Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky


Memories fade, witnesses pass away, and the stories of how social change took place are often lost. Many of those stories, however, have been preserved thanks to the dozens of civil rights activists across Kentucky who shared their memories in the wide-ranging oral history project from which this volume arose. Through their collective memories and the efforts of a new generation of historians, the stories behind the marches, vigils, court cases, and other struggles to overcome racial discrimination are finally being brought to light. In Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, Catherine Fosl and Tracy E. K'Meyer gather the voices of more than one hundred courageous crusaders for civil rights, many of whom have never before spoken publicly about their experiences. These activists hail from all over Kentucky, offering a wide representation of the state's geography and culture while explaining the civil rights movement in their respective communities and in their own words. Grounded in oral history, this book offers new insights into the diverse experiences and ground-level perspectives of the activists. This approach often highlights the contradictions between the experiences of individual activists and commonly held beliefs about the larger movement. Interspersed among the chapters are in-depth profiles of activists such as Kentucky general assemblyman Jesse Crenshaw and Helen Fisher Frye, past president of the Danville NAACP. These activists describe the many challenges that Kentuckians faced during the civil rights movement, such as inequality in public accommodations, education, housing, and politics. By placing the narratives in the social context of state, regional, and national trends, Fosl and K'Meyer demonstrate how contemporary race relations in Kentucky are marked by many of the same barriers that African Americans faced before and during the civil rights movement. From city streets to mountain communities, in areas with black populations large and small, Kentucky's civil rights movement was much more than a series of mass demonstrations, campaigns, and elite-level policy decisions. It was also the sum of countless individual struggles, including the mother who sent her child to an all-white school, the veteran who refused to give up when denied a job, and the volunteer election worker who decided to run for office herself. In vivid detail,Freedom on the Borderbrings this mosaic of experiences to life and presents a new, compelling picture of a vital and little-understood era in the history of Kentucky and the nation.


In the field of oral history, Kentucky is a national leader. Over the past several decades, tens of thousands of its citizens have been interviewed. the Kentucky Remembered series brings into print the most important of those collections, with each volume focusing on a particular subject.

Oral history is, of course, only one type of source material. Yet by the very nature of recollection, hidden aspects of history are often disclosed. Oral sources provide a vital thread in the rich fabric that is Kentucky’s history.

This work is the seventh volume in the series. For all too long, the African American experience in Kentucky stood mired in a secondclass historical status. Over time that has gradually changed. But much remains to be done to fill in the gaps in the pages of that story, especially in regard to the years of the civil rights era. Catherine Fosl and Tracy E. K’Meyer have now allowed us to hear, once again, the voices of the people who stood up for their rights in an epic struggle. Theirs is a story of accommodation and anger, of heartbreak and heroism, of commitment and courage, of sorrow and success.

The Kentucky story of race relations has often been passed over in national historical analyses. Yet here in this middle ground between North and Deep South, significant events transpired and crucial battles occurred. This study of the civil rights movement in a southern border state provides important new insights into the march toward desegregation, its leadership, and the personal sacrifices and stories of those on the front lines as well as those in support. Freedom on the Border helps us understand the process—and the costs—of change, and highlights again the human element in history.

James C. Klotter Terry L. Birdwhistell Doug Boyd . . .

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