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  • "Kentucky is More or Less Civilized":Alfred Carroll, Charles Eubanks, Lyman Johnson, and the Desegregation of Kentucky Higher Education, 1939-1949

On January 15, 1981, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights wrote Kentucky governor John Y. Brown that the state had been in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and several federal court rulings pertaining to the desegregation of public higher education. Subsequently, the Commonwealth of Kentucky undertook a series of responses through nearly three decades, known collectively as the Kentucky Plan. Iterations of the Kentucky Plan enhanced Kentucky State University and expanded opportunities for African Americans and others in Kentucky community colleges and state universities. By 2010, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education transformed the historical issue of racial desegregation to the multidimensional concepts of diversity and inclusion of underserved populations.1 [End Page 327]

The broader history of higher-education desegregation in Kentucky, however, did not begin with this letter in 1981 but with a series of events in the decade from 1939 to 1949. Although they are not widely known beyond modern studies of Kentucky black history, several persons contributed to the process of achieving racial desegregation in Kentucky higher education in this era.2 In each instance, the actions of Kentucky blacks Alfred Milton Carroll, Charles Lamont Eubanks, and Lyman T. Johnson challenged the statutorily defined practice of racially segregated higher education in Kentucky.

Each challenger contributed his own special skill set and background to this process. Alfred Milton Carroll was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 1, 1912. After completing his education in the local black schools, he attended the Louisville Municipal College for [End Page 328] Negroes, the racially segregated liberal-arts unit of the University of Louisville. He completed his undergraduate education at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, was admitted to the Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., and received his law degree in 1940, graduating as vice president of his class.

Creating a successful law practice in the 1940s Louisville black community was not easy. Before his admission to the Louisville bar in 1945, Carroll worked at the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant in southern Indiana, taught carpentry at Davis Trade School for Veterans in the adult night school at the all-black Central High School, and served as an insurance agent. As an attorney, he was among a select group of highly educated blacks who benefitted from the growth of the black Old Walnut Street business district. Moreover, the emigration of blacks from other southern cities and from other places in Kentucky to Louisville created opportunities for new clients, as attorneys such as Carroll struggled adapt to a less-hostile racial environment.

During the period from 1945 to 1947, Carroll was elected president of the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was nominated as a candidate for Third Congressional District of Kentucky on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948. While he was not the first black candidate for elective office in the city, his candidacy on the Progressive Party banner challenged the nationally organized effort for blacks to support the election of Truman. In any event, Carroll received only 689 votes, while the Republican candidate and winner Thruston B. Morton received 73,850 votes and the Democrat Ralph Logan 63,839.3

Unlike the upwardly mobile and highly visible Carroll, Charles Lamont Eubanks came from working-class origins. He was born in Louisville on January 29, 1924, to Bodie Pearl Henderson and Thaddeus Eubanks. Eubanks grew up in Louisville in the black [End Page 329] California neighborhood on Sixteenth Street. Despite humble beginnings and economic struggles during the Great Depression, he eventually became an honor student at Central High School. Founded in 1882, Central High School was a combination technical and academic institution that achieved a reputation among blacks for academic and vocational excellence. Central High graduates were typically welcomed at historically black colleges nationally and select northern colleges and universities where race played a less prominent role for admission.4

Eubanks graduated from Central High School with honors in June 1941, achieving an overall average grade of ninety-one. A popular, well...


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