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DAVID WOLFORD: This is David Wolford and I'm here in Madisonville with Michael Lowery. Today is the fifteenth of August 2002. We're going to talk a little bit about Madisonville's schools and the desegregation process that went on here. Mr. Lowery, would you just start by introducing yourself. Tell me when you were born and where you grew up.

MICHAEL LOWERY: Yes, I was born in Madisonville in 1950. I grew up here in Madisonville. I've had the distinct pleasure though of traveling to every state and some forty-five foreign countries.

DW: Really? Where did you attend school in Madisonville?

LOWERY: Which school? Are you talking about elementary?

DW: Well, let's start elementary school.

LOWERY: Elementary school, Branch Street, which was the black elementary school at the time.

DW: Okay, could you tell me a little bit about Branch Street?

LOWERY: Well, Branch Street was a school that was, the principal of Branch 1:00Street was the same principal of Rosenwald. Mrs. Pearl Arnett at the time that I attended. There, Branch Street was located on Branch Street and the back of Branch Street, if you went out the back, you would go right into the back of Rosenwald. Of course there was a big field in between. So there was one school, really there was just one principal over both schools. And you sort of used their gym if we needed to. And there was only one, there was a bad thing about that, there was a ditch behind Branch Street. And it stayed open and all the sewage went through it and most all of us probably have some disease from that because we, when it would rain it would flood, flood and all kinds of stuff would come out. Mason's Funeral Home was there and all the embalming they did went right into that ditch and it was open. And we had, everybody that went to school, it was just there.

DW: Whoa. What were the teachers like at Branch Street? Can you recall some of them?


LOWERY: Yes, I know all of them. Very strict. Very strict teachers, very good teachers. Most of the teachers went to ( ) College, which was a black Methodist College here. And then from there most of them went on to Kentucky State. We had a few on faculty that went to Tuskegee and did some graduate work at a, as far as Shaw University. So they were well-prepared and very good teachers.

DW: Sounds like, probably every teacher was certified to be a teacher?

LOWERY: Yes. There might have been one or two that were, like had taught, had eighth grade education and then started teaching and later on they were certified. But most of them went on to graduate from high school and then on to college.

DW: Hm-hmm. You spoke of the immediate surroundings of the school building. Can 3:00you maybe tell me a little bit more about the building itself, the inside what it looked like and, you know, some details there?

LOWERY: Well, they built, I guess it was in the early, middle fifties, they built a new part to Rosenwald. Until then it was just like an old school building, one of the old, you'd see. It's still there today. It's a church now. It had two rooms you could open up and that would be like our little auditorium. It did have a music room. Had first, second, third grade, and fourth grade and all of these were just like in rows around. Everybody knew where they were. And then it had, when they built the new part, then you had a music room and then you had an art room. There was a little office, which served as a teacher's lounge. It was a teacher's lounge, office and library. And it was very small, but that's where, it was in sort of the center of the school.

DW: The building still stands today and I've seen it. Now it's a church. When 4:00were you there roughly? When were you attending Branch Street?

LOWERY: Let's see, seven, eight, nine. Up through about '57,'58,'59.

DW: How would you rank that building or the quality of that structure at the time?

LOWERY: Well, it was, I think it was pretty good. It had steam heat. That old, well, they used, you know, steam, it was coal. But you must remember, now I had traveled, but to most of us, we didn't know anything else so there was nothing to compare it to, so it was a good school. I went to school before I went in Indianapolis, so I knew a little different. But I mean it was a good school. The only thing was it was the only school so people had to come from miles around. 5:00We had to walk to school. I had to walk at least sixteen, seventeen blocks. And no matter if it was snow, rain or what we had to walk.

DW: Was that the only black school that served that area at the time?

LOWERY: It was the only black school.

DW: What about out in the county?

LOWERY: Out in the county, they bussed people in except there was one in Nortonville.

DW: A black school in Nortonville?

LOWERY: An elementary school. They bussed people from Nebo. And they bussed people from, now earlier when it was independent, they didn't come there. But they bussed some people from Nortonville. I think Nortonville must have just had like, K through, well they didn't have K though nothing because they didn't have Kindergarten. They were independent. It was like first through six, something like that.

DW: Where did you go after Branch Street Elementary? Where did you attend school after that?

