First Days of School Desegregation

Becoming a Detective

In the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, thus desegregating public schools nationwide. This decision reversed the Supreme Court's 1896 ruling supporting the traditional concept of "separate but equal" facilities.

In 1956, in Sturgis, Kentucky, ten black students attempted to attend the all white high school. Turned back by a jeering mob, they appealed to Governor A.B. Chandler who called out the National Guard. The Guard held back the crowd the next morning as nine black students entered the school foreshadowing what was to come in Little Rock just a year later. Other schools in Kentucky desegregated around this time as well and experienced varying levels of resistance. As a result, desegregation in Kentucky's schools took many years.

In this investigation, you will listen to various oral history recordings of what it was like for many Kentuckians on the first day that their school was integrated. Based on the documents, you are to answer, how would you describe the first days of school desegregation in Kentucky? In other words, how did people in Kentucky experience school desegregation?


Investigating the Evidence

  • Document A: Photograph taken of protestors in Sturgis, Kentucky, 1956, Louisville Courier Journal.
  • Document B: Oral History George Logan, recorded ?. Mr. Logan describes his first days as a graduate student integrating the University of Kentucky in 1951.
  • Document C: Oral History recording of Alice Wilson, recorded ?. Alice Wilson recalls her first days at Mayfield High School in Mayfield, Kentucky. She, along with a few African American high school students, were the first to integrate the school in the late 1950s.(
  • Document D: Oral History Account, recorded August, 23, 2000. Blaine Hudson, who is a professor of history at the University of Louisville, tells of his family background and his experiences of going from an all Black elementary school to a primarily White high school in Louisville. (
  • Document E: Oral History recorded August 16, 2001, Rev. David Pettie describes what went on in Sturgis, Kentucky the day one of his daughters was one of the first African American students to attend Sturgis High School.
  • Document F: Oral History recorded, ? of James Howard, born in November 1942, in Sturgis, Ky. In 1956, at age thirteen, James, along with other students, attempted to integrate the all-white Sturgis high school, which was only blocks from his home. (
  • Document G: Oral History recording of Lloyd Arnold, recorder, March 21, 2001. As an active Mason he learned about changes occurring in the schools and saw to it that his oldest daughter was the 1st Black student to attend Murray State College and his second daughter the first Black student to integrate Murray High School.
  • Document H: Oral History recording of Anne Butler, recorded January 7, 2000. Anne Butler describes growing up in Stanford at the time schools were integrating and the first days of integration at Stanford High School.

Searching for Clues

Please answer the following questions about each document or download the formatted Case File (Word Format | PDF format).

  1. Whose “voice” do you hear in the document?
  2. What is the date of the document?
  3. What school is this person talking about? Where is it located?
  4. Describe the first day of school desegregation according to this person? Cite specific phrases from the document.
  5. Whose voices were missing in this investigation? Whose experiences have gone unaccounted? Who else would you like to “hear” from? In what ways does this limit your historical interpretation?
  6. Choose one of the individuals you listened to during this investigation. What additional questions do you have for this person? Come up with a list follow up questions you might ask the individuals who experienced these historic events.
  7. How do you define oral history? To what extent is the use of oral history as documentary evidence limited? What sources could you use to corroborate these accounts?

Cracking the Case

Based on your analysis of the seven documents and citing evidence to support your answer, please write a paragraph or two answering the following questions: How would you describe the first days of school desegregation in Kentucky? In other words, how did people in Kentucky experience school desegregation? Within your analysis, please indicate whether you were satisfied with the evidence and list any additional questions that have been left unanswered through your investigation.


Moving the Investigation Forward:

As follow up to this investigation, we offer the following exercises to extend your analysis of these historic events.

  • The State of Kentucky is considering the commemoration of the Brown versus Board decision with a plaque at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. You have been asked to select one of the individuals you heard during the investigation to speak at the commemoration ceremony. Who would you choose to speak and why? Write a memo to the Secretary of State making your suggestion and provide a strong rationale for your choice.
  • It’s the day before the “Little Rock Nine” enter Little Rock Central High School in what many hail as the most important historic events in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Using the documents on Sturgis, Kentucky and additional documents on Sturgis in the Kentucky Civil Rights oral history database, you are asked to provide a note of encouragement to the Little Rock Nine. In other words, what advice could you give to these students based on the experiences of those in Sturgis, Kentucky.
  • The Kentucky Historical Society wants to conduct another round of interviews to dig deeper on Kentucky’s school desegregation. They ask you to come up with an interview “protocol” (list of questions) to ask participants in the project. Please develop this protocol and consider some of the possible responses you might receive.