From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Gordon, James and Teresa (siblings)

On September 7, 1956, Mrs. Louise Gordon attempted to register her children for classes at Clay Consolidated School in Webster County, KY and was turned away by a crowd of 100 or more people. On September 10 Mrs. Gordon again attempted to register her children for school, and her car was surrounded and rocked by a crowd that included Mayor Herman Z. Clark.

On September 12 James and Louise Gordon's children James and Teresa began attending the previously all white elementary school in Clay. The children were escorted to school by the National Guard, and hundreds of guardsmen patrolled the school grounds during the day. On the second day of classes the Gordon children and one white child were the only students in the school: the others had walked out in protest. More than half the teachers did not report to work, and Minvil L. Clark resigned. Clark was a school teacher and pastor of the General Baptist Church.

In response to the attempt tot integrate the school, Kentucky Attorney General, Jo M. Ferguson ruled that the Gordon children should be denied admittance to the school because the Webster County Board of Education did not have an integration plan. Ferguson ruled that the same applied to Sturgis in Union County, where Negro students attempted to enter the previously all white high school on the first day of classes and were turned away by a mob.

To help keep the peace, Governor Happy Chandler had activated the Kentucky National Guard and the State Police. In Clay, KY, the Adjutant General of the National Guard, Major General J. J. B. Williams, was ignoring the news of the Attorney General's decision; until he heard from the governor of Kentucky, he planned to continue to take Mrs. Gordon and her children to and from school.

On September 18, 1956, based on the Kentucky Attorney General's ruling, the Union and Webster County school systems voted to officially bar Negro students from their schools. Governor Chandler withdrew the National Guard troops. Louisville NAACP Lawyer James A. Crumlin, Sr. filed suit against the Sturgis and Clay school systems in Federal District Court: Gordon, et. al. v. Collins, et. al. and Garnette, et. al. v. Oakley, et. al. The cases were represented by Crumlin and J. Earl Dearing. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional. In December 1956, the Sturgis and Clay school systems were directed by U.S. District Judge Henry L. Brooks to submit their desegregation plans by February 4, 1957. Both school systems complied and in September 1957, Negro students were admitted to the schools.

For more see "Kentucky bars two Negroes at Clay School," St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/1956, p. 1; "Some teachers join in boycott at Clay School,"Courier-Journal, 9/14/1956, p. 1; and Wolfford, D. L., "Resistance on the border: school desegregation in western Kentucky, 1954-1964," Ohio Valley History, vol. 4, issue 2, Summer 2004, pp. 41-62.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Webster County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Union County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Clay, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Sturgis, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Gordon, James and Teresa (siblings),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2024, https://ukscrc001.net/nkaa/items/show/2772.

Last modified: 2023-08-04 16:54:44