LOWERY: After that, because Rose, well, let me back up. Because Rosenwald was a like a school, we went to Rosenwald too, because I was in band. So we went to Rosenwald for band, went to Rosenwald for lunch. That's where the cafeteria was. 6:00We went to Rosenwald for all the plays, we practiced there. We went there for any assemblies. After that Branch Street went through the seventh grade. I was in the gifted program. I left there and went to Seminary.

DW: Now what's Seminary?

LOWERY: Seminary was the, it was an integrated school on Seminary, and it was, it was sixth, seventh, no it was seventh and eighth grade on. And so I went in the eighth grade.

DW: And it's on Seminary Street? Is that why it's called that?

LOWERY: Yeah, yeah. It's the board office now.

DW: Okay. Before we get into, well let's do. Let's talk about your experience there. So this was your first school you attended with white people?

LOWERY: No. I'd been to one in Indianapolis. Well, okay, locally? No choice. Period.

DW: Okay, well, how long were you there?


LOWERY: About, well, I was there about five months.

DW: Okay, well, in Hopkins County then, this was the first school you attended integrated?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm.

DW: And I am guessing it had been integrated a little bit before you got there? Is that correct?

LOWERY: Hmm, well, I think, well no. Waddill Avenue had been integrated and also this school which was Madisonville High School. Seminary, I think, we all went over there the same year if I remember correctly. There was about eight or ten of us that went over there.

DW: So that was the first crew of blacks to attend Seminary School?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm.

DW: Well, can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the first preparation for that? Did you go through anything in particular?


DW: Just ready to move on to a new school?

LOWERY: Ready to move on to a new school. And remember most of the blacks here. My grandmother did domestic work, so she knew some of the teachers. Some of them knew me. Some of them knew most of our parents because they worked for them. They worked, so they knew them. It was a little bit of a---we had problems. We 8:00had some called niggers. And they, sometimes somebody would push you and, of course, they're whites, you fought back. It didn't get to be a real, it wasn't that bad. One of the teachers pushed---I remember at the time she would call us, she said, "Martin Luther," and she'd say, "and I don't mean Martin Luther King either." And she'd make little remarks that could have been interpreted as racial. I don't think she meant it because I knew her very well. But some of the kids did some things and a, by and large it wasn't a bad year.

DW: So the fighting that went on was, was just kind of, you know would you describe it as a fight between students that was inconsequential?

LOWERY: Well, no, it was between blacks and whites and it would come about because of the name calling usually or pushing or something like that. And I got 9:00into a lot of them because I am, was very vocal.

DW: Hm-hmm.

LOWERY: I was always the leader of any little group. So I was sort of the spokesperson. So I got into fights.

DW: Did you ever get in any trouble for fighting?

LOWERY: No, because they knew what they were doing. Higgins was the gym teacher. And what they would do, recess was in the front of Seminary. That's where you would go out. They called it that. So what they would do. The teachers would not come out. They all knew what was going to happen. And there was older boys, older white boy, and what they would do, everybody would just gather round and be like, I guess maybe eight or, well, I guess seven or eight hundred students possibly out there. And so they would block off so people couldn't see them and fights would just take place. And we were, you know, outnumbered. And they knew it, the teachers knew the fights were going on, but they let them.

DW: Hmm. Why do you think they did that?

LOWERY: Well, Higgins was, in my opinion, a very racist man.


DW: He was the principal?

LOWERY: No. He was the P.E. teacher.

DW: I'm sorry, the P.E. teacher, okay.

LOWERY: He later became principal at Hanson later on. He knew because several times he would say---well, Perry Crawford, like I was in the eighth grade, Perry should have been like in the eleventh grade, he's still. They had like a special ed unit and what would happen. He would say, "Now during P.E. we'll put the gloves on you." He knew Perry could whip any of us. So what he did, he went and put the gloves on and so what he'd do is just let the fights go on out there. Those kind of stage things. He knew. And most of the other teachers.

DW: Did any one get severely hurt, do you think? Or--


DW: Okay.

LOWERY: I was threatened and I did carry a knife to school.

DW: Did you ever, anybody ever see the knife? Did you show the knife?

LOWERY: I showed it to all the black kids. It was a butcher knife. I rolled it up in a paper towel, one of the rolls in paper towels. I put it in that, then 11:00put it inside my pants leg.

DW: Did you ever have to use the knife?


