Submitted by Nicolaus Stengl
For my first week as an intern at Centre College’s library, I received a tour of the archives. Though I worked at the library my whole first year, I had yet to go into the archives until this week. After I was shown where everything was by the archivist, Beth Morgan, I searched the area and found things I never knew about Centre College, such as the fact that there was a Dental School here from 1900-1908. I was also shown the oral histories. When I found out that the Danville City Schools integration oral history had yet to be transcribed, I decided to make that a project for this summer.
There are eight cassette tapes in all. All of them are interviews done by EKU in 1980 (35 years ago) on individuals associated with Danville City Schools. Each cassette is an interview of one individual telling their experience of the integration and their own trials and tribulations.
I picked a random one from the box and I had to find a cassette player which was a difficulty in and of itself. The only cassette player on campus was a boom box. Once I had the cassette player, I set it up and Jami Powell showed me how to use a it. I set out a notebook, pen, and headphones, sat down and started the tape. It buzzed for a minute as the tape rolled and then it began.
The beginning sounded like a court tape: “This is the Helen Fischer Frye Interview. A retired librarian. September 25, 1980.” The interviewer begins by asking Ms. Frye about herself and family. As I listened and jotted down her words, I felt like I transcended time and went to the place of the interview. You become Helen Fischer Frye as she tells the story of her nine brothers and sisters and her parents, who had a fifth and sixth grade education.
Ms. Frye is an African American woman who grew up in the Boyle County area and who was the first African American woman to be enrolled at Centre College. Ms. Frye never finished at Centre College but rather moved on to Kentucky State College and then to Indiana University for her M.S. in Secondary Education and then to the University of Kentucky to get her Masters of Library Science. She did continued on to Ohio State University to do graduate work there as well. She was also a sixth grade school teacher in Casey County in1942 and moved to Boyle County, the following year. She remained at Boyle County until she retired in May of 1980. At this time, the schools were segregated and so she taught at the African American school, which was Bate School at that time. During her time there, she was outspoken in the Civil Rights Movement and helped with the lunch counter sit-in that happened here in Danville, Kentucky. She said that “ I was teaching at Bates School then and I was called in and chastised for doing that, but [she] told them that it was part of my citizenship rights and my obligation as a Christian and I was not going to stop and then there was quite a bit of flak about my participation in the Civil Rights.”
Ms. Frye discusses her twin brother who became an undertaker and how there was not an embalming school for African Americans so he had to go to the Kentucky School in Louisville.Though Day Law was in effect, the teachers illegally had the African Americans sit with the white students and the teachers would say:
“now you come right in this classroom with everybody else, but if ever anybody comes in here and we are knowledgeable that it might be a person who would check to see if they \were adherent to the law all you do is say is you came in this room and that you were going right back to your room.”
I found this particularly fascinating for the time, because the teachers didn’t care for the segregation law and so put their job on the line to teach the students, whether they were black or white.