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Lead by Subtlety: Viola Davis Brown

February 24, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Social history

By researching Viola Davis Brown and her accomplishments to publish a Wikipedia page about her life, I have discovered one of the subtle leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Viola Davis Brown, born in 1936, was certainly a pioneer of the movement in Kentucky, although not in the traditional context. The contrast in Brown’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement does not exist in her outward protest and open discrediting of segregation, but rather in her career and her personal accomplishments.

Photo of Viola Davis Brown

Viola Davis Brown

My research, though not complete, has not yielded any indication that Viola Davis Brown was involved with any organization such as NAACP or other traditional movements promoting integration during her lifetime. I found no record of Mrs. Brown openly addressing her race as a limiting factor or protesting for equality. Rather, her achievements and perpetual promotion in the work place has led her to be an extremely prominent figure of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.Viola Davis Brown became the first African American student in Lexington to attend and graduate with a nursing degree. She continued her education at the University of Kentucky, where she became a certified Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.  Mrs. Brown’s career was merely beginning when she was appointed Executive Director of the Office of Public Health Nursing for the Kentucky Department of Health Services in Frankfort, Kentucky. The accolades have not since halted.

Book cover, The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

The most appropriate connection I was able to draw between the life of Viola Davis Brown and the ideas regarding the themes of The Maid Narratives fell among the ideas of Cognitive Dissonance and the Defiance of the Norms to Stand Up against Injustice. Viola Brown did not have to join strident organizations that proudly announced their cause within the movement. Brown’s actions, including the pursuance of higher education and career promotion at her own discretion, represent the subtle ability of an individual to overcome substantial barriers such as those dividing race in Lexington, Kentucky during her lifetime.

The descriptions in the text of The Maid Narratives carefully describes the acknowledgement of racial difference and the societal belief that two races, namely Black and White, are psychologically inconsistent. Viola Brown did not have to address this societal injustice head on. Rather, she committed herself to education and advancement within the sector of public health. Not only did she overcome the customs of her society and traditional role of the Whites to assume positions of medical care, she did so without personally addressing her race as a reason to see justice through. The textual example of the maid employer, Elise Talmage, would directly parallel, I can only imagine, the description of a white observer commenting on Brown’s progress in the field of health management. While it was entirely unheard of for a Black woman to hold such a position of prestige, Mrs. Brown continued to secure these positions and became a representation of triumph over segregation for the community and state, at large.

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Sources:

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.

College of Public Health. “Hall of Fame Past Inductees: Viola Brown” University of Kentucky College of Public Health (2011): n. pag. Web. 11 February 2013.

 

Passion for Justice

February 18, 2013 in 1940s-1950s

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Two of the most prominent women during the era of desegregation in Kentucky were Audrey Grevious and Mae Street Kidd. Grevious pushed for integration in the educational system, while Kidd seemed to defy the boundaries of color everywhere she went.

Grevious was inspired to be a teacher while attending segregated schools as a child. Initially, she wasn’t aware of the segregation, saying, “things were different, but not so unpleasant.” It wasn’t until she reached adulthood and attended a convention in New York that Grevious realized how different things were in Lexington, KY.

As a teacher, Grevious worked to integrate the Kentucky Village, a school for delinquent boys and girls across the state. Around this time, Grevious was also involved with the NAACP, who asked her to try an experiment. She and another NAACP member were to make stops along the way to Lexington from New York in order to see if they could be served. Not surprisingly, they were denied service at every stop except for one. On the way back up to New York, Grevious and her companion dressed nicely, wearing furs, diamonds, and a suit, respectively.  Though they were served at every place this time, the incident made her angry: “Here I am, an American, and they would not serve me.”

Mae Street Kidd

Mae Street Kidd

Similarly, Kidd also identified herself as an American first before anything else. In Passing for Black, Kidd never distinguished between whites and blacks when it came to their character. Though she had fair skin and blonde hair, she did not try to pass for white even though she easily could. She “never made an issue of [her] race.”

Passing for BlackKidd was successful in every career and job pursuit she immersed herself in. She began in sales at Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company based in Louisville. Kidd didn’t finish college, but she was a skilled salesman and was even able to open her own bank account at the young age of seventeen. She worked her way up in Mammoth, eventually becoming the director of a program she created, which concentrated on public relations. In addition, Kidd organized the Business and Professional club for black women and was a successful saleswoman for Fuller products, a cosmetics company with branches in Chicago and Detroit. Because Kidd seemed to “present a certain image of success” with the way she dressed and carried herself, it was really no surprise that she was able to excel in every endeavor she pursued; however, her quest for success was not an easy one. Many people were jealous of her and she was often mistreated and did not always receive credit for her achievements.