DW: Okay. You spoke about Higgins at the school. What about other teachers at Seminary?

LOWERY: Most of the other teachers were receptive. I don't recall having any kinds of racial kind of problems outside Higgins and maybe a couple remarks. But most of them were not. Most of them were pretty nice.

DW: Did the teachers or the administration at Seminary School. Did they take any particular steps to make this transition smoother?

LOWERY: I think that it at, see by Waddill Avenue and this and Madisonville-North Hopkins, Madisonville High School being integrated earlier, I think they were more prepared for us coming to Seminary. I don't think that a, it wasn't new. It wasn't, you know, like, however, problems did come because I 12:00remember at that time I was there Rosenwald was still going on and Branch Street.

DW: So Rosenwald operated until when?

LOWERY: About '65, '66, somewhere like that.

DW: Did you have the option to go to Rosenwald instead of Seminary?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm.

DW: Why, why did you end up at Seminary?

LOWERY: Because my dad, he was in the service, he came home and said that was where he wanted me to go, so that's where I went.

DW: Was it never, was it, did it have a reputation of being a better school?

LOWERY: Well, I don't think it was a better school, but they had more things offered. The black kids, we had used books, whatever the board gave us that, you know, the white schools didn't use. That was a well-known fact. They offered more and so my dad being in service, he traveled and he saw more things. And he figured that for me to have a better education I should go to that school.

DW: And then after Seminary, where did you go to school?


LOWERY: Came here.

DW: Here being?

LOWERY: Madisonville-North Hopkins. Madisonville High School.

DW: And it was in this building here that is now Browning Springs Middle School?


DW: Okay. How integrated was Madisonville High School at the time?

LOWERY: It was pretty integrated by that time. A lot of kids had left Rosenwald. And an odd thing, sometimes we would go back to Rosenwald because it was a community school, we'd go back and some of the Rosenwald teachers would say, "Well, what did you come back over here for? You left us," and things like that. Because sometimes they didn't want you back. But it's odd because we all went to the same churches and lodges and so we pretty much everybody knew each other. And that's, but I remember having that comment made to me.

DW: Well, when a student, that's interesting, when a student, a black student would choose to go and attend a white school once that became the option. You've kind of described it, but explain that a little bit more for me. What was the 14:00view by the black community or those black students or teachers that remained over at Branch Street or Rosenwald?

LOWERY: Most of them are resentful. They did not like it because it meant that if integration was to become full and close Rosenwald, they knew they could lose jobs. They also felt you were betraying schools that had been there and that had educated your parents and them. And so there was a lot of resentment there.

DW: So, I guess, whether it is true or not, in your opinion, if you chose to attend the white school, others would feel your opinion is that Rosenwald isn't good enough for me any more. Whether that's true or not, that's the perception it sounds like?


DW: Okay. Could you talk a little bit about your high school years here?

LOWERY: Well, that's when --

DW: Race relations in the building?

LOWERY: About that, when Rosenwald closed then everybody came over here about that time. And I would wager that there was a lot of fighting. And we didn't 15:00have, we could go off campus for lunch and there were stores around and there was a white youth center across the street. Blacks were not allowed to go in there.

DW: Even as late as the late sixties?

LOWERY: No, they were not. But we went in it anyway. I did and carried some others. And that caused some trouble, but we were determined to go in there. I led a little march across there and we went in there anyway.

DW: Was the youth center a public facility or was that privately owned?

LOWERY: It was public. It was the Madisonville Community Center. And kids who would have eaten here would go over there for lunch. You could buy food over there. And also in the afternoon they had games and etcetera, etcetera. Stuff like that. Games you could play, table tennis, whatever.

DW: Did that place become an integrated place eventually?

LOWERY: I was the first person to get a membership card there. I had a membership card. So yeah, I did go. Yeah, about three or four of us did. At the same time at Rosenwald, the black community had built a center after they had 16:00been building on. So most of the blacks went there, opted to go there and then come over here. But a lot of blacks had problems with white students calling them names and, and because, and yet there were a lot of friends. A lot of these kids lived in neighborhoods and so they were pretty friendly with each other. One incident I remember. Dean Dowdy was the music director and we, none of us, some of us got into band here, but most of us didn't because he didn't like the kind of music we played. We played Peter Gunn and we played a lot of different songs that he just didn't think were worthwhile. He did music appreciation. And sometimes we'd bring records that we thought, and he didn't care much for that. He was not a very receptive to that. However there were blacks that did get into band later on. Most of us chose not to.

