Wade, Helen Cary Caise(born: 1939)
In the summer of 1955, it was big news in Lexington, KY, when 16-year old Helen Caise registered for summer classes at Lafayette High School. The Lexington and Fayette County school systems were segregated in 1955, and Caise, a sophomore at Douglass High School, became the first African American student to attend a white high school.
Lafayette High had the only summer program in the county school system. Students attended classes for three hours per day for seven weeks. After completing the program, Caise returned to Douglass High as a junior.
It had been a tough summer. The decision to integrate the summer program was made by county superintendent Dr. N. C. Turpen and backed by the Board of Education. Helen, the daughter of John J. and Edna Morton Caise, had been encouraged to attend the summer program by Douglass principal Mrs. Theda Van Lowe and homeroom teacher Mrs. Mary Roach.
Caise was the only African American student enrolled in the summer program; only one of her fellow students, Barbara Levy, befriended her. Because Helen had broken the color line by attending a white high school, her family received threats at their home, 545 Lindberg Drive. The address had been included in the Herald newspaper article published on the first day of summer classes, announcing that Helen Caise would be the first Negro to attend a white high school in Fayette County.
Nine male family members made sure Helen arrived at school and returned home safely, but her family was ruined financially because of retaliation.
Helen Caise graduated from high school and college and is now a retired teacher living in Ohio.
For more see "Douglass student to study at Lafayette," Lexington Herald, 6/07/1955, p. 1; Kentucky under heading "Shows schools obeying courts" on page 23 of Jet, 6/23/1955 [available full-text at Google Books]; M. Davis, "Girl's act of friendship not forgotten by recipient," Lexington Herald Leader, 3/15/1992, Lifestyle section, p. J1; H. C. Wade, "Students shouldn't have to fight for respect, rights," Lexington Herald Leader, 5/22/2006, Feedback section, p. A10; and hear Interview with Helen Caise Wade, July 13, 2009 at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections Research, University of Kentucky Libraries.