Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Establishment of Louisville Municipal College: A Case Study in Racial Conflict and Compromise

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Establishment of Louisville Municipal College: A Case Study in Racial Conflict and Compromise

Article excerpt

By examining factors leading to the creation of Louisville Municipal College for Negroes in Louisville, Kentucky, this article presents a case study of a southern African American community's use of political power to achieve educational gains in the early decades of the 20th century. Three streams of historical development are traced as they relate to this development: (a) the history of African Americans in Kentucky, (b) the history of African American education in Kentucky, and (c) the history of education in Kentucky, particularly that of the city of Louisville and the University of Louisville, the parent institution of Louisville Municipal.

INTRODUCTION

Opened on February 9, 1931, as a segregated Black branch of the University of Louisville, Louisville Municipal College for Negroes was the product of decades of organized political pressure on the part of African American Kentuckians. This pressure--beginning before the Civil War, lasting through the Reconstruction period, and continuing until after World War I--contributed decisively to the founding of the college as well as to the advancement of other education goals shared by the African American community of Louisville and its leadership. The effective application of this pressure was possible due to the confluence of three streams of historical development, specifically: (a) the history of African Americans in Kentucky, ) the history of African American education in Kentucky, and (c) the history of education in Kentucky, particularly that of the city of Louisville and the University of Louisville. This article argues that the process of Louisville Municipal's establishment, indeed, the college's very existence and purpose, can be accurately understood only by examining these streams and their interactions. Moreover, it contends that examination of the factors surrounding the creation of this institution presents an excellent opportunity for the study of the effective use of African American political power to achieve educational gains.

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN KENTUCKY

African Americans entered the region of Virginia west of the mountains as early as 1751 and played important roles in the early settlement of what later became the Commonwealth of Kentucky (Clark, 1937; Lucas, 1992; Rice, 1975). Because soil and climatic conditions in Kentucky did not lend themselves to cotton cultivation and large-scale plantation agriculture, and because tillable land was scarce in the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, African Americans came to be concentrated in what is known as the "Bluegrass" or central region of the commonwealth, where they worked primarily as enslaved laborers on small farms and as free or enslaved laborers or servants in urban areas (Clark, 1937; Lucas, 1992). By 1784, the roughly four thousand African Americans residing in Kentucky represented about 10% of the commonwealth's population (Coleman, 1940). By 1830, there were 165,213 enslaved and 4,917 free persons of African ancestry, 170,130 in total, representing nearly 25% of all Kentuckians (McDougle, 1918). Although Kentucky's African American population increased in absolute numbers over time, the state's White population increased far more significantly. For example, the number of African Americans held in bondage or residing freely in Kentucky increased to a total of 236,167 persons by 1860; however, the statewide percentage of African Americans declined to 20.4%. By 1890, Kentucky's 268,071 African Americans represented only 16.9% of its 1,590,462 citizens (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1974).

These demographic trends rendered the threat of "Negro domination"--the typical rationale for the disenfranchisement of African Americans in other former slave-holding states--less ominous in Kentucky (Wright, 1992). Ironically, while this smaller proportionate number enabled Black Kentuckians to retain some limited freedom to exercise their right to vote by the turn of the century (Hudson, 1981), the franchise could be used effectively only in Louisville, with its high concentration of African Americans (19. …

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