DW: You said that there were a handful of whites at least that were your friends or, you know, blacks that were--

LOWERY: I'd say it was more than that.

DW: Hm-hmm.


LOWERY: There was more than that. There was a great many because it, like in the South it is a little different here they, like in any Southern place, they knew a lot of people because our parents babysitted those kids and we kind of grew up in the same community and saw them in town. And some of them even played ball in the community with them. So, by that time when it came here, blacks were integrated onto the ball teams, so it was a little pleasant there.

DW: Do you recall any whites ever sticking up for any blacks here at the high school?

LOWERY: A couple of times. But blacks just felt very resentful and during the time that King was killed, we…. No, that wasn't, that's not correct. During the time that, during the time that King was killed, yes, we marched from across 18:00town, there was a rally. And three, my three girls and one of my sister, we went into Tucker's which was integrated, which was a segregated place right there in the black community, the restaurant. From that we all, it kind of mushroomed and people came and we marched from over there to the school. And the next day we didn't go to school. We just came over here and stood out there still, well, it's still out there, like a little --

DW: Landing, a little--

LOWERY: Yeah, and people would go, so we went out there and we wouldn't go to school that day.

DW: How did others in the school respond to your staying out of school that day?

LOWERY: I think most of them understood.

DW: Hm-hmm.

LOWERY: Whether they agreed with it or not, they understood it. I don't recall anybody getting into any real trouble about it.

DW: Did you play sports or involved in extracurriculars at the high school as a student?

LOWERY: Hmm, no.

DW: Not at all?

LOWERY: No, well, I played a little ball, but not very successfully.


DW: Hm-hmm. Any other extracurriculars?

LOWERY: I was in the History Club and I was in the Beta Club.

DW: Did you have any problem entering those clubs?


DW: Do you think that a, what was that like, was it any different than the school day in terms of race relations? I mean --

LOWERY: No. We got along pretty good. We got along pretty good.

DW: Okay.

LOWERY: See. And by this time there were black teachers here too.

DW: When you were a student? There were actually black teachers here?

LOWERY: Rosenwald had closed.

DW: What happened to the teachers at Rosenwald when Rosenwald closed?

LOWERY: They were integrated into, assimilated I call it, into the system.

DW: Did all of them keep jobs or do you know?

LOWERY: All but one, I think.

DW: Okay. How do you think white students responded to that, being taught by black teachers?

LOWERY: Pretty well. I think they, the librarian here, Mrs. Crawley, had been the, she was probably the most educated person after the black principal, Mrs. 20:00Arnett who had been for 37 years past. Mrs. Crawley was a highly educated lady and she became the librarian. She had been an English teacher at Rosenwald. And then the English teacher, Mrs.---there was three English teachers from over there that came over. Carlos Whitliffe was a math teacher. All of them got jobs over here. And then the ones that were in the elementary schools got jobs in the elementary schools. And I don't recall them having, really having a lot of incidents.

DW: When you were a fairly young student, the very first school that was integrated here in Madisonville, in the Hopkins County system, was Waddill Elementary. Fall of 1957. And then a year later, Pride Elementary integrated. Can you recall these events and what that was like here?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm. James Van Leer and I were close friends with the family, so I 21:00knew and I knew the principal at Waddill Avenue. She was very mean, very mean to James. She's a teacher. She's a friend of mine now. I knew Dixie Lois Logan forever. But she was a very mean lady. Mrs. Edwards at Pride was a very mean, cruel, old woman. And when blacks would go down there because in the afternoon we would all, in the afternoon we would all rush back to see, there would be people standing there to see, Willa May Elliott would take the kids in the car and Hardly Hayden and J.W. Mays, they would take them in the cars. And they would rock their cars and everything. And we would go over there and watch them at, at Pride. Pride had a very difficult time. They did not want blacks at Pride, period.

DW: From what I've gathered James Van Leer integrating Waddill Avenue in '57, the very first integration which had some opposition, but it seemed to be a lot less than Pride Elementary the following year.


LOWERY: It was.

DW: Why do you think it was like that?

