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Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

During the 1950s and ’60s, profound legal and social changes took place in Kentucky and across America as a result of the civil rights movement. This resource is designed to give a feel for the times, to explain some of the issues that were particularly important in Kentucky, and to inspire young people by showing how people their age have made a difference in society.

Grade Levels: 6-12
Resource Types: Videos, Photos, Biographies, Activities

 

Full Documentary

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The Movement

Meet some of the people interviewed or discussed in the documentary video Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, see the timeline of the civil rights movement in Kentucky, and view images of events portrayed in the documentary.

The Rest of the Story: Interview Videos

As part of the Civil Rights in Kentucky Oral History Project, the Kentucky Oral History Commission and Historical Society have produced full-length video interviews with many of the project participants under the title Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. This series of 14 videos, most an hour long, contains unedited versions of original one-on-one interviews that were excerpted for the Living the Story television documentary.

For information on purchasing videotapes of Living the Story: The Rest of the Story, contact the Kentucky Oral History Commission (502) 564-1792

Julian Bond

Chairman of the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Bond worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and served in the Georgia House of Representatives before being ejected for his stand against the Vietnam War. Bond, who has family roots in Kentucky, also served as narrator for the Living the Story documentary.

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Gov. Edward Breathitt

As governor of Kentucky in the mid-1960s, Breathitt worked for passage of a state law guaranteeing equal rights in the area of public accommodations. Because of his activism among his fellow governors, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to a special commission formed to monitor compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Sen. Georgia Davis Powers

Powers was the first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate. First elected in 1968, she served for 21 years and championed bills prohibiting discrimination by race, sex, and age. Previously, she had helped organize the 1964 civil rights March on Frankfort.

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John Jay Johnson

Johnson began his civil rights activism as a teenager, as the youngest president of any Kentucky chapter of the NAACP. He now serves on the national NAACP staff.

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Mervin Aubespin

The first African-American news artist hired by the Louisville Courier-Journal, Aubespin got a baptism by fire as a reporter during two days of rioting in Louisville in 1968. He has built a national reputation as an expert on racism and the media and is president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

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P.G. Peeples

Peeples attended the University of Kentucky as one of only about 50 black students, then went to work for the Lexington chapter of the National Urban League. He was soon named director of the chapter, a position he still holds.

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Abby Marlatt

While teaching at the University of Kentucky in the 1960s, Marlatt helped organize students and train them in the principles of nonviolent protest, joining them at sit-ins and other actions that led to the desegregation of many public facilities in Lexington.

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J. Blaine Hudson

Louisville native Hudson was a student activist at the University of Louisville, demonstrating on behalf of greater educational opportunities for African-American students. He is now a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at U of L.

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James Howard

At age 13, Howard and several other black students drew national attention for their efforts to integrate the schools in the Western Kentucky town of Sturgis.

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Jennie and Alice Wilson

Jennie Wilson was born in Mayfield in 1900 to parents who had been slaves. Alice Wilson was one of 10 African-American students who decided to enroll at Mayfield High School shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education decision declared “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional.

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Raoul Cunningham

As a teenager, Cunningham was one of the student leaders who organized protests at segregated downtown Louisville theaters, lunch counters, restaurants, and businesses, including the “Nothing New for Easter” boycott of stores that would not allow African-American customers to try on clothes.

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Audrey Grevious

Grevious served as president of the Lexington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1960s, working with other local civil rights leaders for peaceful integration of businesses.

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Anne Braden

A lifelong activist, Braden became embroiled in one of Louisville’s most notorious incidents of race-based violence when she and her husband, both white, were asked to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood in order to resell it to a black family. The house was bombed, and the Bradens were branded Communist conspirators and tried for sedition in 1954.

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Grace Lewis

One of the first African Americans to attend a white school in Jefferson County, Lewis went on to a career in civil service and involvement in other civil rights actions, including the campaign to free activist Angela Davis.

