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FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN GRADUATE'S
FAMILY LEGACY CONTINUES
AT UK COMMENCEMENT

By Selena Stevens

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"This is a great achievement for an African-American family that couldn't even go to school here 50 years ago.  It is a milestone for our family and all African-American Families."

-- Ollen Hinnant,
one of UK's first African-American students

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May 5, 2000 – (Lexington, Ky.) – On May 7, Annbruce Hinnant King and her brother Ollen Hinnant will sit in the audience at the University of Kentucky commencement ceremony and witness something awesome – a second- and third-generation member of their family receiving degrees from UK.

King earned her bachelor’s degree in education from UK in 1961. Hinnant was one of the first African-American students to enter UK after its 1949 desegregation and the first to graduate from the College of Law. On Sunday, King’s daughter Karen Napier will receive her master’s degree in early childhood education, and her granddaughter Barri Benita Crump will receive her master’s degree in school psychology.

“This is a great achievement for an African-American family that couldn’t even go to school here 50 years ago,” said Hinnant, who is married to Retia Walker, UK’s first African-American female college dean. “It is a milestone for our family and all African-American families.”

During research for the recently published “50 Years of the UK African-American Legacy” booklet, Hinnant learned that four generations of his family had actually taken classes through UK. University records show his mother attended Extension classes in the 1930s but never completed a degree.

“It is an amazing thing,” said Vice Chancellor of Minority Affairs Lauretta Byars, who verified the records found by Earl Pfanstiel, director of UK Extension. “It shows us that even with legalized segregation, UK was responding to provide African Americans an opportunity for higher education in Kentucky.”

The Day Law in Kentucky prevented African-Americans from attended classes with white students, sending them instead to Kentucky State University. A 1949 lawsuit by Lyman T. Johnson overturned the law as an unjust application of the “separate but equal” rule and forced UK to admit African-American students. Hinnant, then at Kentucky State, came to UK, where he graduated in 1952 and 1955 with bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in law. His UK education changed his life, he said.

“There are many things I have been able to do because I got a good education at Kentucky,” he said. “I am really proud of being a graduate of UK and its outstanding law school.”

Hinnant and King said that despite laws that prevented them from attending UK, the thought of not going to college never crossed their minds. In their parents’ eyes, Hinnant said, it was not even an option. Their father had attended North Carolina      A&T University on a football scholarship, and their mother had earned a teaching degree in Ohio.

His mother had left home just after graduating from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School with enough money to get to Xenia, Ohio. At Wilberforce University, she worked her way through school cooking and cleaning, joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority and still graduated in four years.

“It took a lot of guts for her to do that,” Hinnant said of his mother leaving home for an education. “My parents assumed their children would go to college. They would always say, ‘When you graduate from college… .’”

King, who began her degree work in Ohio then returned home, said the opportunity to go to UK allowed her to complete many important facets of her life.

“Being able to go to UK was convenient, because I was working and raising a family,” she said. “It gave me and many other people a good opportunity to attend school and not go out-of-state as others had to in the past.”

Hinnant said he is happy to see his niece and grandniece graduate, as well as other African-American members of the class of 2000.

“It shows that blacks have really taken advantage of their right to attend UK and the state’s other universities and colleges,” he said.

“This is all a testament to the commitment of UK to educate minorities and to the students and families who take advantage of the opportunity,” Byars said.


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