Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Levi Peterson, Jr., January 4, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Growing up

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Partial Transcript: Okay, today is Thursday January 4th, 2018, we're in Hopkinsville KY

Segment Synopsis: Peterson was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was raised in a spiritual family. When he was five, his biological mother died . He began to get very angry when his father remarried to a strict step mother when he was six. He repeated the third grade and dropped out of high school after his sophomore year. He had an epiphany when some men digging a ditch who told him this is what his life would be without an education. His dad exhorted him to work so he applied to the air force.

Keywords: Acting out; African American families; African Americans in higher education; Black families; Black people in higher education; Dropping out of high school; Emotional trauma; Jobs; Occupations; Quitting school; Rebellion; Step mothers; Step parents; United States Air Force bases; Working

Subjects: African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; Bakeries.; Death.; Dishwashing; Education.; Families.; High schools.; Lackland Air Force Base (Tex.); Learning and scholarship.; Marriage.; Schools.; Stepmothers.; United States. Air Force.

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00:07:12 - Response to racism and segregation

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Partial Transcript: Before we progress into your military career--right--I want to back up just a little bit--

Segment Synopsis: Peterson discusses how the racism he experienced and witnessed was excessively brutal, from open bigotry and social prejudices to lynching and other forms of violence. Peterson talks about the dehumanizing effect of segregation, which caused a build-up of his own anger and hatred. As a child Peterson attended a Catholic school with White instructors. He talks about how it felt more dehumanizing to give up his seat to a White man than a White woman, and how social pressures changed the ways he was allowed to safely react to these situations.

Keywords: Anger; Catholicism; Holy Family Elementary School; Holy Family High School; Nuns; Rage

Subjects: Black people--Segregation; Catholic Church.; Catholic schools.; Christianity.; Christians.; Discrimination.; Minorities.; Priests.; Race discrimination.; Racism against Black people; Racism.; Religion.; Segregation.

00:16:03 - Parents' jobs

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Partial Transcript: Um, so your father--

Segment Synopsis: Peterson's father worked in the steel mill in Birmingham, which was considered the Pittsburgh of the south. He became a foreman and head of the union. He was the first African American man to lead the union and he had labor and management working together instead of against each other. He finished high school through American School in Chicago via correspondence courses. His stepmother, Rosa Hendricks, worked in the home as a beautician. Peterson also talks about his biological mother Lela Bell.

Keywords: African American beauticians; African American families; African American workers; American School; American School (Chicago, Ill.); Beauticians; Black beauticians; Black families; Correspondence courses; Distance learning; Labor; Labor Unions; Lela Bell; Rosa Hendricks; Sloss Furnaces; Steel mills

Subjects: African American beauty operators; African American women employees; African Americans--Education.; American School (Lansing, Ill.); American School of Correspondence; Beauty shops; Birmingham (Ala.); Chicago (Ill.); Correspondence schools and courses; Distance education.; Family history.; High schools.; Jobs.; Labor unions.; Occupations.; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Sloss Furnaces Foundation; Steel-works.; Work.

00:21:29 - Getting his GED and graduating college

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Partial Transcript: Um, so, maybe you could, um, jump back into your military career and tell us how you got to Charleston?

Segment Synopsis: Peterson was discharged from the Air Force in June 11, 1955. It took him three times to pass the GED. Peterson then applied to Allen University, took summer school, and graduated a year early. He used GI bill benefits to help afford college. Peterson talks about working as a dishwasher at an officers' club. He then talks about how he met his wife and how they got married. Peterson discusses segregation and how it affected every aspect of life. The school he taught at in South Carolina for a year was not integrated, and had all Black students with all Black teachers.

Keywords: African American students; African American teachers; African American veterans; African Americans in higher education; Allen University (Columbia, SC); Black people in higher education; Black teachers; Black veterans; GI Bill; Graduations; Officers' Clubs; Veterans Administration

Subjects: African American students.; African American universities and colleges; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; Allen University.; Birmingham (Ala.); Black people--Education.; Black people--Segregation; Columbia (S.C.); Discrimination in education.; Discrimination.; GED tests; Marriage.; Minorities.; Race discrimination.; Racism against Black people.; Racism.; Segregation in education.; Segregation.; Students, Black; Students, Black.; Teachers.; United States. Air Force.; United States. Department of Veterans Affairs.; United States. Montgomery G.I. Bill; Universities and colleges.; Wives.

