination in the work place (Spaulding Laundry in Louisville) and tried to sign up for a bowling class at UofL. She talks being inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She participated in Frankfort sit-ins with the Black Workers Coalition for Justice, and the Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression; she also went to jail.
Eleanor Jordan (1960s) Jordan tells of her developing awareness of civil inequalities as a young woman and memories of segregation at Louisville amusement parks, retail stores, and movies – the hardships of growing up in a newly integrated neighborhood and her brother’s involvement in the 28th and Greenwood riot. She also remembers people involved in the civil rights activity related to schools and housing. She attributes her developing black consciousness and pride to her mother and to her Afrian-American school teachers who introduced her to American History and Black History when schools were still segregated in Louisville.
Grace Lewis (1950s, 60s) Grace Lewis tells of growing up on welfare, being empowered by the woman minister and youth leader of her church and, being inspired to be active in the community. She learned skills that led her to government jobs in Washington, D.C. There she became active in the Free Angela Davis Movement and gained a national perspective on empowering the black community. She speaks of how things were accomplished in the 50s and 60s because of group efforts and her continuing to work on the issues of health care and prison.
Loraine Mathis (1930s, 40s, 50s) Mathis recalls the days of segregation in Paducah. She recalls her teachers in the all Black high schools where she learned African American History. She became an active community volunteer assisting people to help solve all sorts of problems. She describes her many years of NAACP activity where she served as an officer at the local and state levels. One of her primary responsibilities was serving as Youth Advisor which included taking the young people to numerous national NAACP Conventions. Mathis served 28 years on the Democratic Executive Committee and tells of get out the vote efforts for Black City Commissioners.
Mary Northington (1940s & 50s) Northington talks about the family stories of slavery that were handed down. She describes her experience in segregated schools, their similarity to the community centers in Covington, and of having to walk to Cincinnati to take business classes. She speaks of the impact of the depression that separated her family and of her Mother’s work as Manager of the Jacob Price Homes. She tells a bit of the history of Talladega College in Alabama where she graduated in 1945. Northington spent 40 years living and working in Buffalo, NY where she found the discrimination she sought to leave still existed.
Suzy Post (1950s, 60s) Suzy Post describes growing up in Louisville, and her involvement in the local civil rights movement. A lifelong advocate for equity issues, Post was President of the ACLU of Kentucky that filed the lawsuit which resulted in a 1975 busing plan to desegregate Jefferson County and Louisville schools. Post talks about the nature of the 28th and Greenwood riot in Louisville in 1968 and describes the part she played in the riot. She was the only white plaintiff in the suit and had five children in public schools at that time. She was monitor of the lawsuit after 1975 while employed by the Louisville and Jefferson County Human Relations Commission.
Gertrude Ridgel (1060s) Dr. Ridgel tells of her early education in segregated schools in West Virginia. After getting her PhD. she came to teach at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, KY. She describes the atmosphere with marches, sit-ins at various restaurants and the local NAACP’s involvement in making arrangements for the ’63 March on Frankfort. Ridgel describes issues regarding color differences among blacks at KSU, black student reactions to the admission of white students and the variety of service projects undertaken by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Mary Etta Taylor (1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s) Mary Etta Taylor was an active member and officer in the Paducah Chapter of the NAACP in the 1950’s and 60’s. She tells of the chapter’s activities, especially an annual banquet where they brought in nationally known speakers and raised money for the NAACP’s legal battles. Taylor describes the segregated nature of Riverside Hospital in Paducah in the 1950s. The Paducah chapter was instrumental in helping found other chapters and in integrating local theaters.
Catherine Warner (1960s) Warner describes growing up in segregated schools in Fayette County and making the transition to integrated schools in Lexington in 1969.

Audio and Video

Audry Grevious (1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s)

As president of the Lexington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, together with Julia Lewis, president of the Congress on Racial Equality, Grevious organized picketing of a neighborhood grocery store, protests at theatres, and sit-ins at dime-store food counters. The unusual level of cooperation between the two organizations and the careful communication with movement participants and police contributed to a peaceful achievement of goals. Grevious, born in 1930, attended segregated schools where she was nourished by excellent teachers and was inspired to become a teacher. She worked for many years at Kentucky Village (formerly Greendale Reformatory and currently called Blackburn) and later taught in Fayette County Public Schools.


Grevious speaks of her early education in Black schools which led her to become a teacher. She also became an activist, and, as President of the Lexington NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) together with Julia Lewis, President of Lexington CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) led a movement to challenge segregation in employment, and public accommodations. She notes the involvement of maids and non-profession people and the scarcity of ministers, with the exception of Rev. W.A. Jones, Historic Pleasant Green Baptist Church. When school integration came to Lexington, she tells how the Black students and teachers lost out.

