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Advancing the Race of African-Americans

February 5, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Social history

Nearly all the laws manifested in racial segregation were enacted in the late 1800s. The Jim Crow laws replaced the Black Codes once society transitioned from one dominated by slavery and farming to a modern one with burgeoning cities and suburbs. Along with it, the infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case was put in place, upholding the separate but equal doctrine. Although slavery seemed to be dying down, the fight for equality was far from over.

“The help”

By the turn of the 20th century, African-Americans were working in homes or taking on other forms of manual labor away from the countryside. Many women worked as maids or “help” as portrayed in The Maid Narratives. At this point, these women were no longer required to live with their employers and often had families of their own or held a second job. Interestingly, young white children learned many life lessons and grew close to their African-American caretakers. Segregation and racial inequality were usually learned through a parent’s scolding or observations in daily life. In addition, “the help” was sometimes seen as part of the family and the white women of the home even looked to them for advice and reassurance.

Despite the slight improvement in the treatment of African-Americans in society, many were still left unsatisfied.  In the Great Migration of the early 1900s, millions of African-Americans left the South for a better life in cities of the North, Midwest, and Western parts of the United States. Wages were often higher in these areas and there were more opportunities for upward mobility, especially in industry work. Racial prejudices were also less severe in places outside of the South, allowing for the growth of “Black metropolises” that included newspapers, jazz clubs, churches, and businesses serving as havens for ambitious African-Americans.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Around this time, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was established with a mission “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” Focusing on issues such as the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, lynching, eliminating Jim Crow, and other civil rights matters, the NAACP was founded by a group of white and black men and women, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Archibald Grimké. I think the most amazing part about this organization is how long it has remained in society. Since 1909, the NAACP has continued to voice concerns for all minorities, not just African-Americans. In fact, there is a chapter on early every college campus in America. Membership is open to people of any race and to anyone willing to make known the struggles faced by minorities still today.


“Great Migration (African American).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Jim Crow Laws.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

Kentucky Women: Aeronautical Achievers

April 3, 2012 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Military history, Primary source

Kentucky Museum of AviationThe field of aeronautics held limitations for women during most of its history. Woman have taken more active roles in space exploration, aeronautical systems design, and military and civilian flight opportunities as these have increased through the 20th century and up to today. Several women native to Kentucky have made notable achievements in these fields. Their accomplishments have  been honored by induction into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame.

The Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame honored its first inductees in 1996. It is part of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport. The eight women who have entered the Hall of Fame can be identified for their achievements as pioneers, as instructors, and as air racers.

The Pioneers

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell (1906-1992), a native of Glasgow in Barren County, was the first African-American woman to be licensed as a private pilot in the United States. This was in 1937; in 1943, she was the first women to hold both an aviation mechanic’s and commercial pilot license. She went on to co-found the National Airmen’s Association of America. Thisorganization promoted interest in aviation and supported pilot training positions for black aviation cadets. As a director of a racially segregated flight school in Chicago, Chappell participated in the training of more than 200 student pilots that later became members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Chappell was recognized in 2002 as one of Women in Aviation’s 100 Most Influential Women in Aviation and Aerospace.
See also her picture and bio at Black Wings.
Mary Edith Engle

Mary Edith Engle

Esther LucilleMueller Ammerman

Esther Lucille
Mueller Ammerman

Esther Mueller Ammerman and Mary Edith Engle are considered pioneers due to their service in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP’s) during WWII. Created to ease the demand for pilots, the WASP’s were organized in 1943 to fly noncombat missions in support of the war. Applicants numbered 25,000 and less than 2,000 were accepted into the program. Two who were accepted were Ammerman and Engle. Ammerman, originally from Thayer, Nebraska, is a resident of Cynthiana in Harrison County. Engle is a native of Lexington who continued flying after the war as a member of the International Organization of Women Pilots (the Ninety-Nines). Each gained pilot flying hours in the multiengine bombers of the day, including the B-29 strategic bomber, the type of plane flown in the atomic bombing missions that ended the conflict in 1945. Even though they flew a variety of non-combat military missions, the WASP’s had no  military status when the unit was disbanded in 1944. This was changed by an act of Congress in 1977, when military protocol and benefits were granted. In July 2009, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the WASP’s for their service to the United States.
See also the Mary Edith B. Engle Papers, 1940-1945 collection at the University of Kentucky Special Collections