Though these women probably faced many trials in their pursuit for a better quality of life for themselves and others, both were still able to make an impact on society through their hard-earned accomplishments. I don’t believe that these women are the only ones with such extraordinary passion for justice. There are women who are working hard daily in their jobs to defy the boundaries of race and gender, but don’t receive recognition for their efforts. To an extent, this passion is burning within each of us, pushing us to reach our dreams and ambitions of making the world a better place—no matter the color of our skin.

Sources

“Audrey Grevious.” The HistoryMakers. 11 Dec. 2002. <http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/audrey-grevious-39>. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious>. 18 Feb. 2013.

Hall, Wade H. Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd>. 18 Feb. 2013.

Educators for Integrated Education

February 10, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Primary source, Social history

Book cover, Freedom on the Border

Freedom on the Border

As a result of the constitutional affirmation of Kentucky’s Day Law in 1908, schools throughout Kentucky continued to be segregated. The developing movement to end segregated education, however, came in two distinct waves, according to oral history accounts in Fosl and K’Meyer’s “Freedom on the Border”, with the first beginning in the 1930s, and the second in 1950. Initially, active members of the NAACP made the decision to target the integration of education beginning at the highest level first. Thus, medical education and graduate level integration were of major concern to actions toward segregation.

The second wave of segregation, beginning in 1950, was recognized as “massive resistance” to the numerous, public grade schools that had yet to see reform. Schools began to rapidly desegregate in the coming decade with nearly 92% of all Kentucky schools having been integrated by 1964, however policies of implementing “freedom of choice” plans in schools would not contribute to complete integration. These plans involved students deciding where they would like to attend school and often put African American youths at risk because of deeply-rooted prejudices throughout the White community. These prejudices were not only espoused from major racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan but from within average families. As a result of the Cold War, white supremacists traditions, such as the defense of segregation, could carry on at the familial level as perpetrators eradicated any threat of communism.

During the second major wave in support of desegregation, models for the movement emerged such as Audrey Grevious. Grevious worked at the Kentucky Village, formerly Greendale Reformatory, for delinquent children. This campus was segregated in terms of race and gender. Integration efforts throughout the community had already begun in the form of stand-ins, sit-ins, marches, etc. Grevious, during an oral history interview, discusses the fact that while growing up, she lived under the confines of segregation but wasn’t unhappy because she possessed no knowledge of any other kind of life. Although Grevious “didn’t know any better to be unhappy”, her attendance of a conference in New York drastically changed her perspective and motivated her to become radically involved with the movement for integration in Lexington. Grevious became an educator because the smartest people she had ever known were teachers and she wanted to give back to her community and those who had prepared her “to live in a world that wasn’t split in the middle”. Her goal became to prepare her students in case “the change ever came” – that change being integration. She also acknowledged the fact that she “could not ask others to make a change and while she worked in a segregated environment” herself.

Photo of Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious

Audrey Grevious and others share their stories and memories of educational segregation but she illustrates an important point in her interview that no one tries to remember the negative that happened. In summary, Black youths, of both genders, enrolled in public education during the movement for integration were placed under the scrutiny of society yet they received immense support from within their own community and were under the guidance of many strong-willed educators such as Grevious who would continue to work for the permanence of equality for all in Kentucky schools.

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Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Cold War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

The History Makers. “Civic Makers: Audrey Grevious.” The HistoryMakers. Web. 10 February 2013.

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 10 February 2013.

 

 

Kentucky School Integration

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history

 I’ve been interested in Kentucky history for a while now and with the subject of Civil Rights, it got me thinking about the perfect topic the write about.  The topic is easy: education and one subject seems to be forgotten, when Kentucky schools integrated.  With the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, I thought it meant an immediate decision to integrate all schools in the country.  That wasn’t the case in Kentucky.  Something didn’t happen, at least in Lexington, until the summer of 1955 when Helen Caise Wade became the first African-American to enroll in an all white school.  Wade was a student at Douglass High School and was interested in American history.  She wanted to take a course on it, but only one was offered at Lafayette High School.  She was able to register for the class and when it started she says she had no big problems.  “It was not a bad experience because nobody really mistreated me,” she said. “They weren’t mean to me. They just ignored me.”  Wade had to have escorts with her for a while, but soon after they weren’t necessary.