Abby Marlatt (1950s, 60s)

Marlatt, a retired professor at the University of Kentucky, during the 1960s assisted students who wanted to call attention to the injustices of the times. She helped them organize and train for non violent direct action and joined them for sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Lexington. She assisted in negotiations that led to the desegregation of public accommodations such as restaurants and movie theaters. Marlatt was a leader in the effort to form the Lexington Chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). Marlatt, born in 1916, worked with the Lexington Committee on Religion and Human Rights to establish the Community Action Council in 1965 and with MicroCity Government.
* describes the relevance of her abolitionist roots to her personal decision to participate in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.
* describes segregation in downtown Lexington during the 1950s as well as public access to department stores like Stewarts, and the lunch counters in the five-and-dime stores like Woolworths during this time.
* describes the early formation of CORE while a faculty member at UK. She recalls the early activity of CORE in the early years and describes working alongside with the NAACP.
* reflects back on CORE’s effectiveness emphasizing racial issues with the general public in Lexington, certain strategies used in protests, unifying the local African American community and involving additional organizations throughout Lexington in the struggle to end segregation.
* recalls the fear felt by members of CORE and threats they received.
* describes the transition of the civil rights movement in the direction of Black Power and asked to leave CORE because of being White.


Marlatt describes her participation in Lexington’s civil rights movement as a young professor at UK. Marlatt was active with CORE and their efforts to desegregate public accommodations like lunch counters, theatres and restaurants and open up employment opportunities for African Americans during the 1960s.
* describes segregated public accommodations of Lexington in the 1950s and protests she helped organize.
* describes a sit-in at a lunch counter in Lexington with members of the NAACP.
* describes how the Lexington newspapers showed their opposing views toward the protesters of segregation.
* describes how her UK colleagues reacted to her involvement in Civil Rights protests.
* an encounter she had with the president of UK at the time of her involvement in civil rights protests over her involvement in the protests.
* talks about how CORE was involved in a protest against a segregated movie theatre in Lexington.
* describes the support CORE and other activists got in Lexington for economic boycotts of segregated stores.
* describes how she became involved in the Lexington CORE and how Lexington’s CORE came to an end in the 1960’s.

Alice Wilson (1950s)

Wilson recalls her first days at Mayfield High School in Mayfield, Kentucky. She, along with a few African American high school students, were the first to integrate the school in the late 1950s. She discusses the whole process she underwent to attend school there, and what it was like for her there once she was a registered student.


Wilson tells the story of how she and nine other African American students, who had completed 8th grade at the all Black Dunbar School, decided on their own to register at the all White Mayfield High School after learning about the 1954 Supreme Court decision. She tells how school personnel were shocked but accepted them and how White students lined the sidewalk and taunted the Black students. Responses from teachers were mixed, but one of the advantages was being better prepared for college. One of the disadvantages was the lack of student organizational involvement. Wilson was born to a couple who had been slaves. She tells about her Father running away to Paducah to join the Union Army, returning wounded, but being given land. She mentions in various places how the family members worked at sharecropping in wheat, tobacco, and corn. Schools operated only 3 months of the year, but because she started working as a cook at age 12, she did not continue. The teacher who boarded at her house taught her in the evening so she finished 5th grade. Wilson was able to send her children to Howard University and Hampton Institute.

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Anne Braden (1950s) Braden discusses the 1954 civil rights incident in which she and her husband Carl, who are white, purchased a house on behalf of the Wade family, who are black, in a white neighborhood of Louisville. Braden describes in detail the racial violence that resulted. Born in 1924.
Georgia Davis Powers (1940s, 60s) After being involved in various civil right efforts, in 1968 Georgia Davis Powers became the first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate. She led the Allied Organization for Civil Rights in promoting a statewide public accommodations and fair employment law. She was one of the original organizers of the 1964 March on Frankfort in support of public accommodations. During her twenty-one years in the senate she introduced statewide fair housing legislation and sponsored civil rights legislation prohibiting employment discrimination as well as sex and age discrimination. Powers also supported legislation to improve education for the physically and mentally disabled. She was born in 1923. Powers talks about her realization of segregation when she was a young girl in Louisville and then coming face to face with it during a job in her teenage years. She describes how her father passed as a white man to have a typically white profession, but when coworkers found out he was African American, they refused to work with him. She discusses working with civil rights organizations in Louisville to formulate the plans to march on Frankfort with Martin Luther King in 1964. describes the drafting and passage of her first bill regarding open housing and recalls discrimination she experienced while attending her first legislative session.
Jennie Wilson (1920s) Jennie Wilson, of Mayfield, Kentucky, was born in 1900 to parents who both had been slaves. At the time of slavery, Jennie’s mother was a young child while her father was older. With the Civil War, her father “slipped off” and went to Paducah to join the Union army. Jennie describes life under segregation in the early 1900s, the lynching of a black man in her community in the early 1900s, as well as her experience as a mother during the time of desegregation.