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About The Documentary

What is required to bring about a change in society? An idea whose time has come? Skilled and charismatic leaders to articulate goals and plan strategies? Both of those are necessary, but they are not sufficient. True change happens when “ordinary” people, acting on the courage of their convictions, put the idea to work in their own lives. Through individual acts of bravery, a great movement can be born.

About the Project

In the 1950s and ’60s, Kentucky and the rest of the nation were swept by such a movement, as African Americans—joined by sympathetic others—organized to demand legal and social equality. In Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, individual Kentuckians tell their own stories of what they saw, heard, experienced, and did then. Some were leaders and organizers, but others were simply people who wanted to enroll in a different school, move to a new neighborhood, or shop at a downtown department store. In the segregated society of the time, such seemingly mundane acts could require great courage. By finding that courage, and by standing firm for what they knew to be right, these ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things.

The Kentucky Oral History Commission, a division of the Kentucky Historical Society, started the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project in 1998 to capture stories from the civil rights era. Dr. Betsy Brinson, project director for the commission, and Dr. Tracy K’Meyer of the University of Louisville have conducted and taped interviews with more than 175 participants in the movement. For the accompanying television program, producer/director Arthur Rouse and colleagues asked 15 of them to tell their stories on videotape. Our biographies section above has brief background information on these individuals, plus several other historical figures discussed in the documentary.

Living the Story is not a comprehensive or definitive history of the civil rights era in Kentucky. Its purposes are to give contemporary audiences a sense of what it was like to be part of the civil rights movement, to encourage further exploration of the subject, and to inspire young people by illustrating the role people their age played in the movement. For more about the aims and the lessons of the documentary, read on for perspectives from some of its creators.

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Executive Producer Betsy Brinson

Kentucky Oral History Commission
project director; video executive producer

For executive producer Dr. Betsy Brinson, the documentary Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky is just one part of an ambitious undertaking: collecting and preserving the stories of Kentuckians who were part of the state’s civil rights history.

For nearly four years, she and others involved in the project have traveled the state collecting the 175 interviews that were used in the documentary and that will be preserved by the Kentucky Historical Society for future generations.

“There is very little written documentation of the civil rights movement in Kentucky,” says Brinson. “It was really important to collect the stories of the people who were part of it. Once they’re gone, the opportunity is lost.”

A native of North Carolina, Brinson moved to Kentucky at an opportune time, she says. In 1998, the Oral History Commission initiated the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project. She is the project’s director.

Brinson has her own experiences with the civil rights movement in North Carolina, and she is a historian of social movements. But as the project progressed, she was surprised to see her own stereotypes of Kentucky shattered. “I didn’t know Kentucky,” she says. “I was surprised at the violence that went on here.

“Kentucky’s part in the civil rights movement is interesting because it’s a border state,” she continues. “Though voting was not an issue, it was a true segregated society in terms of schools, jobs, public accommodations, etc.”

Finding people to tell their stories was done mostly by word-of-mouth, says Brinson. “People I had not expected to be willing to work with me thought it was important that these stories be told.”

Of the 175 people interviewed, 15 are included in the documentary. “The vivid recollections of the men and women presented in the program clearly illustrate the depth of commitment of Kentuckians to social justice here and in the nation,” Brinson says.

—Marianne Mosley

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Producer/Director Arthur Rouse

Video Editing Services
video producer/director

Producer/director Arthur Rouse and the staff of his company, Video Editing Services in Lexington, faced some intimidating challenges while producing a documentary on the civil rights movement in Kentucky.

The first task was obvious. The stories had to be visual. It was, after all, a television documentary. So Rouse and his staff would have to track down archival film, video, and photographs and find people to interview about the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in Kentucky.

“We got a lot of help from several sources,” says Rouse. The Courier-Journal and University of Louisville opened their archives, and Rouse’s team worked with every archivist and museum in Kentucky.

They also used national resources, obtaining artifacts from the Library of Congress, NBC, and ABC. As a matter of fact, Rouse says their request prompted ABC to dig deep into un-catalogued archives, where the researchers found all kinds of footage of the civil rights movement that they’d forgotten they had.

