Interview with William H. Wilson, April 10, 2019

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

 

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00:00:02 - Educational and working career

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Partial Transcript: My name is Le Datta Denise Grimes, and I'm here today with William Hunter Wilson.

Segment Synopsis: Watson quickly details his education career and his working career.

Keywords: 1945; 1974; African American students; Associate principals; Black students; Deputy Executive Director; Desegregation; Douglass School (Lexington, Kentucky); Dunbar High School; Educational psychology; Federal grants; Graduate schools; Henry Clay High School; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Integration; Kentucky Educational Television Network (KET); Kentucky State University; Kentucky history; Lafayette High School; Lexington (Ky.); Lexington Junior High School; New York Times; Political Science degree; Public Broadcasting System (PBS); Publishing company; Recruitment; Teaching

Subjects: African American business enterprises; African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American leadership; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Employment.; Segregation in education--Kentucky

00:03:19 - Family instilled a love of learning

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so we're gonna, um, go back just a little bit 'cause you got all of that in really quickly.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about his mother and father and grandmother who lived with them. His family moved into the first African American subdivision in Lexington. He explains that his grandmother was his first teacher and that his entire family instilled a love of learning in him.

Keywords: African American subdivisions; Attitude toward learning; Childhood; Clarinet; Clays Mill Elementary; Common sense; Custodians; Educational environment; Electricians; Elizabeth White; Families; Florists; Grandmothers; Hampton University; Harrisburg (Ky.); Haskins Drive; Hazel Benetta White; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Illness; Instructors; Kentucky State University; Lexington (Ky.); Librarians; Madison County (Ky.); Math; Mothers; Music; Newtown Pike; Northside; Only children; Ovan Haskins; Piano; Pre-school instruction; Reader's Digest Book Club; Reading; Relatives; Retirement; Sesame Street; St. Martin's Village; Teachers; Twins; William Henry Wilson; Wooden blocks

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Genealogy.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Marriage.; Education--Study and teaching

00:08:35 - Family legacy of attending HBCUs

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Partial Transcript: Wow, so you said that most of your family was educated. How was that possible?

Segment Synopsis: Watson's grandmother was born into slavery, and she vowed that her children were going to get educations. All of Watson's aunts and uncles attended some sort of college. They attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), particularly Kentucky State University and Knoxville College.

Keywords: African American students; African Americans; Black students; Children; Colleges; Columbia University; Education; Enslaved people; Family history; Grandmothers; Higher education; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Kentucky State University; Knoxville College; Legacy; Navy; Nurses; Slavery; Slaves; U.S. Military

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African American families; African American teachers.; African American universities and colleges.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Genealogy.; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Education--Study and teaching; Family histories.; Family--history; Segregation in education.; Segregation in higher education.; Slavery--United States.

00:10:57 - Growing up in the segregated Haskins neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So, talk about the environment you grew up in. What was the neighborhood like?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes the segregated neighborhood he grew up in. He remembers the fundraisers they would have, the first television in the neighborhood, and the segregated schools, which his parents drove school buses for to supplement their income.

Keywords: African American communities; BBQ; Barbecue pits; Bridge; Cherry trees; Churches; Douglass Elementary School; Douglass High School; Neighborhoods; Orphans; Pie sales; Power glide cars; School buses; Street lights; Students; Technology; Television sets; Televisions; Turn signals; Uncles

Subjects: African American churches; African American churches--Kentucky; African American families; African American neighborhoods; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; Busing for school integration; Childhood; Segregation in education--Kentucky

00:13:55 - Attending Douglass Elementary School and parental involvement

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Partial Transcript: Talk about elementary school.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes his elementary school experience at a segregated school. He remembers some of his teachers and that their husbands were physicians. He goes on a tangent about how his middle name is in honor of the doctor that delivered him. Dr. Hunter would give a dollar to children who were named after him. He remembers how his parents often saw his teachers at bridge games and at church, so they always knew how he was doing in school.