LOWERY: Because more blacks went to Pride than just one. And also Pride was a relatively new school compared to Waddill Avenue. And a lot of the whites who went there did not live in town and I think they were more rural. Well, they lived in town, but they lived, Madisonville, just inside the city limits now. Those whites were more, they just pardon me, lived in little clannish groups and probably just didn't want to integrate. They were opposed to it.

DW: So the resistance in this town even existed differently in different neighborhoods.

LOWERY: Hm-hmm. There was resistance at Waddill Avenue, but Pride was just worse. Probably because of the way -- But you had more cultured whites that I 23:00think went to West Broad, went to Waddill than you did, than went to Pride.

DW: What do you mean by cultured?

LOWERY: In the sense that these people grew up in better homes. A lot of them had traveled. A lot of them had just a better sense of the world. They had a, they were, they had more money. Their economic status was better and all that. And when you look at that, that was different than some of the whites that went to Pride.

DW: Can you describe the scene a little bit more? What kind of authorities were called in and how big of a crowd was there?

LOWERY: I just remember there being hundreds of people on several occasions. State police were there. And I remember Willie May going and I remember them throwing rocks. And most of us stood up on a hill looking down at Pride. We 24:00could see what was going on. It was very, it was very hard. It was very cruel. The way they would call him nigger and calling all kind of names and pushing and shoving and all that kind of thing. Until the police kept, the state, the authorities kept them back. And I remember being friends to the Elliots; they had a lot of threats. And I would go down sometimes, and I know they stayed up late at night. So I kind of was involved in it because I was friends with the family. I would go over there and stay. So I knew that. So at the same time, they were receiving, because Willie Mays was the one that was taking them to school and that, you know, they threatened to kill her, and threw fire on them and burnt crosses and all kinds of things.

DW: Why did you stand at the top and watch this going on at Pride Elementary? You really didn't have a direct stake in this?

LOWERY: Well, we lived, we lived there. I lived just about six blacks from the school.


DW: So if you hadn't of attended Branch Street, do you think you would of attended Pride?

LOWERY: Probably.

DW: Did you have the option to go to Pride Elementary?


DW: But you chose, you or your parents one, chose Branch Street, the black elementary school. Why do you think that happened?

LOWERY: Well, probably because of the resistance of whites at that time. And it was, and you know, it was nation wide. I mean people were getting killed, getting hurt. Kids were being damaged mentally as well physically. And so I don't think my parents wanted me to be involved in it.

DW: I understand. Were the local authorities, I mean in the county or city police, were they helpful with maintaining these crowds?

LOWERY: Not a whole lot. They a, the chief of police, Pat Collins, here was very racist. I hear him use, call where blacks lived "Nigger Town", "Colored Town." I 26:00would go interview him about events that would happen. The very night we marched over here, he came from, we were at that restaurant and marched over here. A girl got, was pregnant and was hit by a local police. And the next day James Van Leer and I went to interview Pat Collins. And he said, "Well, I got a call to come over to Nigger Town, I mean Colored Town." I'll never forget. He was a very racist man. And they didn't do a lot to protect, you know, blacks. So that is why the state troopers were called in. State government. I think that is why most blacks now and anyway have always depended on federal intervention rather than local because local, if local had been receptive to it, you wouldn't have had to call these other people in. In most cases they were not. And that was the 27:00case here.

DW: Did federal police come at all?

LOWERY: I know that there were troops, federal troops. Federal troops came.

DW: Here to Madisonville?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm.

DW: Okay. And since you, you graduated from Madisonville High School, what year?

LOWERY: '69.

DW: Class of '69. And since then you have been, you're now a teacher at, in the system and you have been involved with the NAACP. Could you maybe explain how you got interested, involved with that?

LOWERY: Well, I had been, I had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma and in Birmingham. My grandmother and I went, we would go to all the marches. Marched in Frankfort and in Washington. We knew them through working through the church. And, also when I went to Murray, there was no black anybody at Murray, black in any position, not even a janitor or cook. So we, I started a black student union there and we finally ended up suing the university. It went all the way to the 28:00a, well, it went to the Supreme Court. It was a test case. And a, four of us were put out of school, in fact. And we had Dick Gregory down to support us. And a, we had A.B. King and we had, let's see, Angela Davis came. We had a lot of people that came to support it because at that time Kent State hadn't been, it was in the works. We were doing a lot of things. We actually stopped a parade and went into the homecoming to make our demands known. The president said we could, and then said we couldn't after we got there. And they called in campus police and we were arrested. And there were some difficult times.