Rouse also dug—figuratively—into the attics and garages of those who were prominent in the civil rights movement in Kentucky to find the visual evidence to illustrate their stories.

“You have to ask people several times if they’ve saved anything,” says Rouse. “People always say they don’t have anything, but then the fourth or fifth time you ask them, they’ll say something about an old film in a box somewhere that nobody cares about. They don’t realize that what they have is a treasure.”

The Kentucky Oral History Commission, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the Advisory Board of the Kentucky Civil Rights Project were crucial players—consulting on the content and accuracy of the documentary, providing archival photographs and film, and knowing the people who had a story to tell and who could tell a story.

But there was another challenge: The documentary would have to engage the general KET viewing audience and appeal to high school students.

“We needed to make it more cool for kids,” says Rouse. “I didn’t want to use any ‘shaky cam’ effects, but I didn’t think kids would enjoy seeing just some old-timers talking about the good ol’ days.”

To find out how to appeal to young people, Rouse held two focus groups. Teenagers were asked what they already knew about the civil rights movement in Kentucky and what they wanted to know, what they like to watch and what turns them off, and what they think about using television in the classroom.

Rouse said the two groups were unanimous on one particular issue: They didn’t want a historian telling them what happened. They wanted to see people tell their own stories, then make up their own minds about what happened.

“These kids are very savvy,” says Rouse. “They know when they’re being manipulated by sound bites and images, and they don’t like it.”

Rouse proposed a thematic approach to the documentary treatment—focusing on young people who took courageous stands and risked their lives for civil rights. “I wanted it to be historically correct and useful to teachers and not a sentimental journey,” he explains. “But I didn’t want it to be a chronological, linear account of what happened.”

Throughout the documentary, Rouse used old photographs to underscore the theme of courageous young people.

“In each seven-second slate, you see a portion of the interview and then you see what we call the ‘fashion victim’ photograph of the person at the time of the movement,” says Rouse. “Teenagers see other teenagers doing really courageous things.”

Rouse also used a map of Kentucky to show where various incidents took place to further emphasize the history of the movement in the Commonwealth.

Meeting all the challenges while producing the documentary “just about killed” his staff, Rouse says. “But the result made it worthwhile. Kentuckians now have a portrait of an important chapter in Kentucky and U.S. history, and we’ve preserved on tape the living histories of the civil rights movement in Kentucky.”

—Marianne Mosley

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Co-Producer/Director Joan Brannon

Joan Brannon, the co-producer/director of Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, describes the story of the movement in Kentucky as “elusive.” Though aware that some of the people she knew had been powerful forces in the fight for civil rights, she didn’t know their individual stories. “There’s a rich history in Kentucky that hasn’t been revealed,” says Brannon. “My interest in the project was to be part of that.”

Most of the documentary’s visual images are of events that happened in Kentucky. Many photographs—of segregated schoolhouses, a lynching, a Klan rally—have never been so widely seen. “I’m a Kentuckian,” she explains, “yet while I was growing up, I didn’t see a reflection of myself in media.”

But most of the story is told not by images, but by those who lived it. Relying on the movement’s participants to tell their stories was one of the suggestions made by a focus group of 11th-grade students, one of the documentary’s important target audiences. “Very early on we talked to teens about what appeals to them [and] what turns them off,” says Brannon. “I wanted to make an honest effort to make something that they could embrace.”

The students who participated in the focus group didn’t know much about the civil rights movement, according to Brannon, though they felt inundated with images of Martin Luther King Jr. “They didn’t want to hear any more about the ‘dream’ speech. They wanted to know what happened in Kentucky.”

One very important insight the students gave the filmmakers was “to let the people talk.” Instead of relying mostly on images and narration to tell the story, Brannon says they let people who were part of the movement have the time to sit and talk.

Interviews with history’s eyewitnesses resulted in hours of personal stories that had to be winnowed down for the hour-long documentary. “We originally tried to keep the interviews to one hour, but they were so riveting,” Brannon says. Interviews averaged about two hours each, and many lasted longer, she says.