Keywords: A.D. Dalton; Buford; Carter; Churches; Doctors; Douglass Elementary School; Dr. Bush Hunter; Educational; Health maintenance organizations; High expectations; Hunter Foundation; K.D.B. Jackson; Lexington (Ky.); Nurture; Parental involvement; Parents; Physicians; Playing bridge; Protection; Segregated schools; Teachers; Trust; United adults

Subjects: African American churches; African American neighborhoods; African American physicians; African American physicians--Kentucky--Lexington; African American teachers.; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Segregation; Segregation in education--Kentucky

00:17:51 - Racism at Lexington Junior High School and Joyland Amusement Park

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Partial Transcript: What was your experience like at--what was it--Lexington Junior?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson attended Lexington Junior High School. He was one of the only black students. He was placed in advanced courses and had very caring teachers. He experienced racism while there, including racist name calling and racial incidents. He was targeted in his wood shop class where they cut him and made him bleed, but the teacher wanted him to understand his assaulters' perspective. When they graduated from the 9th grade, they went to Joyland amusement park. It was segregated and had "Negro Day" when African Americans could come. The park resisted allowing access to Wilson and another black student, but one of their teachers stood up and it was all of the students or none of them. Wilson's white friends paid and made sure he was able to ride the rides.

Keywords: "Negro Day"; Advanced courses; Algebra; Amusement park; Band; Bathrooms; Black astronauts; Blood; Caring teachers; Cassie Wright; Caucasian kids; Challenges; Classmates; Cutting; Encouragement; English; Field trips; Fourteen; Friends; Good friends; Homeroom; Integrated schools; Intervention; Intimidation; Joyland Park; Knives; Lexington Junior High School; Minority; Parents; Racial incidents; Racial names; Racial slurs; Racism; Rides; Segregation; Solidarity; Target practice; Teachers; Thirteen; Understand their situation; White students; Wood shop class

Subjects: African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Social conditions.; Integration; Race relations--Kentucky--Lexington; Racism--Kentucky--Lexington; School integration--Kentucky--Fayette County; Segregation; Segregation--Kentucky--Fayette County; Teachers--Kentucky

GPS: Coordinates of where Joyland Park used to be located.
Map Coordinates: 38.080745,-84.449397
00:24:41 - Going back and thriving at Dunbar High School and making the decision to attend Kentucky State University

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Partial Transcript: So what's it like for them to come and say, "You can't come into this park." And it's specifically you; you're the only black person on the bus.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes what it felt like to experience racism. He also says that he wasn't trying to make a statement or form a protest; he was a kid that wanted to have fun. He talks about what it meant to him for his white friends to stand up for him. He talks about choosing between Henry Clay High School (the white school) or Dunbar High School, and the opportunity to be the first African American student at Transylvania College (now Transylvania University). Wilson wanted out of Lexington, so he went to Kentucky State University.

Keywords: Academics; Activism; Caucasian students; Comfort; Debate teams; Discrimination; Douglass Elementary; Dunbar High School; Exclusion; Friends; Fun; Growing up; Henry Clay High School; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Inclusion; Integration; Intramural; Kentucky; Kentucky State University; National Honor Society; Non-welcoming environment; Normalized; Nurturing; Principals; Protests; Racism; Segregation; Social environment; Sports; Strains of racism; Summer; Transylvania University; White friends; White students

Subjects: African American college students.; African American universities and colleges.; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; College choice; College environment; College integration; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Segregation--Kentucky--Fayette County; Universities and colleges.

00:30:13 - Choosing an HBCU and the appeals of other universities

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Partial Transcript: So what year did you graduate high school?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about the HBCUs that he applied to. He notes that Transylvania did not offer him any scholarships, and UK did not pursue him as a student. He notes he wasn't encouraged to attend UK, potentially because Dr. James W. Hammons would share his frustrations and experiences of racism on UK's campus with Wilson's father.

Keywords: 1963; Board of Regents scholarship; Campus; Clark Atlanta University; Dr. John T. Smith; English instructors; Families; Fathers; Fraternity scholarships; Frazee Hall; Gifted students; Graduation; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Honors courses; Infirmary; James W. Hammons; KSU; Kentucky State University; Latin; Legacy; Lexington (Ky.); Morehouse College; Nurturing; Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; Professors; Racism; Scholarships; Teachers; Transylvania University; UK; University of Kentucky; Vice President of Diversity and Minority Affairs

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African American medical students; African American universities and colleges.; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; College choice; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.; University of Kentucky

00:34:40 - Wilson's father's job on campus / John Wesley Hatch, UK's first African American student

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Partial Transcript: So let's talk about your dad. You said your dad worked here.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about his father's job on campus, and how he worked hard and kept his head down to succeed. Wilson also notes that John Wesley Hatch was UK's first African American student, but Hatch wasn't allowed to step on campus and took classes at KSU for his UK degree. Lyman T. Johnson was the first African American to take classes on campus.

