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Desegregation at Centre College: Before 1950

Before 1950

Centre College, Olde Centre (Danville, KY:1897), Pg. 132-133, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and 

Archives, Centre College Danville, KY. 

The Minstrels, the College Minstrel Troupe, put on a show for the College Athletic Department. It was described as the “most enjoyable show of the year”. Some of the performances were titled: “All Coons Look Alike to Me” and “Black America” 

 

Centre College, The Eccentric, 1897, P. 60, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

Appears to be paying homage to a black man (image was a drawing rather than photo). Holman Jackson, or Jack, worked for Centre as a janitor for 22 years.

 

Centre College, The Eccentric, 1897, P. 132-133, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville KY.

A minstrel show was held on campus for the enjoyment of the Athletic Association of the College. Much of the writing is particularly congratulatory towards the actors involved, praising them for their “professionalism” and for “bringing down the house.” Provides both an actors’ list as well as the program for the entirety of the show. One of the “comic songs” is titled “All Coons Look Alike to Me.”

 

Centre Colllege, The Eccentric, 1897, P. 142, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

Page titled “SACRED.” “To the memory of the following white souls, who, since September, have joined the ranks of the didn’t-know-it-was-loaded Angels.”

 

Centre College, The Eccentric, 1898, P. 187, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

Made mention of the preparation put into the campus minstrel show. “The minstrel rehearsals took place every day for a month.” “The Show made a big hit; every act was a great act.”

 

Central University, Cream and Crimson, 1901, P. 129, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

This page contains a photo of the 1901 baseball team. Front and center is a black man, presumably named Fisher. The only mention of him is his name below the photo followed by the term "mascot."

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1903, P. 115, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

This page contains a photo of the 1903 baseball team. Front and all the way to the left is a black man, named Joe. This is possibly the same individual named "Fisher" in the 1901 yearbook, seeing as his name is also followed in this edition by the term "mascot."

 

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1903, P. 133, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY.

In an excerpt titled "A Student's Dream, " imagery of a "phrenologist coon pulling violently at the cord of a gong" is evoked before the entire setting of the dream is transferred to an ampitheater. Phrenology was a pseudoscience that was practiced to strengthen stereotypes regarding a lack of mental capacity among ethnic minorities compared to whites, while "coon" is a racial slur aimed at degrading African Americans, specifically. This excerpt also tries to fortify the stereotype that African Americans are violent.

 

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1904, P. 102, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

"The past history of Sigma Chi," a fraternity that is still on our campus (Zeta Zeta Chapter), "is full of examples of loyal devotion to the sacred cause; for instance, a few heroes of the Southern Army near the close of the Civil War, met in an old hut outside the camp, and organized the Constantine chapter, to be renewed when the war was over." Displays that the Sigma Chi fraternity, though not directly related to the chapter here, has some racist beginnings. What was this sacred cause they spoke of? Slavery, or discriminatory behavior?  

 

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1904, P. 106, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

The History of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, which in 1904 had a chapter at Centre College, is distinctly racist. It was conceived and matured at a college of which General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy was President. Its aim was to cultivate virtues and grace conceived to be distinctly southern. It restricted its activity to the Southern States, and its members readily perceived that in the South and in the South alone could it find the most congenial home.

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1904, P. 110, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY. 

Sigma Alpha Epsilon, another fraternity that currently has a chapter at Centre, was found to have racist beginnings at the University of Alabama in 1856. Of the 22 men who founded that chapter, 12 ended up as officers of the Confederate Army and the other 10 were killed in battle. Of the 15 chapters that were active prior to the Civil War, only 1 would still be functioning afterwards due to the sheer loss of life of members that enlisted in the Confederacy.

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1904, P. 114, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

Prior to the Iota chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon being reinitiated at Centre College, it had been located at the Kentucky Military Institute, where out of 44 of its living members, 43 answered the call of the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War, whereas only 1 enlisted in the Union.

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1904, P. 142, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

This page contains a photo of the 1904 baseball team. Found in the front and all the way to the right is "Fisher," the same black man that was featured twice in previous baseball yearbook photos as the "mascot." This time however, his face and body is covered with a catcher's mask and gear, as if to hide the fact that he is black.

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1905, P. 17, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

Noted that the "communistic tendencies of knowledge" include "congregating like coons round a melon patch." If this statement is taken literally, it does not appear troublesome, however, communism and black political thought, specifically that of the Black Panthers, were increasingly misconstrued to be one in the same during the civil rights movement and afterward. African Americans liking watermelon more than other racial groups is also a common stereotype, as well as the use of the slur "coon." It may be merely coincidental that these lines of thought came together in 1905, but it very well may be that it purveys similar sentiments held against African Americans and the Black Panthers.

 

Centre College of Central University, Cardinal and Blue, 1905, P. 150, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College, Danville, KY.

This page consists of an itinerary for a minstrel show that was held on campus on December 13, 1904.

 

Minstrel Show Program, 1934, Case 12 Newspaper Clippings, Drawer 2, Clubs and Organization Folder, 

Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY. 

This folder contains a program from a Minstrel Show that was held at Danville High School and hosted by the Danville Kiwanis Club. Although the event took place almost thirty-years prior to integration and about sixty years prior to the mock hanging incident in the 80s, it shows that the act of minstrelsy as a form of entertainment was a common practice in Danville and among the student body in the 30s. 

 

"Centre College Can Not Take in Nigerian Natives,” 1948, Case 12 Newspaper Clippings Drawer 2, Foreign

Students Folder, Thomas A. Spragens Rare Book Room and Archives, Centre College Danville, KY. 

A short article that speaks about Centre’s inability to take in black Africans because of the Day Act that forbade integrated education, public and private. This article was published two years before Abakada sent his letter (cited in this bibliography) to President Groves and could have been written in response to certain administrators interest in bringing black students to Centre)

Primary Source Materials Access

To use materials in the Special Collections and Archives, contact Beth Morgan at beth.morgan@centre.edu for a research appointment. 24-hour notice is required.