Being true to the stories of the people who have done this amazing work was an important personal challenge, says Brannon. The resulting documentary is a project she is proud to be part of.

“The documentary is very powerful, but because of the length and format, we were only able to touch on the subject,” she says. “I hope that it makes people really want to talk to someone who lives down the street or who goes to their church who really was a hero.”

—Marianne Mosley

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Tips for Conducting an Oral History

The mission of the Kentucky Oral History Commission is to preserve the rich histories of Kentucky citizens from all walks of life. These projects explore and describe local individuals and their communities and provide students and researchers the rare opportunity to become involved with their subject matter in an interactive process of learning.

Tips for conducting an oral history as well as an interview release form are available from the Kentucky Oral History Commission.

Tips for Successful Interviewing

First, recruit appropriate people to talk to. Choose people based on their experiences and knowledge of the subject matter. For the civil rights movement, choose people who are over age 50—preferably 60 to 70 years old or older. Select people who like to talk; quiet people are generally harder to interview.

Once you have agreed on a time for the interview, find a quiet place to conduct it. Turn off radios and televisions, and close the door if appropriate.

Before you begin, make sure your recording equipment is working properly. Use of an external microphone is recommended. If you use a tape recorder, try to use cassette tapes that allow 30 minutes of recording on each side. Longer tapes break more easily and do not preserve well.

As the conversation proceeds, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be respectful.
  • Listen carefully, and do not interrupt. Take notes to help you keep track of follow-up questions. Do not share stories about yourself or your reactions to the subject’s stories until after the formal interview is over.
  • Nod your head and use eye contact as much as possible to show you are paying attention. (This may be harder to do if you are taking notes.)

When you are finished with the interview, have the individual sign a consent form agreeing to the interview. A sample consent form is available from the Kentucky Oral History Commission; call (502) 564-1792.

Select an archive and donate the finished interview. Not only will tapes last longer if placed in an archive, but they also will be available to future researchers. Consider university archives in your area first. The Kentucky Oral History Commission, 100 West Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601, also accepts taped interviews for the archives.

If possible, make a duplicate of the interview tape and give it to the interviewee. Such a gift will be greatly appreciated by both the interview subject and his or her family.

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Sample Oral History Interview Questions

The following questions will serve as a starting point if you are planning to interview someone about the civil rights era in Kentucky. (See our tips for successful interviewing for advice on preparing for and conducting the interview itself.)

Of course, every oral history interview should be tailored to the individual being interviewed. Before the interview, ask your subject for a biographical vita, an article, or some other descriptive information. Explain that having this information in advance will help you frame your questions. Then modify and add to the following generic suggested questions as needed.