DW: What was the lawsuit over exactly?

LOWERY: Well, the lawsuit was over the fact of a, the way they treated us. The way they actually handled us on the campus. Then they suspended, they took us downtown, the court was down and the city police, they said they couldn't find 29:00anything we'd done wrong. So then the campus-- it was very racist administration-- they didn't, a suspended us, took us before the school tribunal. And then we went on from there. And then they divided us up. One guy was on probation. It was all the black students. But I was the president, the vice-president and the spokesperson. James Van Leer was one and we were all interviewed.

DW: Did he attend Murray also?

LOWERY: Hm-hmm. He was there a year before I got there.

DW: What, what was the out come of the lawsuit and the decision?

LOWERY: Well, finally, it was a time, Nixon was then president. He had just appointed Renquist and it was a, you know, the outcome was we went, they stayed the university, they upheld the university. We went to, I think, we went to Cincinnati, to I think this federal court in Cincinnati. I think it was, I forget the District now.


DW: Sixth Circuit --

LOWERY: Sixth Circuit, that's right.

DW: Of the Court of Appeals? Who--

LOWERY: We went to Paducah first.

DW: Uh-huh.

LOWERY: And then we ended up going then to Cincinnati.

DW: Do you remember the lawyer that worked with you? What--

LOWERY: He was from Paducah. There was a man who was from Paducah, who was a newsman, named Tyler. And he had a lot to do with helping us get a lawyer. And the lawyer was named, I forget his name now. I have it in a scrapbook at home, but he was a young guy, out of a, out of Lexington. And we had several other lawyers. William Cunselor came down just to support us. There was a lot of other things going on at that time. And I came back here, and of course, all the local things that were said, so I couldn't get a job here. I didn't get a job here for years and years.



LOWERY: And so, I, you know, and it was because they knew my reputation. I had been involved with King. And they knew I had been involved in all the marches. And, they didn't, I'm sure they didn't want me in the school system.


DW: Who's they?

LOWERY: The school board and the administration.

DW: Hm-hmm.

LOWERY: And finally, I got in as a substitute and then I was hired as Adolescent Day Treatment. And I got in and since then I became, sort of, it's sort of a paradox, I became the, I got Teacher of the Year in 1996. And I was, brought into this building eighteen years ago. And got off real good. There was a lot of lawyers and doctors with kids, and they were more, you know, and I had all of them in class. I had the Gifted and Talented and real good, you know, a really good run. And then some racist things that have happened, but I am always cautious. I mean I think they were cautious of me because they knew I would certainly go to court if it ever, if I had to.

DW: What year, about what year did you start working as a teacher in Madisonville?


LOWERY: Hm, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago. Let's see, seventy, eighty, eighties.

DW: Early eighties? So you, after college, and before you actually became a teacher there was some time there, I'm guessing, right?

LOWERY: Yeah, I worked for Legal Services as a paralegal. I've also, I've always worked at Elliot Mortuary. Then I went to Texas. I've taught in Texas. I taught in Triton Junior College in Chicago. I've taught in Northwestern School in Indianapolis, St. Mary's in Paducah. Uhm, Breckinridge Job Corp.

DW: All before you came to Madisonville? And you've just remained here once you became a full time teacher?


DW: Okay. Let's go back to the NAACP in Madisonville.

LOWERY: I, I when I was in Breckinridge I, I was--the chapter here had gone down. Willa May Elliot and here, had been very active, and some of those, they 33:00had really, a lot of them had died out. So I came back and revitalized the NAACP. We got the charter back and we became a force again. I had up to, the state gave us a plaque for having the most members one year. We were up to five hundred members. I named it Madisonville-Hopkins County Branch of the NAACP. We were in every committee, got involved nationally. We helped host the convention in Louisville. Locally, we handled case after case. It just almost killed me because all the phone calls would come to my home. We never had an office. Any case, anybody brought a case, we took it. If they brought a complaint, I did a lot of research, working as a paralegal with Legal Services, I had access to a lot of things I could do. I was a community education specialist. Then I also was the liaison person between the black community and legal services and clients' counselors, which was set up. So that way, I was in a position to do a 34:00lot to help a lot of people.