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Alberta Brown and daughter Marilyn (1950s, 60s) Alberta Brown, wife of Curly Brown Senior who was the main civil rights leader in Paducah, Kentucky, and her daughter Marilyn Brown Queen discuss Curly’s involvement in the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. They also go into specifics about their personal experiences dealing with school integration, the integration of public accommodations, the Paducah chapter of the NAACP, harassment, and civil rights movements in Louisville.
Gale Cherry (1950s, 60s) Gale Cherry was a White student at Caldwell County High School when Black students came form Dotson High School to integrate. She describes how the change went smoothly due to sports activities, outstanding individual students, the principal, and certain coaches. She refers to the problems related to fears of interracial dating and interracial travel with colleagues. She recalls signs of segregation and the way the word “nigger” was used in that community.
Patricia George (1950s) George was a high school student when integration came to Caldwell County. She says the students formerly at Dotson were wanted because of the winning basketball team. It took a few years for Black students to get into band and cheerleading. She liked having more options for classes.
Iola W. Harding (1930s, 40s, 50s) Iola Harding, who now lives in New Mexico, describes her ancestor’s from the time of slavery to the 1950s. She recalls growing up in the 30’s in this rural environment in the last Black family in the area. She got degrees at Kentucky State and the University of Kentucky, along with her husband who went to UK Law School, while both worked at the Narcotic Hospital. She tells of experiencing housing discrimination, about the lack of encouragement as a graduate student and of being invited to pour tea at President Dickey’s home. She and her husband participated in some early protest activity and she broke the color line with AAUW.
Thelma Johnson (1950s, 60s) Johnson, a Home Economist, has been an Extension Agent in Henderson, Kentucky since the 50’s. She tells about some of her experiences with Extension in Georgia before coming to KY and about discrimination she experienced as an African American in both places. She describes some of the programs and services she provided and her community involvements.
Marvinia Neblett (1960s) Marvinia Neblett describes her ancestors, and her parents starting the Benton Personal Care Center that she and her husband eventually ran. She recalls her early education at an all Black school, going to Russellville High School with White students and graduating from Murray State University with a degree in Nursing. When she met and married Charles Neblett who was one of the Freedom Singers, she learned a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and felt a part of it. She was moved by the spiritual power of the SNCC Freedom Singers and began to promote their touring and telling their stories.
Elizabeth Oberst (1950s) Elizabeth tells about how she and her husband Paul both came from families of lawyers and likewise became lawyers. She tells of her various jobs and her recollections of segregated Lexington in the 50’s.
Fanny Rosenbaum (1940s, 50s, 60s) Rosenbaum tells of her immigrant grandparents who went into business in Louisville, of the Louisville Jewish Community that accepted refugees from Hitler’s Germany and of her own experiences with Anti-Semitism. When her husband went to Medical School at the University of Louisville in the 40’s, there was a quota for Jewish medical students. She recalls social activities with Black doctors and their wives and the wives’ participation in the civil rights marches. Rosenbaum, who was active in the Urban League, Red Cross & United Way, served on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights from 1966 to 1975 and recalls other members and some of the Commission’s activities.
Mary Tisdale (1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s) Tisdale tells about her family including her great grandmother who was a slave and lived to be 103. She recalls having to go to work very young in Barren County and not being able to go to school beyond the 4th grade. She had a variety of jobs in the area before going to Louisville to work and eventually returning to Park City.
Lois Combs Weinberg (1960s, 70s) Weinberg describes growing up and taking for granted “the way things were.” She gradually became more aware of racial segregation as a college student and thereafter in various service oriented jobs. She tells of the opportunities she had to learn from some strong black leaders in Virginia. She recalls her father, Governor Combs’ pride in having issued an executive order to eliminate segregation in Kentucky. She concludes that only recently has she begun to see signs of real change.
Mary Zriny (1960s) After a brief description of growing up and going to college in Illinois, Zriny tells of coming to the University of Louisville for Graduate School. She describes her experience with an early consciousness raising group, the intensity of the growing feminist movement and how it changed her life. She provides an insiders view of its values and activities, its relationship to other movements of the 60’s and 70’s, and how these movements were infiltrated by the FBI. She tells of the tensions within the Feminist Movement over Lesbianism and the relationship to the gay men’s Movement.

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