Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Chester Grundy, May 28, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:04 - His induction into the Hall of Fame

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Partial Transcript: I am Betty Bayé, and the date is May 28, 2015, and I am interviewing Chester Grundy, Senior Diversity, uh, Senior--I'm sorry. Senior Diversity Assistant?

Segment Synopsis: Grundy, Senior Diversity Advisor to the Dean of the College of Medicine of the University of Kentucky, discusses his induction into the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame, crediting, among others, Affrilachian poet Frank X. Walker for supporting his nomination.

Keywords: Civil Rights Hall of Fame; David Hall; Frank Walker; Frank X. Walker; Kirby Neil

Subjects: University of Human Rights; Walker, Frank X., 1961-

00:05:52 - Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: But you know what? I'd like to go way back. I'd like to go back to young Chester Grundy.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky, on Prentice Street in the California neighborhood, where he spent time with both his father and his uncle, went to a segregated school whose teachers he describes as overqualified, and entertained himself with his friends in various ways, including watching the older boys "conk" (straighten) their hair and joining his neighborhood friends in rivalries with boys from other neighborhoods.

Keywords: Childhood; Conking; France; Hair; Jim Crow laws; Theaters

Subjects: Education.; Louisville (Ky.); Schools.; Segregation.; Teachers.

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.250, -85.767
00:18:59 - Segregation through a child's eyes

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Partial Transcript: Were you at that time, um, in this, in this world of Prentice Street, uh, California neighborhood, how aware of you--were you that you were segregated, and how did it feel?

Segment Synopsis: Grundy explains that he became strongly aware of segregation when students of the white school of the California neighborhood gave a presentation at his school about Phillis Wheatley. He describes his grandmother's defiance of segregation in clothing stores, and discusses the segregation and eventual desegregation of Fontaine Fairy Park and Shawnee Park. He discusses the military service of his father and uncle in the Second World War, as well as the care they and his other relatives took to protect the children in the family from segregation, giving as an example their complete avoidance of bathrooms while on road trips.

Keywords: Bathrooms; Blanch Grundy; Chester Grundy, Sr.; Fontaine Fairy Park; Jim Crow laws; John Grundy; Phillis Wheatley; Second World War; Shawnee Park; Tennessee; World War II (WWII)

Subjects: Integration.; Schools.; Segregation.; Wheatley, Phillis, 1753-1784; World War Two

00:27:47 - Junior high and high school

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Partial Transcript: So n--so, now we're moving on, uh, Chester, the little boy from Phillis Wheatley goes on to high school?

Segment Synopsis: Grundy describes his education in a segregated junior high school and then in Male High School, where a racist advisor tried to dissuade him from his plan of entering the University of Kentucky, to no effect. Neither did his father like the idea, Grundy explains, because black students were not generally welcomed at the university.

Keywords: Brown v. Board of Education; Desegregation; Duvall Junior High School; Male High School

Subjects: Colleges and universities.; School integration.; University of Kentucky.

00:34:54 - Entering the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: And, and what year was this now?

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his education at the University of Kentucky, beginning in 1965. He felt isolated and invisible, he explains, but it was at this time that, on the advice of an older student he knew simply as Major Jones, he began to read books by James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and other black intellectuals.

Keywords: Chester Bomar Himes; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Eastern Kentucky University; James Arthur Baldwin; Malcolm X; Richard Nathaniel Wright

Subjects: Colleges and universities.; School integration.; Students, Black; University of Kentucky.

GPS: University of Kentucky, Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.033, -84.500
00:46:41 - Disqualified from a military career

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Partial Transcript: The, the biggest contradiction in my life at that time was I was still in ROTC.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy describes his progress in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), through which he hoped to become an officer in the Army. He explains how this plan was shattered when he failed a physical fitness test due to a heart murmur.

Keywords: Fort Indiantown Gap (Pa.); Military education

Subjects: Hospitals.; Physical fitness--Testing.; United States. Army. Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

00:54:14 - Civil rights student activist

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Partial Transcript: So now, this is--the ROTC is off the table.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his return to the University of Kentucky in 1969 to finish his undergraduate degree, no longer eligible to become an officer in the Army. At this time, he explains, he was involved in the Black Student Union, and he met such activists as Fannie Lou Hamer and members of the Deacons of Defense. He names Bill Turner and P. G. Peeples as upperclassmen during his time at the university who are now known for their work in civil rights. Grundy worked to improve conditions for black students at the university, which he says was a challenge because black students and faculty were fewer and had a smaller voice than in, for example, the University of Louisville, where Blain Hudson, Bill Turner, Gerry Neal, and other activists had succeeded in making their university's environment more accepting of black people.

Keywords: Cornell University; Dan Massie; Deacons of Defense; Doris Wilkinson; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Fannie Lou Hamer; Gerald Neal; J. Blaine Hudson; P. G. Peeples; William H. Turner

Subjects: Authors, Black; Civil rights movements.; University of Kentucky; University of Louisville

01:02:16 - Working with black communities

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Partial Transcript: Fast forward, um--(Grundy coughs)--a little bit. You graduate from UK with a degree in what?

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his work after his graduation with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, and subsequently with the Plymouth Settlement House, a settlement house in Louisville, Kentucky directed by Morris Jeff. Under the influence of Jeff's interest in African culture, he explains, he took a trip to Africa.

Keywords: Galen Martin; Integration; Kentucky Commission on Human Rights; Morris F. X. Jeff; Paul Oberst; Plymouth Settlement House

Subjects: Civil rights movements.; Jeff, Morris Francis Xavier

01:14:14 - Work at the University of Kentucky--Organizing cultural events

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Partial Transcript: But two years into that job I got an offer to go to--come back here to UK.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his work in the Office of Minority Student Affairs beginning in 1972 when he was recruited by Jerry Stevens, the sole member of the office at that time. For the next several years, Grundy organized events with the aim of cultural education, attracting poet Mari Evans, Egyptologist Yosef Ben-Jochannan, and dancer Katherine Dunham.

Keywords: Columbia College Chicago; Jerry L. Stevens; Katherine Dunham; Mari Evans; Office of Minority Student Affairs; The Image Makers (play); Yosef Ben-Jochannan

Subjects: Ben-Jochannan, Yosef.; Culture.; Dunham, Katherine.; Evans, Mari, 1923-; Theater

01:25:19 - Work at the University of Kentucky--Jazz concerts

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Partial Transcript: Finally, I guess around '74--no, '73, I came up with this idea of doing a jazz concert.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his putting together a series of jazz concerts at the University of Kentucky, attracting such musicians as Yusef Lateef, Chick Corea, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach. As an example of the priceless perks of his job, he describes a day spent with Max Roach.

Keywords: Blues/Jazz Festival (University of Michigan); Chick Corea; Max Roach; Sarah Vaughan; Yusef Lateef

Subjects: Jazz.; Lateef, Yusef; Return to Forever (Musical group); Roach, Max, 1924-2007; University of Kentucky.

01:38:27 - Work at the University of Kentucky--KRS-One, Kwame Touré, and controversies

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Partial Transcript: Now how was the administration, also, responding? Because now, you know, the years had gone on, and, and Chester Grundy is on campus, and pretty well-known around the country for the things that you're doing.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses the controversy that arose after University of Kentucky vans were used on a trip that he planned to the Million Man March. He tells of how he solved a conflict in scheduling KRS-One and Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Touré), and how he responded to complaints by a Zionist student group against Carmichael's talk.

Keywords: Black power; Lawrence Parker ("Krsna"); Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Touré)

Subjects: Carmichael, Stokely, 1941-1998; KRS-One (Musician); Million Man March (1995 : Washington, D.C.); University of Kentucky.

01:43:53 - Work at the University of Kentucky--Layoff and return

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Partial Transcript: So now, we're, we're, we're moving on up, and you've been at UK more than thirty years.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy tells of his being laid off in 2012 from his position in the Office of Minority Student Affairs at the University of Kentucky. He describes the spontaneous public support that he received, which led to an offer of a position as an advisor in matters of diversity to the Dean of the College of Medicine.

Keywords: College of Medicine; Diversity; Layoffs; Martin Luther King Center (King Cultural Center)

Subjects: Careers.; University of Kentucky.; Work.

01:49:14 - His family / continuing problems in race relations

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, Chester Grundy, uh, we've taken a lot of your time, but I want to, uh, end by talking about the forward motion.

Segment Synopsis: Grundy discusses his children and expresses his hope that this and future generations of black youths receive an education that teaches them their true identity and potential. He also discusses his unease about the safety of his two sons amid continuing racism.

Keywords: Black young people; Khalil Gibran; Marcus Garvey

Subjects: Children.; Education.; Family life.; Race relations.; Racism.; Teaching.