DW: What kind of complaints or what kind of action was taken by the NAACP?

LOWERY: Oh, when jobs, when people were, job discriminations, people were not given, promoted. We would go in and look at that. We had one in particular, we had a black man who is now, he's still working for the police, first black policeman. There was a group, a committee that was, well, we had helped get him on. I had volunteered for what we called the Black Citizens Committee years before I went to college. And a, so spin off from that is when I came back, a lot of people just looked at me for the leadership. So we, we went into that kind of, you know, thing. What did you ask me, just before that? Because I wanted to go back to that.

DW: Just NAACP, what kind of complaints and actions did, were taken?

LOWERY: The boy that's at the post office now, what happened, he was at TVA and came in and they said he falsified his application. He had not, but the question was--


DW: This was a black applicant to--

LOWERY: Right, right.

DW: To what?

LOWERY: To, he had been in service to become a mail carrier.

DW: Okay.

LOWERY: So we, Johnny Clark was the NAACP general counsel out of Louisville. I got him. Called the boy back from Iuka, Mississippi. He went back home, called him back. We went to, had the negotiations and the arbitrator came in and we got him that job back. There were other jobs we got people, you know, back on their jobs. We also had people read their grievance policies when they didn't know they had a policy. We'd advise them to get their policy, bring it to them. We set up, advised veterans. We had every committee the NAACP had nationally and state, we had one here. To look into all the veterans' complaints. Complaints in education, I would go to the schools. One reason, I'm sure, they didn't give me a job. When there were complaints about black kids being forced into special ed classes or labeled special ed, we even looked at those cases at Pride and Mr. 36:00Burin was there. At North when there was complaints. There was always complaints at North. It was always racial things from the time I was there. I almost got, a girl called me to go without my cousin called me, she called me a name then she pushed me and I hit her. And that was a big thing at that time. So I knew how North was made up. I knew. So I would go out when there were cases about, oh, riding buses. Some of the, they would make, try to make blacks sit in the back of the bus. Fights on the buses and homecoming queens and cheerleaders.

DW: This is in, probably the mid-seventies we are talking about here?

LOWERY: Seventies and eighties.

DW: Seventies and eighties. Uhm--

LOWERY: On the ball teams some guy would get kicked, some child would get kicked off the ball team. We did that. We investigated any complaint, which is what the NAACP does if it's a civil rights complaint.

DW: You said the membership peaked--

LOWERY: Yeah, it did.

DW: At this time. Why do you think that happened?


LOWERY: Well, because of things that were going on in the country then. I mean, the sixties, seventies and eighties were a time when blacks were gaining some footholds on some things. And so they needed organizations like the NAACP. People had a, an urge to join to make things better. We joined. And I knew a lot of people from traveling and I brought speakers in, like Benjamin Hooks who was the national director. His wife, Frances, a state president came in. I held office in the state. Just visibility and programs. We had Dr. Kelly Mills Smith who had marched with King, from Nashville, came. First black woman surgeon in Nashville, Dr. Dorothy Brown, came up and spoke. Well, I had something going on all the time. Yeah, I mean, I drove from Breckinridge, I was teaching at Breckinridge. I would come home and hold meetings. We would hold mass rallies. We celebrated all the black jubilee days. We did everything. We had newspaper 38:00articles out. I attended all the national conventions, brought back, you know, people to come speak and we would have a, whenever there was a law passed we would go to city council meetings, we would go to, I mean, we were just active in everything.

DW: Do you think, was there any, how did the white community respond to the NAACP's actions?

LOWERY: Those whites who were, I think educated and I think, I'm not sure, but I think most of them were sympathetic or understanding and sometimes both. There were those, who are always out there who don't know much about, just know they see it as niggers trying to take over, niggers trying to get in, a, that's the way they see it then, see it that way now.

DW: Was there ever any pressure from whites to NAACP members to--


DW: To fade out?

LOWERY: Yeah, I got threats and called and all kind of things.

DW: Like what?

LOWERY: They'd call, you know, we're going to kill you nigger. I had some, my 39:00car, the windows broke out of my car. The tires slashed and there's some pretty, pretty, ( ) were pretty bad. I got some letters in the mail. You know, "You ought to burn." And those kind of things. They burnt a cross at a-- in Murray, see with Murray I was president of the NAACP at Murray also when I was in college.