00:29:16 - Margaret Peterson's career

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Partial Transcript: If, if at any point we need to go back and revisit anything--yes--in Birmingham or South Carolina we can, but I'd like to talk about Hopkinsville now.

Segment Synopsis: Peterson briefly discusses his sister who married a teacher from Louisville. He then discusses how he moved to Hopkinsville. Peterson's wife Margaret then comes in to discuss her profession. Margaret taught in the public school system for thirty years. She started at Gainesville Elementary school for a year; then she was sent to Lacey Elementary school for seven years; after that she taught at Christian County Middle School for twenty-two years. Throughout her career Margaret taught reading, spelling, writing, math, English, and social studies. She discusses her teaching style, and how she treated her students. Margaret also mentions going to the University of Kentucky for a Special Education certification

Keywords: African American families; African American teachers; African American women teachers; Black families; Black teachers; Black women teachers; Christian County Middle School; English language and literature; Gainesville Elementary School; Lacey Elementary School; Margaret Peterson; Math; Reading; Social Studies; Spelling; Writing

Subjects: Christian County (Ky.); Education.; Elementary schools; Families, Black; Hopkinsville (Ky.); Kentucky--History.; Learning and scholarship.; Marriage.; Middle schools.; Occupations.; Schools.; Special education teachers.; Special education.; Students.; Teachers.; Teaching.; University of Kentucky.; Vocations.; Wives.; Work.

00:43:19 - Personal philosophy about making a difference

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Partial Transcript: So, um, your arrival, in, in Hopkinsville, um, we were starting to talk a little bit about, um, what Hopkinsville was like in 1968

Segment Synopsis: Peterson compares life to bootcamp, noting how both force people to deal with circumstances that challenge them and are out of their control. Peterson mentions how he felt too intimidated to go into the local country club, but had own ways to entertain himself. Peterson goes on to discuss the eulogy for his father. He remembers how one of his father's mentees said that his dad was a fallen giant. Peterson discusses how one of his former students established a scholarship in his name to honor him while he was still alive.

Keywords: African American families; Black families; Bootcamps; Dads; Eulogies; Fathers; Life philosophies; Making a difference; Making an impact; Problems

Subjects: African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; Black people--Relocation.; Black people--Segregation.; Challenges.; Country clubs.; Death.; Discrimination.; Educators.; Eulogies.; Inspiration.; Meaning (Philosophy); Memorialization.; Memorials.; Minorities.; Philosophy.; Race discrimination.; Racism against Black people.; Racism.; Scholarships.; Segregation.; Spirituality.; Students.

00:51:06 - Health consequences of racism

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Partial Transcript: Um, were you one of the first African Administrators in the school system?

Segment Synopsis: Peterson talks about how he was one of the first African American administrators in Hopkinsville and how he served as a role model. Some Whites saw him as an undesirable and would call him slurs, while some Black community members saw him as an “Uncle Tom.” The stress from this contributed to his stress, which led to developing hypertension and a heart attack. Peterson talks about how he had stopped taking his blood pressure medication, and how he was firmly told to take better care of his health. He had to rethink how he reacted to the stress of the racism around him.

Keywords: "Uncle Toms"; African American educators; African American men; Black educators; Black men; Blood pressure medication; Health management; Heart attacks; High blood pressure; Introspection; Racial slurs; Self examination; Stress management.

Subjects: African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; African Americans.; Black people--Relocation; Black people--Segregation; Black people.; Christian County (Ky.); Discrimination.; Health.; Hopkinsville (Ky.); Hypertension.; Kentucky--History.; Minorities.; Myocardial infarction.; Physical diagnosis.; Race discrimination.; Racism against Black people; Racism.; Segregation.; Stress (Psychology)

01:03:29 - Expectations of a Black educator / Catholicism

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Partial Transcript: Um, so from 1974-1994 did you see any progress in race relations as an educator

Segment Synopsis: Peterson discusses having to be consistent in how you carried yourself and how it related to his role as a Black educator. He mentions the intensity of the responsibility of his position and how he supported himself with religious faith. Jeremiah's prayer was a particular passage that helped him mentally. He is Catholic and discusses some of his philosophies. His parents were Methodists. He spent one day in a public school setting as a kid, but ended up in Catholic school. Peterson discusses the relationship his family had with the church, and how his dad accepted Catholicism. Peterson shows a photograph of his sister who went to a convent.

