Major change didn't take hold quickly here
By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
So when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated school desegregation with all deliberate speed in 1954, we had to wallow and churn a bit before steaming off in a new direction. The decision caught local school authorities unprepared, and required more than a decade for integration to be fully achieved locally.
This is a big, important topic, and I'm not going to pretend to try to cover it comprehensively today. Instead, I want to focus on some interesting aspects of the beginning of the process, and save the rest for later columns over the next year or so.
Integration was much harder for the county school system than it was for the city system. In 1955, the county system had only two schools for blacks, one in Corydon and one on U.S. 60-East, the latter of which served black students from across the county. Both schools lacked indoor plumbing.
In mid-1955, the county school board named 12 people -- six black, six white -- to a committee to study ways to integrate.
At the same time, Superintendent C.B. West pointed out that Weaverton school, which was the county school expected to be impacted most by integration, was already "hopelessly overcrowded" with a student-teacher ratio of 40 to 1. Henderson County High School was also at or over capacity, West said, and unable to accommodate the approximately 60 black students from the county system, who were then attending Douglass High School in the city school system.
Fifty years ago, on Dec. 12, 1955, that committee held a joint meeting with the county school board. The two groups were presented with a petition from black residents who opposed integration, and were asking the county to instead build a new school for black children.
"We are not sure that integration is the answer to our educational problems in Henderson County," the petition read. "We are a minority race and would have little control over the education of our own children."
(The percentage of blacks in the Henderson County population, according to federal census figures, was 11.5 percent in 1950 and 10.1 percent in 1960.)
"Give us a first-class school with adequate equipment and teachers of our own race and we will send our children to it."
The petition purported to represent the opinions of about 95 percent of black parents who lived outside the city limits of Henderson.
But filing that petition was like poking a stick into a nest of yellowjackets. James W. Clancey, secretary of the local NAACP, and chairman of its legal redress committee, told The Gleaner he had been under "constant fire" from angry blacks in the days following the petition's presentation.
Clancey maintained the petition in no way represented the sentiments of a majority of blacks in the county. He noted that he had never seen the petition beforehand, nor had members of about 15 rural black families he telephoned. Furthermore, he said, it ran counter to the aims of the NAACP.
"The executive committee felt it was definitely out of line with what is being done elsewhere in Kentucky," Clancey said. "Approximately 20 counties have integrated on a voluntary basis."
He noted that a similar desegregation committee formed by the city school board in early August had recommended that integration of the city system begin with mixing only first grade classes in the fall of 1956.
Members of the local NAACP executive committee, he said, "have not placed our stamp of approval on either the request by the county group nor the plan which the city integration committee and school board have offered.
"However, we feel that the city group at least made a better effort to comply with the Supreme Court ruling regarding integration."
As planned, integration took place locally in the fall of 1956 -- not without some friction -- but was not fully implemented until after Douglass High School dismissed its final classes in May of 1965.
100 years ago
Sunset Park was hit by two grass fires in one day on this date in 1905, according to a story in The Gleaner.
"Quite a large area" was burned, the paper said. "These fires are said to have been caused by sparks from some of the engines that pass over the Henderson bridge. No further damage was done."
75 years ago
A fleet of barges was en route to the Ellis Park vicinity to begin work on the first of the twin bridges, according to 1930 articles in The Gleaner.
The fleet of the Kansas City Bridge Co. consisted of eight barges loaded with equipment, a pile driver and two derrick boats. The fleet docked at the bridge site Dec. 18 and by Christmas Day 40 men were at work erecting work sheds and making other construction preparations.
25 years ago
A report from the Kentucky Geological Survey to Henderson Fiscal Court estimated Henderson County contained 20,000 acres of strippable coal, according to a 1980 article in The Gleaner.
The report prompted the court to consider whether it needed to adopt a zoning ordinance to provide better local regulation of surface mining, something that didn't occur until March 1982.
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS