Desegregation of Sturgis High School

National Guard escort African American students from car.
National Guard escort African American students from car.
National Guard escort African American students to Sturgis High School in Kentucky. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress NAACP Records)

Kentucky encountered very little public resistance to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954 to desegregate public school systems.  However, protests occurred in 1956 when 8 African American students decided to attend the all white high school in Sturgis, Kentucky.  James Howard, one of the African American students, remembers his first day as a student at Sturgis High School as anticlimactic.  His fellow students expressed little interest or surprise, but some teachers seemed uneasy.

On the second day, a crowd of about 300 people blocked the students’ entrance into school. When members of the school board and city officials refused to diffuse the mob, Governor Chandler ordered the state police and National Guard to escort the students to school. 200 armed guards escorted the students through a mob of 1,000 angry protestors.  Fifty percent of the white student body boycotted their attendance. The state’s attorney eventually ruled that the black students should not attend the high school until the Sturgis school board created an integration plan.

Less than a month from originally enrolling, the students were barred from the school. The students chose to remain at home for the rest of the academic year rather than return to the segregated black high school. In 1957, the Sturgis school board closed the black high school and transferred the students to the Sturgis high school. No public protests occurred in 1957 when black students were admitted into the high school.

Oral history interviews with James Howard and other Kentucky civil rights activists can be found on Pass the Word, Kentucky’s oral history discovery tool.

Pass the Word Challenge #9 – Find the Kentucky native with a connection to Ruby Bridges and desegregation in New Orleans.  What artist portrayed this event in a 1964 painting?


Chronicle|Pass The Word

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