Dr. Shelba Proffitt

A fourth pioneer in the Aviation Hall of Fame made her accomplishments in design and engineering. Dr. Shelba J. Proffitt, a native of Whitesburg in Letcher County, was a member of the Wernher Von Braun missile development team at NASA. She later held key positions at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. From NASA she moved to development work on advance tactical missile systems. At the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, she was the first woman to join the Senior Executive Service. As Director of the Advanced Technology Directorate, and Director, Sensors Directorate, Dr. Proffitt addressed the numerous technical issues of missile defense systems. In 2001, she had total responsibility for developing air and missile systems as Acting Program Executive Officer. Dr. Proffitt’s capabilities were recognized by the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the Von Braun Engineer of the Year Award in 1999.
See more on Dr. Proffitt’s background in an article in The Mountain Eagle, February 6, 2002

The Instructors

No one legally learns to fly in the United States without an instructor pilot. Two Kentucky women are outstanding in this category of The Instructors.

Evelyn Bryan Johnson

Evelyn Bryan Johnson was born in Corbin and is better known as “Mama Bird”. She is a Federal Aviation Administration Flight Instructor and an FAA Flight Examiner. Others hold these ratings like Johnson, but none match her 57,000 flight hours. The number of pilot check flights she has conducted number close to 10,000 total. Johnson has been recognized repeatedly for her contributions to general aviation. Many pilots flying and training other pilots today had their initial training experience or “check ride” with Mama Bird Johnson.
See more in the Evelyn Bryan Johnson Papers, 1930-2002 collection in the Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN; and, George Prince, “Mama Bird; Biography of Evelyn Bryan Johnson, A Flight Instructor” (Mayfield Printing, 1994); and “Your Stories: Mama Bird Evelyn Johnson,” a newsclip from WBIR TV, November 24, 2010.

Sheri Coin Marshall
The second instructor overcame the disability of a right arm amputation in childhood to become one of Kentucky’s most respected pilots. Shari Coin Marshall of Paducah in McCracken County is a veteran flight instructor and received the 1998 Instructor of the Year Award for the southern region of the Federal Aviation Administration. Marshall is qualified as an airline pilot and serves as a flight instructor for the physically impaired. Not held back by her impairment, Marshall has also written One Can Do It, a book on dealing with such limitations. She accomplished all this and raised two daughters.
See more in “Marshall ‘wrote the book’ on overcoming disability,” Henderson Home News, December 29, 1994

The Air Racers

Air racing does include speed, while other events call for the pilot to estimate flight time and fuel consumption. The women under this heading also promoted civilian or general aviation as well as their home state.

Greenwood “Cokie”
Overstreet Cocanougher

Greenwood “Cokie” Cocanougher was a native of Lexington who took to flying from a request by her son Archie. The deal: she would try flying if he would attend Sunday school. Her enthusiasm quickly developed and took her on to more than 5,000 flying hours. Within four years of her first flight, Cocanougher had her commercial pilot and instructor pilot ratings. The demand for pilots in WWII gave her instructor pilot employment for wartime flyers under the War Training Service Program. Cocanougher participated in five International All-Women Air Races, and won the 1950 “Powder Puff and Beaux” Derby from Columbus, Ohio to Boston. She received the Jane Lausche Air Safety Trophy for her accomplishment: Cocanougher was just 3 minutes off her estimated flight time, and only .7 gallons away from her estimated fuel consumption. When not racing, she flew across the state as Executive Director of the Associated Women’s Department of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
See also “Early female pilot chosen for Aviation Hall of Fame,” Central Kentucky News, November 5, 2009

Betty Mosely

Betty Moseley began her private flying career when she made her first solo flight in December 1968. Encouraged by her husband who had been a military pilot in WWII, she accumulated flying hours and prepared for the 1971 Powder Puff Derby. The challenge of the race was a 2,700 mile route from Calgary, Canada to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Conducted in legs, the race was going well for Moseley until she heard a “Mayday” distress call in the last portion of the event. Another pilot had become lost and low on fuel. Moseley relayed radio messages to the distressed pilot, and guided her to a safe landing. Moseley and her plane “Smitten Kitten” forfeited a chance to win by helping another pilot; she was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for her action in preventing an accident. Away from air racing, Moseley was active in the Blue Grass chapter of the International Women’s Pilot Association and served as chair of the first Kentucky Aviation Week in 1972. In that same year, working with the Kentucky Air National Guard, she was authorized to train and fly in the supersonic fighter planes that the Guard was assigned. On October 18, 1972, Betty Moseley became the first woman to fly in a combat jet in Kentucky.
See more in the “Betty Moseley” entry in The Ninety-Nines: Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (Turner Publishing Company, 1996).