Integration in schools was happening in 1955 when a school for the blind in Louisville approved for integration.  According to The Lexington Herald, the small article talks about the Kentucky School for the Blind allowing 16 Negro students and three Negro teachers integrating to the school when the year started in 1955.  This school became the first school in Jefferson County to have mixed classes.

One story from the Lexington Herald that was very different was something of the mere opposite of integration, sort of.  In early 1955, in Louisville, Ky. a young white boy was allowed to enroll in an all black school and his mother wanted him to.  The article goes on to say that David Rogers Russell’s family lived in Tokyo and he didn’t understand about segregation.  David knew he would be attending a Negro church, a Negro Scout troop and a Negro YMCA, but everyone seemed to be happy with this decision.

That wasn’t the case in Clay, Ky. on September 13th, 1956 when a boycott happened at the Clay School when two Negro students were admitted.  News of this event spread around the school and ten teachers refused to show up and two of those teachers even resigned.  I couldn’t believe that.  White students came to the school, but all they did was gather their personal things and quickly left the school.  One little girl became scare of the empty halls.  “I’m afraid.  There’s nobody inside.  I ain’t staying.  I want my momma.”  The little left the school in tears.  Principal Irene Powell wanted these two Negro students, Theresa and James Henry Gordon, to be treated like any other student.  She says “they’re being taught regular classes and will be served in the cafeteria.”  The Gordon children said they were unafraid and felt good about going to the Clay School.  Their teachers even “treated them fine.” 

I even asked my father if there were any problems with integration.  My father grew up in Hazard, Ky. in the 1950s, but he told me that there weren’t any Negro schools.  The businesses and restaurants were segregated but not the schools.  He told me there wasn’t a real problem with integration and there was a fair enough population of black people at that time.

Lexington is a different story.  I am becoming more and more interested in integration in Fayette County schools, but I haven’t found anything on that subject, at least in newspapers.  All I know was that my mother was class of 1962 from Lafayette High School and she told me the there were two black students who enrolled the beginning of the 1961 school year and they were scared.  My mother seemed fine about it.  But it would be nice to know about all the Lexington schools from the 50s and 60s to find out when school integration affected all the schools and which grade schools were for Negros and which ones were for whites.     

Work Cited:

Lexington Herald.  September 14th, 1956

Lexington Herald.  September 1, 1955

Lexington Herald.  September 2, 1955

Kentucky Civil Rights Leaders

April 20, 2011 in 1920s-30s, 1950s-1960s, Political history

This paper discusses the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Kentucky becoming the first Southern state to enact a strong civil rights law, former Governor of Kentucky Ned Breathitt’s role in moving Kentucky’s Civil Rights forward and Audrey Grevious who was born in Kentucky and later become the Lexington Chapter President of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

During President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration Congress passed Public Law 82-352 (78 Stat. 241). The provisions in this civil rights act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered all executive agencies to require federal contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” This marked the first use of the phrase “affirmative action.” In 1969 an executive order required that every level of federal service offer equal opportunities for women and established a program to implement that action.

Former Kentucky Governor Ned Breathitt was instrumental in Kentucky passing historic civil rights legislation. First elected to the Kentucky State House in 1951, he served until 1958. Breathitt was elected Governor of Kentucky in 1963 and introduced a petition at the 1964 National Governors Conference in which he called for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later in 1964 Governor Breathitt at a civil rights conference in Louisville pledged his support for a strong civil rights bill addressing employment as well as public accommodations. This pledge from a southern Governor was unheard of in its time. In 1966 the Kentucky General Assembly passed the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. This law prohibited discrimination in employment and public accommodations and empowers cities to enact local laws against housing discrimination. The Kentucky Civil Rights legislation also repealed all other state segregation laws and setup the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights which had the statutory authority to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth. Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act went further than its federal counterpart because it prohibited racial discrimination in hiring. The Reverend Martin Luther Kings called Kentucky’s Civil Rights Bill “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state.” Governor Breathitt went on to assist the integration of athletics into the Southeastern Conference which included the University of Kentucky. This website is a timeline of Kentucky’s Civil Rights. From this timeline we can see Kentucky’s progression in the Civil Rights Movement as well as other significant events.