  1. Could you please give me some basic background information about yourself—your full name, date and place of birth, parents and siblings, ancestors, spouse and children, education, religion, community involvement, professions, political party, etc.?
  2. Growing up during segregation, can you recall an early incident when you recognized a difference of treatment on account of color?
  3. Have you traveled outside Kentucky? If so, how did travel affect your thinking about race or about segregation?
  4. Were there people in your life who encouraged you to think about the treatment of African Americans in society? If so, can you name several?
  5. Were there articles, books, films, speeches, newspapers, or theater performances that influenced your thinking about race relations?
  6. Describe your memories of segregation in Kentucky. What was it like? Were you ever personally discriminated against because of your race? How did you respond to this treatment? How did it make you feel? Did you ever confront the discrimination? If not, why not?
  7. Do you remember family members, friends, or individuals in your community being discriminated against under legal segregation? In education, public accommodations, employment, etc.? How did this make you feel?
  8. Was any of this treatment ever violent? If so, how did the black community respond? The white community? Were the responses to the discrimination different depending on race? Were there differences between how young people and older people responded?
  9. Did men and women respond similarly or differently to legal segregation? Did women and men in your community feel differently about racial segregation? If so, in what way?
  10. Who were your civil rights heroes locally? Nationally? Why?
  11. Are there records of civil rights activity in your community? Photos? Where are they located?
  12. Were you involved in any civil rights organization (e.g., NAACP, CORE, Urban League)? What was the membership like? Were there more women than men, more men than women, or about equal numbers? Were there both black and white members? Who held the elected positions? Who did the “organizing” work (collecting dues, arranging meetings, hospitality, telephone campaigns, etc.)? Can you recall any of the more active members? Describe them.
  13. How were women treated in meetings of civil rights groups? Did they hold leadership roles? Did they sit on committees? Were their ideas for action different from or similar to those of the men in the group? Did they perform office work, telephoning, and hosting more than the men in the group? Did the women ever talk together about organizational focus or actions?
  14. Describe any involvement of your church or synagogue in civil rights. Was there support for speaking out against legal segregation in your church or synagogue? How was that demonstrated?
  15. [for women] Were you a member of a sorority, the League of Women Voters, the YWCA, or any other women’s organization that worked to eliminate legal segregation? What tactics and strategies were used?
  16. [for men] Were you a member of a fraternity, the Masons, the YMCA, or any other all-male organization that worked to eliminate legal segregation? What tactics and strategies were used?
  17. If you attended a segregated school, how did it compare with schools attended by students of the opposite race? Were there any interactions between the white and the black schools?
  18. If you were one of the first students to attend an integrated school, will you please describe that experience? How did you feel about being a “first”? What student organizations did you belong to? Did you play athletics on an integrated team? Describe some of these experiences.
  19. If you attended college, please describe your experience there. Was it predominantly an all-white or all-black college? Did you belong to any student organizations concerned about civil rights? Describe any black faculty members [or white, if the subject attended a black college] you recall. Was the student body interested in civil rights advocacy? If you belonged to the Black Student Union, did you ever network or attend meetings with students from other colleges’ black student groups?
  20. [for women] Do you recall any white woman [or black woman] with whom you were friends as a child? At school? At work? In your civil rights advocacy? What was that relationship like?
  21. [for men] Do you recall any white [or black, if the subject is white] man or woman with whom you were friends during segregation? At work? At school? In your civil rights advocacy? What was that relationship like?
  22. How did national sports figures like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar affect your thinking about integration? How did you feel about them and their accomplishments?
  23. Do you recall when you first heard about the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Describe that recollection. Did his death influence you in any way in your advocacy for civil rights?
  24. How did you see the role of President John Kennedy with regard to civil rights? President Lyndon Johnson?
  25. Do you recall the effort to secure access to public accommodations under Governor Combs and Governor Breathitt? What do you remember? At the time, what did you think about this campaign? Did you attend the 1964 rally in Frankfort? Did any of your friends, family members, or colleagues? If you were there, describe the rally as you remember it.
  26. How did the escalation in Vietnam affect your thinking about race relations? Did you personally serve in Vietnam? Did any of your family members, friends, or colleagues? How did the war affect them and their attitudes about race?
  27. How did the Black Power movement affect your thinking about race? Were you involved in any groups or any activities in which Black Power ideology may have changed previously held attitudes?
  28. Did the thinking about African roots and heritage affect your thinking about race and racial relations before 1975? If so, how? Describe any events you might have attended to celebrate African heritage during this period. Did you travel to an African nation before 1975?
  29. Did you ever attend any out-of-state events focused on achieving racial equality (e.g., the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Freedom Summer, the Selma-to-Montgomery march)?
  30. Where do you think African Americans in Kentucky have made the most progress since 1930? Where do you think the least progress has been made? Did African Americans gain from the civil rights struggle? How? Did they lose anything? What issues still need civil rights advocacy?

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A Kentucky Civil Rights Timeline

1792

Slavery

Kentucky admitted to union; first state constitution establishes legality of slavery.

1794
Kentucky statute gives free or freed Negroes legal equality to whites.

1798-1799
Law concerning “Slaves, Free Negroes, Mulattos, and Indians” and second Kentucky Constitution change status of free people of color by placing limitations on their rights, including voting and self-defense. Some cities and counties impose additional limitations.