She Made and Left Her Mark

December 9, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

One can only stand in awe of the accomplishments of women and African American at that who were born at a time when little was expected of them yet they achieved so much. Lois Morris was one of those women. Born in the late 1920’s in the south, Mississippi to be exact, she has a resume that is very impressive. She was an educator who taught at both the high school and college level. With an political science she put her theory into practice by becoming a politician. She served three terms on the Louisville, KY., Board of Aldermen, as was a mayorial candidate. She founded the National Black Women for Political Action was a charter member of the Louisville Urban League’s Women’s Committee, founder and president of the Louisville chapter of the National Council of Negro Women; vice-president of the Kentucky state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and secretary of the Southern Black Political Caucus. She was a constant contributor to the well being of her community. She was appointed Louisville’s first Human Relations Commission, Kentucky’s first Insurance Regulatory Board, and to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. What motivated Lois and others like to her to accomplish what they did inspite of the political and social barriers. She was not one to complain but one who sort to make a difference. It seems that she was not all business but enjoyed some pleasures. She and her husband were know for their annual derby parties. Their parties were so popular that they were written about in the New York Times. Lois Morris was well rounded. She was also know for her style and in 1963, was named one of the twenty-one best-dressed women by Ebony magazine.

by dawn

Lucy Harth Smith

November 13, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s

Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith, an African American activist and educator, was born in Virginia in 1888. She moved to Kentucky where she worked to improve the school systems for the black community and aimed to include black history in historical textbooks. She attended Hampton Institute, graduated from Kentucky State College, and then got her master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati. Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith was the principal of Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Lexington, from 1935 to 1955.

Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith worked diligently to acquire textbooks for African American schools and libraries. She was involved with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History is an organization that researches, preserves, and promotes black history. Preserving and promoting black history was a passion of Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith; she worked ardently to include black history in school textbooks, primarily in the elementary schools.
Smith was also a speaker who lectured about civic, racial, and social improvements. She also served as the president of the Kentucky Negro Education Association, a powerful group that lobbied for educational improvements. Among her many accomplishments, Smith helped raise funds to establish The Colored Health Camp. This camp was free to parents of undernourished and frail children for two weeks with the goal of improving the children’s health.

During the remodeling of the Booker T. Washington School, the architects designed the building so the entrance was on the side of the building. Lucy Smith would not stand for that, she took the matter to the Lexington Board of Education and had the door moved to the front.

Selected resources:
“Famous Kentucky Women” pamphlet by the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, revised May 1997,

Notable Black American Women, Book II. Jessie Carney Smith, editor. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1996. [NOTE: this book is available in many local libraries; here is a search in WorldCat –]

“Lucy Harth Smith,” Journal of Negro History 41 (Apr 1956): 177-179.  Retrieved from

A legacy built in Lexington Ky.

October 23, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

Dr Joyce Hamilton Berry is a remarkable woman who was born and raised in Lexington Ky. Growing up in a time of segregation she never felt lesser than anyone in respect to her gender or race. Part of her story is told in the recording she did for the Kentucky Civil Rights Oral History Project. She graduated from Dunbar High School at the age of 15. After graduating from Hampton University in Virginia, she returned to Kentucky and taught at Lancaster and her beloved. Her love of learning lead her to enter graduate school at the University of Kentucky. She completed her masters in 1962 then went on to become the first African American female to earn a PhD from U.K. in 1970. Dr. Berry is a renowned psychologist with her own practice in Washington D.C. She has been a regular contributor to Ebony Magazine and has written for many others. Dr. Berry has also appeared on television shows like “Judge Hatchet” and “Geraldo” etc where her expert advice and counsel was needed. Many obstacles and barriers were overcome by this native “lexingtonian” from the MLK neighborhood. Her life is a shining example of one who knew what they wanted and went after it. The youths of Lexington, Kentucky, The U.S. and by extension the world, will do well to learn from her life experiences and achievements.

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