Another important Kentuckian who played a crucial role in Civil Rights is Audrey Grevious. Audrey Grevious was born in 1930 in Lexington, Kentucky. Grevious as a youth attended segregated schools. After earning her bachelors degree in elementary education at Kentucky State University she went on to earn a master’s in administration from Eastern Kentucky University. According to this website which contains Audrey Grevious biography http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_grevious.htm in the later 1940’s Grevious became active in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as well CORE (Congress on Racial Equality). As the civil rights movement continued Grevious became the president of the Lexington Chapter of the NAACP in 1957. Working with a friend Julia Lewis who was the president of Lexington’s CORE, the two brought the NAACP and the CORE together for the first time. Grevious and Lewis helped organize sit-ins at dime store food counters, pickets of a neighborhood grocery store and protests in Lexington Kentucky theaters for the Civil Rights Movement. These two organizations carefully worked together contributing to the peaceful achievement of civil right goals.

Sources

 http://articles.latimes.com/2003/oct/16/local/me-breathitt16

by kcjohn2

“Colored Notes” Segregation in Newspapers

December 8, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

In the days of Jim Crow laws, the “Colored Notes” section was a staple in every mainstream newspaper in the country. The “Colored Notes” included social information concerning the African American community. Not only did the section report on the activities of the professional and middle class, but also included special honors or events pertaining to African Americans. In addition, this section typically carried the obituaries of prominent African Americans – separated from the main Obituary section of the paper. In Lexington, all three of the big newspapers had these separate sections: the Lexington Herald, the Lexington Leader, and theSunday Herald-Leader. When searching newspaper archive databases for research purposes of African American events or people before 1969, you are sure to get of list of almost all articles labeled “Colored Notes.”

To some in the African American community this was one more way to perpetuate segregation, while others felt it was the only way to have their news even reported. Especially in Lexington, the part of the community that felt this way was afraid if the “Colored Notes” were wiped out, the community as a whole would just vanish from the news and have no way of knowing what was going on within.

Not until the end of the 1950’s did people in Lexington begin to voice their opposition to not only the separation of the news, but also the use of the term “colored” to describe the African American community. At the forefront of the movement was CORE and a few other civil rights activist groups. In 1964 a reader’s poll was taken to determine whether readers wanted to keep the section or do away with it. This poll reported the readers wanted to keep the “Colored Notes” in publication. Finally in 1969, the Lexington newspapers did away with the “Colored Notes” section. (See “Colored Notes to be Eliminated,” Lexington Herald-Leader, 02/01/1969, p. 22.)

African Americans were faced with racism in so many avenues of life. Some may say this was not the perpetuation of segregation, but I disagree. Separate is not equal even in regards to the newspaper.

Resource:
“Colored Notes in Kentucky Newspapers,” Notable Kentucky African Americans. University of Kentucky Libraries. Reinette Jones, 2003. Accessed 08 Dec. 2010. http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/subject.php?sub_id=178.

by becca

F. W. Woolworth Building

December 8, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Social history

Downtown Lexington has a long history of economic and social importance.

Woolworth was a department store in Lexington from 1946 to 1990. Woolworths were located all over the country and became the first 5&10 cent store. 

In 1960, at a North Carolina Woolworth, four African-American students sat at the counter to eat lunch. They were refused service which snowballed into six months of boycotts and sit-ins at many Woolworth buildings, including the one in Lexington. This eventually caused economic strain on the company, but made an impact in the civil rights movement.

It is little instances like this that helped change our country from a severely discriminatory place to live to a country that made huge strides, thanks to brave people, such as the four African-American students, in the civil rights movement.

Abby Marlatt, University of Kentucky professor and civil rights activist
Video clip
Abby Marlett, civil rights activist,
describes CORE sit ins by University of Kentucky students
Kentucky Historical Society’s Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

Unfortunately, the Lexington Woolworth building was demolished in 2004 and is now a parking lot.

by OneTon

Breckenridge Memory

November 19, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Growing up in any city, it is human nature to memorize street names. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky for the majority of my twenty two years. I lived in the east end of town, in a prosperous little city called Saint Matthews. I became very knowledgeable of my surroundings and the streets that I was constantly traveling on. Now that I am older and attending the University of Kentucky, I have had the opportunity to meet new and exciting individuals each day. I recently spoke to an older woman who lives in the neighborhood located on Henry Clay’s former Ashland Farm. The lady was a retired teacher who taught history at Breckenridge Elementary. As we spoke, she revealed impressive knowledge of Madeline McDowell Breckenridge who is one of many famous Kentucky women who fought for suffrage in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Once she dropped Mrs. Breckenridge’s name, I immediately remembered Breckenridge Lane in Louisville and finally understood the importance of the name.