Keywords: 1949; African American students; Black students; Campus; Desegregation; Fathers; Florists; Graduate; Greenhouses; Integration; John Wesley Hatch; KSU; Kentucky State University; Lawyers; Lyman T. Johnson; Michigan State University; President Otis A. Singletary; Segregation; Stories; University of Kentucky; Working

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Civil rights--Kentucky; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Segregation; Discrimination in education.; Integration; Segregation in higher education.

00:38:00 - Wilson's father and the support of an African American community

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Partial Transcript: Any other memories that you remember hearing from your father, or stories you remember hearing from him?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about how his father would support African American students at UK. He describes a culture of nurturing and care that the African American community extended to each other to help each other succeed. This community was important because the culture in Lexington and on campus was not welcoming and supportive of black students, professors, or other workers.

Keywords: Administrations; African American community; African American staff; Black community; Black staff; Build; Churches; Closet; Color barrier; Counselors; Desegregation; Doris Y. Wilkinson; Dr. Hammons; Dropping out; Encouragement; Fathers; Graves, Cox & Company; Infirmary; James W. Hammons; John T. Smith; Lexington (Ky.); Maintenance; Mentoring; Mentors; Mr. Brady; Neighbors; Nurturing; Offline counseling; POC; People of color; Praying; Professors; Promotions; Racism; Reparative history; Salesman; Segregation; Staff; Stock department; Stories; Support; Treatment; UK; University of Kentucky; Vice President of Minority Affairs

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Lexington (Ky.)--Race relations.; Racism--Kentucky--Lexington; Universities and colleges.

00:43:14 - Father's retirement / Other African American staff at UK

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Partial Transcript: So talk about your father's retirement. He retired from the University of Kentucky, correct?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about the recognition of his father's retirement and his service to the school. He also notes a few other black staff that worked on campus.

Keywords: Black workers; Cakes; Careers; Common sense; Custodians; Early; Extra effort; Fathers; Food; Health; Janitors; Joking; Mr. Brady; Mr. Suitor; Neighbors; Punctuality; Recognition; Retirement; Sick days; UK; University of Kentucky; Working hard

Subjects: African American neighborhoods; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; College environment; Universities and colleges.

00:46:02 - Decision to attend the University of Kentucky for graduate school / Getting around the need for experience

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Partial Transcript: So talk about your decision to attend the University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson recounts getting accepted into graduate programs at the University of Kentucky and the type of work he was given the opportunity to do.

Keywords: 1967; Acceptance; College graduation; Consultants; Counselors; Discouraging; Doctorates; Dr. Chaney; Dr. Lott; Dr. Swift; Education degrees; Educational psychology; Encouraging; Experience; Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); Graduate students; Guidance and counseling; History degrees; IQ test; KSU; Kentucky State University; Lexington (Ky.); Master's degrees; Money; New Jersey; Palo Alto (Calif.); Papers; PhDs; Play the game; Professors; Psychology department; Race riots; Recruitment; Research team; Student teaching; Summers; Teachers; Thesis; Tuition; University of Chicago; Welcoming spirit

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; College choice; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.

00:54:34 - Experiences on campus while in graduate school at UK / Meeting his wife, Margie Kennedy Wilson

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Partial Transcript: So, in your program, were there any other black students at all?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes taking classes, working, and the lack of other African American students. He then describes meeting his wife for the first time, and her job and major on campus.

Keywords: African American court advisors; African American fraternity; African American students; Agriculture library; Alpha Phi Alpha; Black students; Campus; Curfews; Dancing; Dating; English majors; Extra work; Graduate courses; Homecoming; Homecoming Queen; Ingratiate; Library; Margie Kennedy Wilson; Meeting; Minorities; Parents; Prerequisites; Resident assistants; Student activities; Towers; Undergraduate courses; Working

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Marriage.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.

00:58:59 - Encouraging professors and gaining new experiences

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Partial Transcript: So talk about your experience in the classroom, uh, during graduate school.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson notes how he was just a number in the large undergraduate courses, but that once he got to his area of concentration, he was given a variety of experiences and encouragement to succeed. He notes there were no black professors at all on campus.

