70 Years of Integration

One man. One courageous step. Seventy years of a journey that is still unfolding and evolving.

It is the story of an institution, intentionally striving to be a community of belonging, even while acknowledging that its evolution has not been a straight line of progress. It has been one of paths forged, triumphs and trials, opportunity and obstacle.

The journey began with one man, who took one step.

In 1949, five years before the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” was anything but, Lyman T. Johnson became the first African-American man to enroll at the University of Kentucky. Johnson wrote later in his memoirs that while he didn’t face a lot of opposition on campus to his presence at UK, he heard from those outside the university that “all the court had done was require that the university admit me … once on the campus, (one) lawyer said, the university should provide segregated facilities for me …” It was, by all accounts, a wrenching path. But 30 years later, Johnson was one of four men awarded an honorary doctorate from UK. “It’s remarkable,” he wrote, “that so much has changed in the space of 30 years — from the time I forced my way into the university on a court order to the day the university gave me an honorary degree.” Today, awards, ceremonies, programs and a residence hall proudly bear his name on the UK campus. And now, that seven-decade journey — from court-ordered integration to a university that strives to be a community of belonging for everyone — is the subject of a yearlong examination.

Commemorating 70 years of integration will feature a series of events, academic courses and special presentations throughout the 2019-2020 academic year.The commemoration and examination are sponsored by UK’s Office for Institutional Diversity, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this academic year. Colleges and units from across the campus are involved in creating a year-long calendar of events and programs that will allow us to reflect on the legacy of Lyman T. Johnson and continue to carry out the conversations he started 70 years ago. "We will continue to look to those who came before us to ensure we honor their legacies and learn from their journeys,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “That is what it means to be part of this community. That is what it means to envision a better future for Kentucky."