Administrator, faculty share experiences during Civil Rights movement

Alan Anderson, far right, a professor of social ethics and racial justice, speaks during a roundtable event about civil rights on Tuesday at Downing Student Union. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Leah Brown

When he was just in sixth grade,  Howard Bailey, vice president for Student Affairs, was put in handcuffs for the first time. 

The day before his arrest, Bailey and his friends were involved in a rock-throwing battle against white children by railroad tracks because they were of different races. The following day at school, Bailey and a few peers were called into the hallway where police waited for them, holding handcuffs. 

This is only one of the many first-hand accounts given by the WKU community at the Institute for Citizenship & Social Responsibility’s program, Personal Histories of the Civil Rights Movement. 

About 40 students gathered in Downing Student Union, Room 2123, Tuesday night for an informal panel discussion about civil rights.

The panel consisted of the moderator Saundra Ardrey, political science department head, Bailey and emeriti professors John Long and Alan Anderson. 

Although Anderson stated he was not entirely comfortable sharing his experience, he talked about growing up in Oklahoma during the Jim Crow era. Every spring, he and his family would drive to the part of town mostly populated by Africans Americans, which was at the bottom of a hill in a flood plain. When it flooded, his family packed up their few belongings and moved them up the hill. 

“I wasn’t too old at the time, but I somehow knew that there was something wrong,” he said. “And I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out what was wrong. That was my starting point.”

Throughout his life, Anderson assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in his fight for civil rights. In 1962, Anderson responded to King’s call for a protest in Albany, Georgia. He was one of 40 people who were arrested for kneeling in front of the courthouse demanding racial justice. 

Anderson’s first encounter with King was in jail. King visited the protesters and requested that they remain in jail for a few extra days to keep the issue of racial justice going. Anderson volunteered to stay in jail and fasted to protest the poor jail conditions.  

Long said that he did not have any bad experiences concerning race relations. 

He was naïve to racism and segregation growing up in Philadelphia. 

“I didn’t think there was anything I wasn’t supposed to do,” Long said. “It was more just living, being unaware that I wasn’t supposed to be doing these things and just going ahead and doing them.”

Bailey had a different experience dealing with segregation. Bailey enrolled at WKU in 1966 and recalled many times he felt segregated. The dorm room assignments were separated by race. Bailey said black people were also restricted from joining certain campus organizations. 

 He also felt singled out by his professors in multiple instances. Bailey recalled a time where he was late for a class and his professor said, “Class, I guess we can get started now that our black member of the class is here.” 

He eventually began confronting the university about segregation issues.

“I took on WKU to make some changes,” Bailey said. 

During the discussion, the panelists talked about social media’s negative affect on the millennial generation’s willingness to fight for issues. 

 As the panel was ending, students began asking questions. 

Owensboro junior Will Meloney asked the panel, “What is the best thing to do to break the mold of the media?” 

Bailey compared venting about issues on social media to a wolf howling at the moon. He encouraged students to come forward and say something to the administration if they have an issue.

“How long is it going to take for your generation to speak up?” Bailey said.