Keywords: 10320; Acting against; African American students; Area of concentration; Background; Black professors; Black students; Black teachers; Child Guidance Clinic; Classrooms; Critiques; Diversity; Experience; Expression; Films; Graduate schools; Grammar; Lectures; Marriage counselors; Mentoring; Minorities; Minority materials; New Jersey; Palo Alto (Calif.); Practicum; Professors; Prohibit; Race riots; Recruitment; Studying; Success; Thesis; Traveling; Trust; University of Kentucky; Wanted; Writing

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African American teachers.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges--Faculty.; Universities and colleges.

01:06:00 - Racism and social life at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So do you feel like you ever experienced racism during your time at UK?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes how he was often excluded from study groups and parties by white students. He also talks about how he was peripheral to the social scene on campus because he commuted and was so focused on his schoolwork. Even with black student groups, he wasn't highly involved. This is also the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests on campus.

Keywords: Activism; Avoidance; Basketball game boycott; Black Student Union (BSU); Black Voices; Churches; Civil Rights Movement; Commuting; Demonstrations; Dorm life; Douglass School; Exclusion; First African Baptist Church; First Baptist Church; Fraternity; Friends; Historical; Kent State Shooting; Lexington (Ky.); Library; Maturity; Morehead State University; Off campus; Organizations; Parties; Peripheral; Professors; Protests; Racism; Social life; Social outlets; Students; Study groups; Subtle; The Grill; UK basketball; University of Kentucky; Vietnam War; Wildcat basketball; Working

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Civil rights movements--United States; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Discrimination.; Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970.; Race relations--Kentucky--Lexington; Universities and colleges.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

01:12:07 - Lexington churches helped give community to African American students

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything at this point that I have not asked you about your experience at, uh, UK?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson talks about how his church and others would reach out to students to help ground and include them in the community.

Keywords: Activities; African American students; Black students; Churches; Community; Connection; Events; Recruit for the community; UK; University of Kentucky

Subjects: African American churches--Kentucky; African American college students.; African Americans--Kentucky--Lexington--Social conditions; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Religion.; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.

01:13:54 - Inclusion of international students at the exclusion of local African American students / Educating a Jewish professor about passing and white privilege

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Partial Transcript: The other thing you didn't mention that I had a real good experience about.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson was on a cross-cultural committee that was tasked with helping international students to connect with the university and surrounding community. Because of language barriers, these students had lower GRE scores, but other considerations were made like GPA, letters of recommendation, etc. Wilson raised the concern that they would do this for international students, but failed to use the same considerations with local African American students. He helped to change this policy. He also talks about attempting to educate a Jewish professor, Dr. Smith, that while Smith may be Jewish, he could pass as white and thus had white privilege. This is in contrast to black students, faculty, and staff who can never pass.

Keywords: Advocates; Affirmative Action; African American students; African Americans; African Americans--Civil rights; Black Student Union (BSU); Black students; Cross-cultural committee; Faculty support; Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); Institutional racism; International students; Jewish; Language proficiency; Legacy positions; Minority students; POC; Passing; People of color; Person of color; Policy changes; Professors; Racism; Racist practices; Rejections; Resistance; Tenure; Urban League; White privilege

Subjects: Affirmative action programs.; African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Civil rights; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education--Kentucky--Lexington; African Americans--Race identity.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.

01:21:48 - Fostering diversity and accountability at Kentucky's colleges and universities

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Partial Transcript: Now, one other thing, you would not have known this, but I served on the Council on Post-Secondary Education's Equal Opportunity Subcommittee.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes his time on the Council on Post-secondary Education's Equal Opportunity Subcommittee. This council held colleges and universities around the state of Kentucky accountable for increasing their hiring of minorities and acceptance of students of color and keeping those people. Initially, they struggled to get colleges to commit, but after a state law changed and their funding was on the line, the colleges and universities began to listen and be proactive. Because University of Kentucky was the flagship institution, extra pressure was put on them to set an example.

Keywords: 1970s; 1980s; Attract; Bill; Council on Post-Secondary Education Equal Opportunity; Deans; Desegregation; Faculty; Flagship university; Funding; Law; Leadership; Minority hiring; Money; New programs; Objectives; People of color; Performance; Probation; Qualified minorities; Reinforcements; Restrictions; Retention rates; Senator Gerald Neal; Students; UK; University of Kentucky; University of Louisville; University presidents; UofL; WKU; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: African American college graduates--Kentucky; African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; African American leadership; African Americans--Employment--Law and legislation; African Americans--Social conditions.; College environment; College integration; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Social conditions; Discrimination in education.; Discrimination in employment.; Universities and colleges.