Brown vs. The Board of Education

Students Integrate UK

An image of African Americans students registering for classes at the University of Kentucky, the first to do so for an undergraduate program.  Pictured in the Lexington leader, 1954.


When the U.S. Supreme Court made their monumental 1954 decision Brown vs. Board of Education declaring that racial segregation in education was unconstitutional, the Univeristy of Kentucky complied with the ruling and allowed African Americans to attend UK as undergraduates as well as graduate students.

But the desegregation of the University was done only begrudgingly, and the university was not quick to implement desegregation.  In fact there were even separate rules for African Americans who attended UK.


Young Girl Integrating UK

The Lexington Leader published this picture of one of the first students to register for the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate student in 1954.

During the first years of desegregation, each black student at the University of Kentucky was required to undergo extensive counseling with the dean of men/women and the dean of each college.  Dean of Women Sarah B. Holmes explained:

“We pointed out that we wanted integration to succeed, and that if it were to succeed without unpleasant incidents, we must move into it slowly and unostentatiously, the less publicity the better. We requested cooperation of Negro students in a few simple things: That they sit together in the classroom rather than scatter over the room, that when they entered the cafeteria, they sit at a table with their fellow Negro students instead of each occupying a separate table. We advised them never to go to a table where white students were already seated, but that if white students on their own initiative came and sat with them, they should feel at ease...We asked the Negroes not to go to the Student Union for the first year of this experiment and to keep away from social programs. We told them to find their own living quarters and to work out their own social life with their own people. Several years passed before a Negro was assigned to a room in one of the dormitories. After the first year, we leaked out the work to them that it made no difference where they sat in classrooms or cafeteria, and that it was all right for them to go to the Student Union building.” 

SEC Integration

A cartoon from the Kentucky Kernel Integration of SEC scrapbook, 1963.


Clearly, desegregation did not mean full integration or equality for African American students of the University of Kentucky from the start.

Both the graduate and undergraduate programs may have been forced to desegregate by federal law.  But the legal process of integration still left many questions.  For example: should African American students be allowed to play on UK sports teams?  UK may have been desegregated in 1954, but African American students still faced decades of discrimination and unfair treatment.