Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Dennis Chenault, April 23, 1990

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:06 - Remembering parents, grandparents, and a segregated Paris, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: First I'd like to thank you for consenting to this interview. Um, would you start by please telling me your name and your age?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault's father died when he was young, so he only has one memory of him. His mother raised him, so he notes he feels more strongly about her. His grandparents, particularly his grandfather, helped to raise him. His grandparents lived on farm outside of town, but every Saturday they would go in to Paris and socialize. Chenault remembers when Paris had black businesses, and now post-segregation, he laments that they may have regressed because there are no African-American owned businesses.

Keywords: African American doctors; African American pool halls; African American restaurants; Automobiles; Black barber shops; Black doctors; Black pool halls; Bourbon County (Ky.); Brothers; Contractors; Death; Education; Familial relationships; Family; Farming; Farms; Fathers; Gambling; Gender; Henkel; Horse and buggy; Horses; Military; Model T; Mothers; Paris (Ky.); Segregation; Silk underwear; Snow; Winters; Zion Baptist Church

Subjects: African American business enterprises; African American churches; African American churches--Kentucky; African American physicians; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Horses--Transportation; Segregation

GPS: Bourbon County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.2, -84.21
00:07:31 - Changes in Paris, Kentucky throughout his childhood

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Partial Transcript: Then we lived over in uh--I stayed with them [grandparents] when I was smaller, and we lived, well I remember, the first I remember we lived down on Patton Street down where Mrs. Crutcher lived.

Segment Synopsis: Chenault describes the houses he lived in while growing up. He says that his grandmother was the midwife for his brother's birth. Chenault details some of the new technology he witnessed, like electricity and washing machines. He says that his grandfather was the first African American to own a car in Paris. He talks about his grandmother's supplemental income by cooking food to sell on Saturday when people went to town. He talks about how people gardened, had livestock, and canned.

Keywords: Bourbon County (Ky.); Brothers; Canning; Coal stoves; Electrification; Gardens; Grandmothers; Hogs; Livestock; Manual washing machines; Midwifery; Midwives; Moving houses; Paris (Ky.); Produce; Radios; Supplemental income; Technologies

Subjects: African American farmers.; Country life; Gardening.; Livestock.; Rural electrification--Kentucky

00:11:54 - Meeting his wife / Work history

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Partial Transcript: Um, when and how did you meet your wife?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault details how he met his wife, when they fell in love, and her grandfather marrying them. He then details his work history throughout his life as a mechanic, supervisor, and electrician.

Keywords: 1969; African American women; Army reservation; Benefits; Black women; Central Kentucky Area Vocational School; Claysville (Ky.); Discrimination; Electricians; Family home; Fencer; Germany; Grandfathers; Grandparents; Harrison County (Ky.); Hiring practices; House fires; Job promotions; Layoffs; Lexington (Ky.); Maintenance; Marriage; Mechanics; Military service; Mothers; Preachers; Prejudice; Racehorse farms; Racism; Retirement; School days; Seasonal work; Segregated bathrooms; Twins

Subjects: African American business enterprises; African Americans--Employment.; Discrimination in employment.; Race discrimination.; Racism; Segregation

00:20:28 - Attending a segregated grade school / Thoughts on systemic racism and inequality and the lost history of Black people

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Partial Transcript: Um, where, where did you attend grade school and high school?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault attended Paris Western Colored School. He notes that they received leftover textbooks, and they didn't have lab equipment. Despite these things, they had dedicated teachers. Chenault talks about how history was his favorite subject, but the only heroes they were presented were white. He talks about how Black history has been lost because it was only oral history, and when someone died without passing on that knowledge, the history was lost. He talks about how powerful it is to see black doctors, scientists, and professionals. He discusses white privilege, and how that can be hard to bear. He does note it seems to be getting better.

Keywords: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; African American history; African American teachers; Assault; Black doctors; Black history; Black professionals; Black scientists; Black teachers; Bourbon County (Ky.); Dedicated teachers; Desegregation; Documentation of history; Edited history; Equality; Fear; Harm; History; Idols; Inequality; Inspiration; Integration; Japanese; Lab equipment; Leftover books; Oral histories; Parenting; Paris (Ky.); Paris Western Colored School; Profession; Racism; Reading; Students; Survival; Systemic racism; Talk back; White heroes; White people; White privilege

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Discrimination.; Integration; Racism; Segregation

00:28:16 - Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: Um, you mentioned laws. Um, what, what did you think about Jim Crows?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault talks about how the Jim Crow laws were bad, but that some good came out of them with African Americans owning their own businesses. He then talks about the Civil Rights Movement and its various activists. He talks about the power of names.