1855
Berea College founded by abolitionist Rev. John G. Fee to provide interracial education.

1859
Fee is forced to close the school and leave Kentucky following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

1863
President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, but his native state of Kentucky is unaffected because the proclamation frees slaves only in those states that have seceded from the Union.

1864
Camp Nelson, south of Nicholasville, becomes the most important Union recruiting station and training camp for African Americans. Dependents of the soldiers also come to the camp seeking freedom. Fee returns as a voluntary missionary and founds a school.

1865
Slavery ends nationwide, including in Kentucky, after the critical number of states ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Kentucky would not itself ratify the amendment, though, until 1976.)

The first great African-American migration begins.

1866

John Fee photo courtesy of Berea College

Berea College is reestablished by Fee and others, including African Americans from the Camp Nelson refugee camp.

1870
Members of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Louisville organize Kentucky’s first known protest of racial discrimination, challenging segregation on local streetcars. This action and other early black protests would spark other actions demanding the rights to testify in court against whites, to serve on juries, and to vote. It also established a precedent for the involvement of black churches in civil rights issues.

1896
In Plessy v. Ferguson, U.S. Supreme Court rules that “separate but equal” treatment for blacks and whites under the law is constitutional, thus institutionalizing Jim Crow laws keeping the races apart in public facilities. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a native of Boyle County, dissents.

1904
The Day Law takes effect, segregating both public and private schools across Kentucky. The law was a direct response to the integrated education provided by Berea College.

1908
U.S. Supreme Court upholds Kentucky’s Day Law. Justice John Marshall Harlan again dissents, protesting that the ruling puts racial prejudice ahead of civil liberties.

1914
The NAACP opens a branch in Louisville to protest lynching and mob violence against blacks and to fight a new housing ordinance reinforcing racial segregation. Under the ordinance, only members of the same race previously living in a house or apartment could move into it.

1917
U.S. Supreme Court declares the 1914 Louisville residential segregation ordinance unconstitutional in Buchanan v. Warley. But the ruling does allow cities wide latitude in protecting “racial purity,” preserving racial peace, and maintaining property values.

1935
Charles W. Anderson, an attorney from Louisville, is the first African American elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives since Reconstruction. He would go on to sponsor bills to fund out-of-state tuition for black students denied higher education in Kentucky and to repeal the public hanging law.

1941
Louisville sit-in protests segregated library.

Charles Eubanks files suit to attend the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, which leads to the creation of a “separate but equal” engineering school at Kentucky State College to prevent the integration of UK.

1945
Branch Rickey, co-owner and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, visits the home of Baseball Commissioner (and former Kentucky governor and U.S. senator) A.B. “Happy” Chandler to ask him to overrule the baseball owners and allow the Dodgers to sign Jackie Robinson as the first African American to play in the modern major leagues. Chandler agrees.

Eugene S. Clayton is the first African American elected to the Louisville Board of Aldermen.

1948
Lyman T. Johnson files suit against the University of Kentucky for admission.

Training opportunities for physicians and nurses are desegregated, and Louisville hospitals begin desegregating. The main branch of the Louisville Public Library is integrated.

1949
UK admits the first black students to its graduate and professional schools.

1950
The Day Law is amended to allow individual colleges to decide whether to admit African Americans if no comparable course is taught at Kentucky State College. Berea, the University of Louisville, Bellarmine, Ursuline, and Nazareth admit blacks.

Three young African Americans are refused treatment at a Hardinsburg hospital, and one dies on the waiting-room floor. The death leads to a new state law prohibiting the licensing of hospitals that deny anyone emergency care.

1954
U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, abolishes segregated public schools. UK opens undergraduate admission to black students.

Anne and Carl Braden, a white couple, purchase a house in the Louisville suburb of Shively in order to sell it to a black man, Andrew Wade. The Wade family is harassed, the Bradens are put on trial for sedition amid charges of a Communist conspiracy, and the house is bombed.

1955
Remaining state colleges opened to all applicants. Russellville, Prestonsburg, Owensboro, Wayne County, and Lexington public schools end legal segregation.

