Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954

By Cohen, Robert | The Journal of Southern History, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954


Cohen, Robert, The Journal of Southern History


Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954. By John A. Hardin. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c. 1997. Pp. [viii], 182. $29.95, ISBN 0-8131-2024-1.)

John A. Hardin presents the history of black higher education in Jim Crow Kentucky as a grim story whose hallmarks were discrimination, racism, and educational inequality. The story begins with the Kentucky legislature outlawing integration in public education in 1866. By 1904 the state had enacted the Day Law, which forced even private educational institutions to operate on a strictly segregated basis--an act that compelled Berea College, the Bluegrass state's one experiment in interracial higher education, to segregate. Hardin's book is brief, but it nonetheless convincingly documents the ways in which Kentucky's white politicians kept black colleges starved for cash, hoarded funds for black over white schools, refused to make any meaningful attempt to establish black graduate schools, and resisted black attempts to challenge either such inequities or the segregated educational system itself.

Although useful as a case study in educational inequality, Hardin's book is too narrowly focused to do justice to the larger story of black higher education in Kentucky during the Jim Crow era. This volume tells us far more about what black education was not (equal to its white counterpart) that what it was. Little can be learned from this book about the intellectual world of Kentucky's black colleges or about student life, culture, and politics on these campuses.

Nor is there much offered by way of an assessment of the impact of these colleges on the history of black Kentucky. This last omission is crucial and seems linked to the author's failure to recognize that black higher education represents more than a set of educational institutions. They were also an instrument for class formation--the story of the black colleges is part of the social history of the black middle class. More needed to be done to portray the generation of teachers, ministers, and others trained at black colleges who played a leadership role in moving black Kentucky from (as Hardin puts it) "acceptance of civil racism" in the early twentieth century to "hopes, reforms, and resistance" to segregation later in the century. …

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