Keywords: Achievement gap; African American people; African American-owned businesses; Agency; Anger; Black entrepreneurs; Black people; Black-owned businesses; Civil Rights Movement; Demonstrations; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Explicit racism; Eye for an eye; Freedom; Human rights; I have a dream speech; Jim Crow laws; MLK; Malcolm X; Minorities; Murders; Old Testament; Personal opinion; Philosophy; Protests; Public opinion; Race riots; Racial slurs; Separate but equal; Turn the other cheek; White protesters

Subjects: Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Civil rights workers--Violence against; Civil rights--Law and legislation; King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968; Race riots; Racism; United States--Race relations.; United States. Civil Rights Act of 1964; Violence--Mississippi; X, Malcolm, 1925-1965.

00:36:27 - The importance of churches and religion to the African American community

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Partial Transcript: Okay, uh, how do you feel that the church affected blacks?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault talks about the importance of African American churches in the education of black people when they were denied education opportunities. He fears that younger generations are turning from God and the church though because of their education. He theorizes about religion and belief. He also notes that he feels he has been "whitetized" by working with white men at the auto shop for so long, and they have influenced him.

Keywords: "White-tized"; "Whitetized"; African American preachers; Agnosticism; Atheism; Belief; Black churches; Black preachers; Car owners; Christianity; Church attendance; Churches; Colleges; Dance halls; Descrimination; Education; Education vs religion; Faith; God; Heritage; History; Home owners; Indians; Native Americans; People watching; Racism; Rain dance; Religion; Science vs religion; Symbolism; Unity

Subjects: African American churches; African American churches--Kentucky; African American clergy.; African American teachers.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Religion.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.

00:41:56 - Physical labor, "black jobs," and changing expectations about work

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Partial Transcript: Do you feel that values you obtained from working where you did that, that most black men had at that time?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault talks about how he feels the value of work has changed. He notes that in the beginning of his career, he could only get "black jobs" that were the lowest. He thinks that people now want to put on their ties and grab their briefcase to do "mental work" for four hours instead of "physical work" for eight hours.
[The recording cuts out at 44:55 to 45:16.]

Keywords: African American business owners; African American doctors; African American teachers; African American undertakers; African Americans; Black business owners; Black doctors; Black jobs; Black teachers; Black undertakers; Discrimination; Ditch digging; Education; Jobs; Laying bricks; Laying concrete; Menial work; Middle class; Money; Payment; Physical laborers; Schools; Value of hard work; Values; White collar; Working

Subjects: African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Employment--Law and legislation; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in employment.; Racism

00:45:54 - Converting from the Baptist Church to the Methodist Church / Discrimination against women ministers

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Partial Transcript: Um, can you place yourself in church as a boy on a normal Sunday, and tell me the kinds of things that you see and, and you hear and you smell?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault talks about the church he attended as a child, and why he converted to the Methodist Church. He felt the Baptists were judging people, which he disagreed with. Specifically, he didn't think that discriminating against women who said they were called to minister was right when they would accept men who said the same thing.

Keywords: Baptism; Baptists; Children; Churches; Communion; Female ministers; Feminism; First Baptist Church; Grandfather-in-law; Judging; Judgment; Methodists; Ministers; Parents; Paris (Ky.); Religion; Revivals; Sunday school; Women ministers; Zion Baptist Church

Subjects: African American churches; African American churches--Kentucky; African American clergy.; African Americans--Religion.; Baptists.; United Methodist Church (U.S.)

00:48:43 - Social activities at church / Black and white people's motivations to attend church

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Partial Transcript: Um, can you remember some of the social activities that centered around the church?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault describes a few of the social activities that the church sponsored, but because they were poor, there weren't very many. The interviewer asks if he thinks white people go to church for the same reasons that black people do. He responds that white people is too broad a category because rich white people go to church for show, but black people go because they need faith. He further explains that there are many reasons people attend church; some go for show or because they have to, some want to believe, and some truly believe.

Keywords: African American churches; Athletics; Black churches; Christmas; Churches; Easter; Easter egg hunt; Fruit; Gifts; May Day; May pole; May queen; Money; Motivations; Poor; Poverty; Public opinion; Purpose of religion; Religion; Rich people; White people

Subjects: African American churches; African American churches--Kentucky; African American clergy.; African Americans--Religion.; African Americans--Social life and customs.

00:52:22 - Young African American athletes need an education

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Partial Transcript: What do you think that blacks in Kentucky have in store for the '90s and the 21st century?

Segment Synopsis: Chenault talks about how black young men have been recognized for their athletic talents, and if they don't receive an education along with being able to use their athletic talents, it will become a "tool" used by white people to "punish black people." He says that black parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children get an education. He also talks about how no teacher should ever discourage a student from something they want to do.

Keywords: "American Dream"; 1990s; 21st century; Academic eligibility; Academics; African American athletes; African American parents; African American young men; Albert Einstein; Black athletes; Black parents; Colleges; Education; Escape; High school graduation rates; Limitations; Paris (Ky.); Punishment; Scholar athletes; Teachers; White tool

Subjects: African American athletes.; African American college students.; African American families; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Education--Study and teaching