DW: The college, was that a campus chapter or was that a city chapter?

LOWERY: The campus chapter.

DW: Okay.

LOWERY: And I was president of the Black Student Union too, so they burnt my car there. And then they also burned a cross and then set the room on fire. So, you could never tell if it was a real Klan group or if they was just a group of whites who said, you know, we're going to scare this whatever.

DW: When you spoke of editorials was that here in Madisonville?

LOWERY: Here in Madisonville. There was some pretty… Some of the editorials would say you know, you shouldn't be pushing for this, we've given you this, we've given you that and you haven't given us anything. And I remember, the 40:00swimming pool that was built out here, uh, I think it, in the city park. Before when they integrated James Van Leer and I went out and they put snakes in there and they put glass in there to keep blacks, the law said they had to integrate it. Then when they built the new pool, we had worked for that because we went to Frankfort and had the commissioner come down and so, they did build a pool. And, of course, they gave the jobs to somebody else. You know, lifeguard, whatever. So we are the ones who really got that. We got some news articles about that. I've got book of articles that goes back then, got all of that kind of stuff. But we were the first ones that really pushed for that. And we had them come in and they said, "Yea, there will be, that pool will open." Because they were going to close it. The city closed it.

DW: Well, I guess I should just kind of close with the question of, you know, and it's kind of been described, but we're now here in 2002, how do you describe 41:00race relations here in Madisonville, in Hopkins County now?

LOWERY: Race relations may be, I think because of the conservative, conservatism that's in the country, race relations are breaking down. Because the things like affirmative action, things that would help blacks get a better foothold in society, make the playing field level, at least come to some parity; they're fighting against it. And I think that's causing race relations to, that have been really strong, people like, you know, people are, let's say they are really at odds with it. Also school vouchers are a big thing. Even though we have some teachers here at Madisonville who I have really gotten into it big, because I went to NEA as a delegate. I've been in, well, I'm local vice-president. They 42:00are support vouchers. And the reason they support vouchers is they want some of the private schools where they know blacks won't go. And a, so it's not about choice necessarily, it's about getting away from those blacks at that school. And so I see that as being a bad thing as well as the fact it takes public funding out of public schools. And if you are going to fix it, you ought to fix all schools so that every child receives the best education they can receive.

DW: The white power structure that existed in Madisonville in the fifties, and a the comments in the paper that I read from the fifties and sixties, does that still exist here?

LOWERY: Subliminal kind of things. You can read well, read the editorials, yea, it's still here.

DW: How about in amongst the town, you know the, the police department,


LOWERY: There have been some--

DW: Business district. I mean is that still dominated by whites or--

LOWERY: Yes. And you also have right now, a black man who is over the 43:00maintenance department, the sanitation department, who has been accused--- and they've tried him three times---he's been accused of having some kind of sexual relationship with some inmates who worked for the city. And it's been to court three times; they've thrown it out. And he hired a number of blacks. I bet you eighty percent of the blacks on sanitation department are black. And that's the real case there. We are working on that case now. I've gotten to talk to him about an attorney for it. I have sent him to an attorney friend of mine in Louisville, Aubrey Williams, who is going to be looking at that case. But I mean the judge threw it out three times, but the county attorney just keeps pushing it. And it is not about the sexual thing, really. It's because he's just hired all them blacks.

DW: You know, sitting and talking with you, I can tell you have been through a lot of things. You know you started out in a segregated school and you've through college and as an adult here in Madisonville, you've a, against a lot of opposition you've still fought for a lot of black advancement. Uhm, what do you 44:00think has caused you to do this?

LOWERY: The way my grandmother raised me. And the fact that, I traveled. At an early age, by the time I was seven I had been to practically every state in the union. Traveling broadened my horizon. I could see what blacks were working in Buffalo, NY, we had, my grandmother had a large family, we would visit. I would go to Detroit. I'd go to Indianapolis. My dad remarried and lived on Cape, lived on Cape Cod. We'd been, I saw things and so I wanted to make sure other people had the opportunities. I could see blacks advancing up there. And I had the chance to meet Malcolm X and to march and to do things. Of course when you have been in that, you don't lose that, that see.

DW: Right. Well, Mr. Lowery, I thank you--

LOWERY: Thank you.

DW: Thanks.