Photographic book

Kentucky in the 1950s


Albert Sidney Johnston
Albert Sidney Johnston

An increasing demand for equal rights for all races grew out of World War II. Kentucky’s record on that score had been mixed, at best, up to that point. Although segregation of the black and white races was in effect in most public spheres, Kentucky had never denied its black citizens the right to vote as did many Southern states. The first black elected to a Southern legislature after Reconstruction was in Kentucky in the 1930s. Berea College had been the last integrated institution of higher learning in the South until 1904, when the legislature passed a law requiring racial segregation in all state schools. Yet in the 1940s federal courts, led by Kentuckian Frederick M. Vinson, chief justice of the United States, began to break down those racial barriers in education.

When the Court in 1954 fully outlawed segregation with its Brown v. Board of Education decision, Kentucky accepted the ruling and moved with few exceptions toward peaceful integration, a model for the South. Kentucky adopted the first state civil rights act in the South in 1966, and a similarly path-breaking open housing law followed in 1968. National leaders like Kentucky’s Whitney Young, Jr., were instrumental in the effort. But serious problems remained, as riots in Louisville in 1968 and 1975 indicated.

The state had a similarly mixed record on women’s rights. Earlier, in the struggle to extend the vote to women, Kentucky provided national and regional leaders in the persons of Laura Clay and Madeline McDowell Breckinridge. Its election of a woman, Katherine Langley, to Congress in 1926 was one of the earliest such successes; in 1972 Kentucky ratified the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and in 1983 it elected Martha Layne Collins as governor, one of the first woman governors in the nation. Yet at the same time, Kentucky ranked near the bottom in the number of women legislators. "Kentucky" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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