The Continued Fight
In the summer of 1964 University of Kentucky President John Oswald gave a statement to the press regarding discrimination and UK saying that: “Students have been admitted to the UK without regard for color or race since 1954; in the graduate programs, prior to 1954…Our present admission policies and practices do not discriminate against any applicant on the basis of race or color…This year we graduate six Negro students and I estimate that we had 285 Negro students enrolled on the Lexington Campus."
This statement, while likely hoped to be true by President Oswald, was indeed not the case - at least not in 1964.
The U.S. Supreme Court may have declared racial desegregation in education unconstitutional in 1954, but many state institutions - including the University of Kentucky - were not quick to move on this monumental decision. For decades after Brown vs. Board African Americans would have to fight for equality.
For example, it was only during the 1960s the University of Kentucky began making headway in integrating not only its student body but its faculty as well.
In 1965 UK hired its first male African American professor to the sociology department. The newspaper headlines tended to focus on where exactly this professor would live since segregation meant that there was limited housing available to middle class African Americans at the time in Lexington.
In 1967 the University of Kentucky hired its first African American woman hired to a full-time faculty position in the history of UK. Dr. Doris Wilkinson was one of the first African American students to attend UK as an undergrad and graduated from UK in 1958 with a bachlor's degree in social work and a minor in English.
While pursuing the doctorate at Case Western Reserve, Dr. Wilkinson returned to UK in 1967 as an instructor thus becoming the first African American woman appointed to a full-time faculty position in the history of the university. Wilkinson was highly regarded for her ability to teach and connect with the students. The UK AWS even awarded her a certificate for outstanding teaching in 1969.
in 1963 African American students of the University of Kentucky asked the university Student Congress to speak with local Lexington restaurants about racially discriminating against UK students. The UK student Congress decided against speaking with local establishments which African American students derided as a decision that did not reflect the needs of the entire student body. The Student Congress responded, however, that they did not want to “voice an opinion on such a controversial subject without first having some idea of the opinions of the majority of the university students.”
The University of Kentucky was not the only institution struggling with the new American order of federally sanctioned racial equality. So, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in an attempt to add teeth to the push for progress and equality, signed the Civil Rights Act - an act meant to forever banish discrimination from the United States of America.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act expressly requires the Executive Branch to ensure that funds for federally assisted programs, including education, must not be used to support discrimination or segregation.
But this still did not mean that desegregation began immidiately nor was it done quickly - both across the nation and at the University of Kentucky.
In 1972, eighteen years after the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, The UK Board of Trustees approved major steps to assure its policy for equal employment opportunity. Working with Vice President for Administration, Dr. Alvin L. Morris, Ms. Nancy Ray way appointed as Coordinator of the University’s Affirmative Action Plan. In her new role, Ray was responsible for counseling with minority students, advising the student chapter of the Civil Liberties Union, and was involved with the organization of associated women students and the Council on Women’s Concerns. Her responsibilities also included monitoring of employment procedures, maintaining records on the employment of minority group members and females, reviewing pay equality, and assisting in the process for grievance resolution
According to President Singletary, the Affirmative Action Plan was meant to establish and succeed in three primary goals:
1) The recurring analysis of current practices and the adoption of revised policy and practices when necessary to insure effective procedures for realizing equal opportunities in employment.
2) The elimination of any practice and the correction of any individual inequity resulting from discrimination because of minority group status or sex.
3) The intensified recruitment and consideration of minority group members and women to ensure that candidates and employees with appropriate qualifications and potential are accorded equal opportunity and compensation.
Of this Plan Nancy Ray said:
“I am impressed that the University is taking this approach not just because it is right to do so, but because it is educationally sound policy. Increased cultural diversity in the University’s second century is a very real goal as we attempt to provide quality education for Kentucky’s young people.”
-UK Press Release, May 9, 1972
While Ray was head of the Affirmative Action Plan, her office received about 30-40 complaints a year from UK employees who feel they are being discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age or handicap.
While giving a press statement to the University of Kentucky on why she felt she was the right woman for this important role - in addition to her impressive resume of course, Ray said that:
Perhaps the best preparation... was her loss of a teaching assistantship for which she had applied at a university in another state. “I was told it was because I’m a woman,” she says. “At that time there was no remedy.” Now, she smiles, “we’ve come a long way.”
But federal law and an Affirmative Action commission were still not enough to move UK to full equality.
In 1981 the University of Kentucky released a staff report authored by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights stationed in Frankfort. The report found in a study from 1975-1979 that “Tokenism in Black Faculty Employment Continues at State Universities: Women made slight gains at Non-tenured and Tenured levels during two-year period.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission survey form found that “this illustrates that segregation and tokenism continued to characterize the employment picture for black faculty even though blacks made slight gains between 1977 and 1979.”
In January 1981, the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) cited the Commonwealth of Kentucky for noncompliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Commonwealth was cited in three general areas, failure to enhance the traditionally black institution, and failure to adequately desegregate student enrollments and faculty/staff employment at the traditionally white institution.
In a letter to Governor Brown from the federal Office for Civil Rights, the government watchdog wrote that the duty of traditionally white insituttions (TWI) such as the University of Kentucky to desegregate is affirmative in nature. And that, “based on the evidence we have examined, it is our finding that the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has failed to eliminate the vestiges of its former de jure racially dual system of public higher education."
With the beginning of the Office for Civil Right's investigation into Kentucky's system of higher education began the dawn of a new era for integration and racial equality.
The OCR acknowledged that the Kentucky General Assembly amended and repealed all statutes requiring racial segregation in public education.
But,simply not banning minorities from UK was not enough. The univeristy would now have to work to ensure its campus was a diverse and welcoming haven for students of all colors and backgrounds.
A part of Kentucky's plan to desegregate its institutions of higher education, like the University of Kentucky, required establishing a Task Force on Minority Student Recruitment, Retention, and Mobility. The task force was made up of a group of individuals who explored the various problems in minority student recruitment and retention.
In order to reach compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Kentucky's Council on Higher Education also established long and short term goals for the University of Kentucky's faculty and student diversity numbers.
For example, in 1982 the faculty for the Lexington campus included 183 women and 17 African Americans. In order to actively increase these numbers - something the Office for Civil Rights determined was necessary - the Council set goals to hire an additional forty-eight female faculty and an additional twenty five African American faculty.
The Council also determined that the Lexington Campus's employment of minority staff should increase as well, from 398 women and 31 African Americans in 1982, to 429 women and fifty African Americans by 1988.
Despite the fact that the university was given six years to complete this goal, the overarching message of the council was to "Begin Now! and Be Aggressive!