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Kentucky’s Integration of Schools

October 3, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

In 1955, at the age of 16, Helen Case became the first black student to enroll in a historically all white school in Kentucky. Although she only enrolled in summer school at Lafayette High School, this was a huge step in furthering the civil rights movement in Kentucky. A Texas newspaper called the Victoria Advocate wrote, “No school in Kentucky has yet announced any intention of integrating schools by next autumn, but some have indicated they plan to do so by the fall of 1956.” It is ironic that a newspaper in Texas would document this event, but in all my research I cannot find anything in the Herald Leader (the Lexington newspaper) about this event.

Even though Brown v. Board of Education, which deemed segregation to be unconstitutional, was decided in 1954, it was not until 1956 that Kentucky schools became integrated. This was not without opposition, especially in Sturgis (Union County) and Clay (Webster County). The events, which took place in Sturgis and Clay were almost like Kentucky’s version of the Little Rock Nine. Just like in Little Rock, there were also nine in Sturgis. The black students did not end up attending school that day because of the loud, violent crowds that greeted them upon their arrival at school. As they did in Little Rock, the National Guard was called in the next day, September 5th, to ensure safety and stayed through September 22nd. The school boards of Union and Webster counties ultimately decided the African American students enrolled in the schools illegally. The governor’s proclamation on these events summed up this decision by saying, “Late on the afternoon of the 18th, however, he Union and Webster County Boards of Education rekindled the controversy by voting to officially bar black students from their schools.  This came on the strength of an opinion by Attorney General Jo M. Ferguson.  Ferguson ruled that the Negro students were enrolled illegally, since neither Webster nor the Union County school boards had implemented an integration program.” The two counties board of education’s interpreted the decision to integrate schools as their own even after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

“1st Negro Enters Kentucky School.” The Victoria Advocate.7 June. 1955: A-4.

Trowbridge, John M. “Sturgis and Clay: Showdown for Desegregation in Kentucky Education.” Department of Military Affairs. 2006.

3 responses to Kentucky’s Integration of Schools

  1. This is a really important point you’ve raised here – Kentucky’s youth were so very brave… even in the face of angry White Citizens Councils (who assured everyone they were not violent but their white supremacist mob mentality and vengeful actions against their neighbors prove otherwise). Look for mentions of Kentucky in the online archives of the newspapers for the WCC at http://www.citizenscouncils.com.

  2. The issue of States rights verses Federal Authority surfaces here in the board of educations decision as being in conflict with the federal government deeming segregation unconstitutional. There is a trail of debated from our founding fathers to modern day over this balance of power.
    http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=425
    http://www.garyrutledge.com/AmFedGov/Lecture_Outlines/Civil_Rights_Outline.htm

  3. I find it weird that Texas would be the place to keep tabs on the Kentucky school integration ongoings. However, it does not suprise me that the herald leader did not have anything on it. Kentucky waited until 1956 to integrate due to so much resistance on the part of white supremacy ideas, I bet the paper was trying to keep things quite.

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