Suit by NAACP results in federal court ban against segregation in Louisville municipal housing.

1956
Legal integration of Louisville public schools begins peacefully. But in Union County, eight black students enroll in Sturgis High School and a mob of whites prevents them from entering. Chandler, serving a second term as governor, sends the state police and the National Guard to prevent violence.

1957
Kentucky High School Athletics Association allows accredited African-American high schools to become members and to participate in state tournaments.

1959
NAACP Youth Council pickets Louisville’s Brown Theater when its management refuses to admit African Americans to see Porgy and Bess.

1960

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

African Americans in Louisville organize a voter registration campaign to replace city officials, capped by a rally where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference speaks to thousands.

Young people in Louisville form a chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality and begin demonstrations at downtown businesses.

General Assembly establishes Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and prohibits discrimination in state employment.

1961
“Nothing New for Easter” boycott targets segregated downtown businesses in Louisville and sparks other acts of nonviolent resistance around Kentucky.

Kentuckian Whitney Young Jr. becomes executive director of the National Urban League.

1962
General Assembly empowers cities to create local commissions on human rights in order to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and teacher employment.

1963
Gov. Bert Combs issues a Governor’s Code of Fair Practice against segregation in state government and state contracts. He also issues the Fair Service Executive Order to discourage discrimination in public accommodations, but that order is later suspended.

Harry N. Sykes and Luska J. Twyman are the first African Americans elected to the city councils of Lexington and Glasgow, respectively. Twyman would become mayor of Glasgow in 1969.

The use of scare tactics to force African Americans out of newly integrated neighborhoods is banned by the Kentucky Real Estate Commission. A group of Louisville women form the West End Community Council to encourage peaceful integration of residential neighborhoods.

1964

Georgia Powers

U.S. Congress passes federal Civil Rights Act. Lack of support in the Kentucky legislature for a strong public accommodations bill leads to a mass march on Frankfort. More than 10,000 people, led by King, baseball’s Jackie Robinson, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary, demonstrate in support of civil rights legislation. Later, 32 people hold a hunger strike in the House gallery to coerce legislators to pass the bill, but it never comes out of committee.

1965
At a major conference on civil rights in Louisville, Gov. Edward Breathitt pledges support for a strong civil rights bill addressing employment as well as public accommodations.

1966
General Assembly passes the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, and King calls it “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state.” The law prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodations and empowers cities to enact local laws against housing discrimination. The legislature also repeals all “dead-letter” segregation laws, such as the 62-year-old Day Law, on the recommendation of Rep. Jesse Warders, a Louisville Republican and the only black member of the General Assembly.

Bardstown adopts a comprehensive model ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

1967
Mae Street Kidd of Louisville is elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Open housing ordinances are passed in Covington and Kenton County, and the Fayette County Fiscal Court bans discrimination in housing in Lexington and the county. One of the first acts of Louisville’s new Board of Aldermen is to pass a strong ordinance against housing discrimination, replacing the weaker, voluntary one.

1968
Georgia Powers of Louisville is elected to the Kentucky Senate. The General Assembly adds housing discrimination to the enforcement section of the state Civil Rights Act.

A protest against police mistreatment in Louisville turns violent, and a week of disturbances ends in the arrests of six African Americans–dubbed the “Black Six”–on charges that they conspired to blow up Ohio River oil refineries. After more than two years of demonstrations and court hearings, all charges against the six would be dismissed.

1969
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights opens centers in Louisville and Lexington to help African Americans moving into new neighborhoods.

A group of black students, inspired by the Black Power movement, takes over a building at the University of Louisville to force changes on campus.

1970
The Jefferson County Fiscal Court extends enforcement of Louisville’s local housing law to the county.

1975
Cross-district busing to equalize the racial makeup of Louisville’s public schools sparks sometimes violent reactions, which eventually subside after two years.

1976
Correcting a historical oversight, the General Assembly, after a campaign led by Kidd, ratifies the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution–more than 100 years after they became law.

1996
The state constitution is amended to remove provisions for a poll tax and segregated schools.

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