The United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education prohibited segregation in public schools, correcting a century of unfair treatment and unequal education experienced by generations of many African Americans. In Kentucky, school board administrators were given the responsibility in determining the best route to desegregation that suited local whims, politics, and inclinations. In the few years following the Brown decision, a dozen of the Kentucky High School Athletic League (KHSAL) schools closed as half of the state’s local boards moved quickly to comply. Many of the black schools that remained open were allowed to apply for membership in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), which was founded in 1917 to govern the athletic activities of the segregated white schools. This left thirty-nine African American high schools under a cloud of uncertainty, not knowing when their school boards would reach a decision that could mean in their immediate closure.
The agriculture students in Lincoln Institute’s first class pose for a class photo in 1912. Courtesy of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African-Americans, Kentucky State University.
Every black school that closed released its students into the white schools, in many cases over the protests of their own parents. Many African Americans were willing to accept the stereotype and were reluctant to send their children to schools where they would come in contact with racial slurs, ridicule, or protests from white parents and students. To many black parents, each integration plan meant the end of a school that had provided some sense of hope, service, and an alternative to no education at all.
The Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, Kentucky was one of these schools. Founded in 1912 after the state legislature passed a law that prohibited white and black students from attending the same school, the Lincoln Institute was led by a charismatic academic and theologian, Whitney M. Young. Over the course of three decades, Young overcame prejudice, funding issues, and politics to create a safe haven, full of excellence and respect coming from the black community. This was only the beginning to a long road to equality in the Kentucky educational system.
Whitney M. Young and Governor Louie B. Nunn flank President Richard Nixon at this meeting in the White House in May, 1971. Nixon pledged $1 million in federal funds to help Lincoln Institute re-open as a vocational center. Courtesy of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African-Americans, Kentucky State University.
Frankfort High School was integrated by the 1959-60 season, which allowed African-American players to play with white players. Here, George Calhoun (54) tries to block a shot by Lexington Lafayette’s Jeff Mullins while teammates Jim Brown (12) and Louis Tandy (44) look on. Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader, University of Kentucky Special Collections.
In his book, Integrated, James W. Miller illustrates the struggle Lincoln Institute faced while on the road to integration. Miller weaves through curious and skeptical attitudes concerning the Lincoln Institute and manages to offer some insight on the educational and athletic aspects of the integration period. Through the later part of the 1950s, the civil rights movement began to pick up speed with leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. at the forefront. In his book, Miller proposes that while black basketball teams could now play white teams, their players still could not eat in most restaurants, shop freely in stores, or even try on shoes in white-owned shoe stores. Integrated is a tribute to and a tale about those African American schools, players, coaches, and teachers who overcame societal obstacles in the pursuit of equal educational opportunity during one of the most difficult racial transitions in our nation’s history.
For more information on Integrated, please click here.