Mrs. Breckenridge was born on May 20, 1872 in Woodlake Kentucky. She grew up on the Ashland Farm and was related to Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Coming from such a distinctive family, she was raised in the spirit of emancipation and social justice. She received an excellent education in Lexington, Kentucky and Farmington, Connecticut. After that she studied from 1890 to 1894 at the State College (University of Kentucky). She married Desha Breckenridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald but never had children. On November 25, 1920, Madeline McDowell Breckenridge passed away due to Tuberculosis.

 In 1908, Breckinridge became chairman of the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, performing that duty until 1912. She successfully lobbied to allow women to vote in Kentucky school board elections, and helped secure legislation to create a state library commission and a forestry commission. In 1912, Breckinridge became president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) succeeding her cousin, Laura Clay, who founded the organization. The association became Kentucky’s leading women’s suffrage organization, advocating for women’s right to vote.

During World War I it became increasingly difficult for women to propagate their cause, as the eyes of the nation were focused on the war. Suffrage members thus increased their effort to re-evoke the interest in women’s rights. Breckinridge traveled across the American South, giving a series of speeches in all major cities there. After a long battle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed women the right to vote under official constitutional protection, was finally passed by Congress. Its ratification in Kentucky in January 1920 was largely credited to Breckinridge’s efforts. She lived to cast her first and only vote in the November 1920 election, dying that month at the age of 48.

by Measha

Can the past repeat itself?

October 15, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

Link to KET video of Audrey Grevious - needs RealPlayerLink to KET video of Audrey Grevious - needs RealPlayerOn October 14 I attended the on this site AASRP Race Dialogues “Sisters in the Struggle” and watched the video focusing on Lexington educator and civil rights activist, Audrey Grevious. It really interested me how she took a stance against segregation. She became president of the local NAACP and decided to change Lexington. It is remarkable how she was able to change the schools, lunch counters, and jobs. She fought for so much change and was able to create it, but as we talked to Valinda Livingston and she stated her situations with racism and even in the early 90s still having situations with segregation among the schools. When Mrs. Livingston stated how the principal called her for advice on how to teach and discipline African American children because they were going to start busing the students it really suprised me. Segregation ending in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education and to see from her story that Lexington was still going not all the way integrated with their school systems and almost appalled me. Also Mrs. Grevious in her interview was see that things were slowly going back to the past and that she would not like to see that happen, and in some instances from the video and the story from Mrs. Livingston it sees that things are slowly going back to those ways. My question is do you really think history can repeat itself?

by kcjohn2

The Non-Violent Movement

October 15, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Social history

From Greensboro, North Carolina to Lexington, Kentucky, 1960 marked the beginning of the non-violent civil rights movement. Although there had been other sit-ins before 1960, Greensboro sparked a nationwide trend, which began to change the country from one town to another. Our own Lexington was one of these towns, which took notice and began developing its own plan of action.

At the head of Lexington’s nonviolent movement was Audrey Grevious, a teacher and the President of the Lexington chapter of the NAACP at this time. Grevious, an amazing professional and community leader, worked with the Lexington members of CORE to decide which places to sit in first. They finally decided their first task would be to get more jobs for African Americans in the community. Not only would this bring the obvious, jobs, but would also boost the self-esteem of the African Americans in the community.

First, they picketed at the local grocery; they marched for blacks to be hired as cashiers. In the ‘60’s groceries were all white owned, and the white owners would only hire blacks as maintenance help. Their next task was to take on downtown, still trying to get blacks as cashiers in the local businesses. They marched on Main St. in front of businesses like, Purcell’s and Mitch Bakers. In listening to Ms. Grevious’ interview, I found it very interesting that Grave’s Cox was the only downtown business, which supported the movement. Unlike the two businesses above, Grave’s Cox is still in business today.

After the Lexington NAACP had succeeded in their mission to get some salespeople and cashiers in grocery stores and downtown businesses, they took on the lunch counters. This proved to be the most difficult. The actions of these narrow minded people, in something as simple as eating in the same place as someone else, were simply barbaric. Those involved in the non-violent movement were successful in not only getting the jobs and rights blacks deserved, but also in rising above the inhumanity of it all.

Much of my research came from the oral history the Kentucky Historical Society  did with Audrey Grevious’.  http://205.204.134.47/civil_rights_mvt/util.aspx?p=1&pid=14984

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