Keywords: African American families; African Americans and religion; Black Catholics; Black families; Catholicism; Cloisters (Religious communities); Holy Family Elementary School; Jeremiah's prayer; Spirituality

Subjects: African American Catholics.; Catholic Church.; Catholics.; Christianity.; Christians.; Church.; Convents.; Education.; Faith.; Methodists.; Monasteries; Prayers.; Race relations.; Racism.; Religion.; Religious; Schools.; Students.; Theology.

01:14:40 - Personal epiphany

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Partial Transcript: I had that experience, let me share this, how I changed--

Segment Synopsis: Peterson discusses being stationed in Tripoli, where he was invited to go party, which he refused. He stayed in his tent, and while looking out at the Mediterranean Sea he has a vision of a screen floating with a piece of his life on it. His family had sad facial expressions and he had an epiphany, which prompted him to take more responsibility for his life. When Peterson moved to Hopkinsville, he immediately started going to Saints Peter and Paul Church. They mention the Skylark Nightclub.

Keywords: African Americans and religion; Black Catholics; Catholicism; Religious thoughts; Religious visions; Responsibility; Saints Peter and Paul Church; Skylark Nightclub; Spirituality; Turning your life around; Visions

Subjects: African American Catholics.; African Americans.; Black people.; Catholic Church.; Catholics.; Christianity.; Christians.; Churches.; Epiphanies.; Faith.; Mediterranean Sea.; Military.; Prayers.; Religion.; Schools.; Theology.; Tripoli (Libya); US military forces.

01:22:23 - Segregation

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Partial Transcript: Um, in, in 2001 a former colleague of mine at the Kentucky New Era Lynn Gold interviewed you for a story about the census

Segment Synopsis: Peterson discusses how when a Black family or person buys into the neighborhood it opens the door for other Blacks and the White people leave. He briefly discusses issues of segregation in the housing market and how to decide where to live. Peterson discusses some black-owned businesses. He mentions an accident he had playing basketball in South Carolina and the consequences of segregation on his medical treatment.

Keywords: Accidents; African American businesses; African American neighborhoods; Black neighborhoods; Black-owned businesses; Broken bones; Health issues; Holiday Inn; Jenny Stuart; Kentucky New Era; Medical treatment; White flight; White neighborhoods

Subjects: African American business enterprises.; Basketball.; Black people--Relocation; Black people--Segregation; Christian County (Ky.); Discrimination.; Dwellings; Hobbies.; Holiday Inns, Inc.; Hopkinsville (Ky.); Hospitals.; Housing.; Kentucky--History.; Minorities.; Race discrimination.; Racism against Black people; Racism.; Ridgeland (S.C.); Segregation.; Sports.; Stress (Psychology); White people--Relocation

01:31:53 - Personal journals

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you want to tell me about, the, um, are these journals that you have on the table?

Segment Synopsis: Peterson discusses his journaling habit. Peterson transcribes what he considers positive bible verses. He started by writing quotations on index cards, and after filling 600 cards he changed to writing in notebooks. This is his routine at night. Peterson concludes with some final thoughts about life and how he thinks he should be living.

Keywords: Arguments; Bible quotations; Bible quotes; Bible verses; Dreams; Inheritances; Journals; Life advice; Managing anger; Marriage advice; Nightmares; Sleeping

Subjects: African American Catholics.; Bible.; Books.; Catholic Church.; Catholics.; Christian County (Ky.); Christianity.; Christians.; Death.; Diaries.; Faith.; Home.; Hopkinsville (Ky.); Inheritance and succession; Kentucky--History.; Marriage.; Penmanship.; Prayers.; Proverbs.; Quotations.; Reading.; Religion.; Sins.; Sleep.; Theology.