It took two years after a Civil Rights march on Frankfort in 1964 to end segregation in the Commonwealth’s businesses and job force, but King’s speech, a version of the “I Have a Dream” speech, inspired some Henry County residents for a lifetime.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and baseball legend Jackie Robinson joined with more than 10,000 people in front of the state capitol on March 5, 1964 with music by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary in an effort to end segregation in Kentucky restaurants, businesses, movie theaters and other public facilities.
Julius Mason of Eminence is one of a few still living today that remembers the march.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in schools, the workplace and public accommodations but wasn’t robustly enforced across the U.S. The rally in Frankfort helped propel Kentucky’s own Civil Rights Act, which passed in 1966 enforced by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
Churches organized groups from counties across the state in busses for the event. Members of the Louisville group Allied Organization for Civil Rights in Kentucky were credited for helping get King and Robinson to speak for the event.
“We had had problems of our own in Eminence with segregation and we took several car loads of people there from the First Baptist Church with Rev. W.H. Goatley,” Mason said. “It inspired us to go back to our own community and make things better.”
Mason said when King spoke one could hear a pin drop in the crowd. Organizations from different communities held up banners and excitement held the crowd’s attention.
“There were people from several nationalities there and not just people from Kentucky, but also Ohio and Indiana,” Mason said. “There were young and old there. It was a very peaceful event.”
The Rev. W. H. Goatley remembers the message King carried across America — a message all oppressed people needed to hear at that time.
“His advice that day in Frankfort was that you have to love everybody and he meant it,” Goatley said. “Race made no difference. When we came back to Eminence it gave us the enthusiasm to make it a better place. I remember there were some of us that thought we needed to do constructive things by getting involved in this community. We had council of churches and we also had a forum of pastors at the WSTL radio station where I got to know the pastors of different churches when I moved here. Eminence has become a better city because of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Mason said people in the community really got along with each other, but businesses were still segregated. Eminence police ordered a curfew and some businesses still didn’t give black patrons the same type of service as the white majority.
“We didn’t have the problems they had in other cities and most people wanted the change that we tried to achieve,” Mason said. “We were a part of the integration movement in Eminence, but businesses didn’t abide by the law in the stores. We had sit-ins at the hotel and restaurants (like) Chat N Nibble who had a different owner then. The two drug stores in town, Hill’s Pharmacy and Parrots’ Pharmacy had places you could eat or drink while you waited for your prescription, but we had to wait outside. We didn’t want to cause any disturbances. We just wanted to be treated fairly.”
Mason said during that time, the Eminence Police chief threatened to run him out of town with a stick. Ron Wright and Janssen Johnson corroborated the social climate.
“It was understood that if you wanted to go in someplace, you had to go in the way they allowed,” Johnson said. “You came around to the back door. Ed Berry and I were close friends in the late ‘60s. I almost lived at the Berry house, and Ed and I wanted to get ice cream at the Chat N Nibble, then under different ownership, and the owner said he wasn’t going to serve me. We went home and Ed told his mother. She puts us in the car and drove down there. She was furious. She asked the man how much they owed on their account and gave him a check and told him to close it.”
Ron Wright remembers it was the norm as a child.
“We loved their hamburgers (Chat N Nibble) and they even had a black lady working in the kitchen,” Wright said. “We went to the back door to get our food and didn’t think anything of it. That’s just how it was then.”
Goatley and Mason both stressed that through a council of churches integration happened in Eminence.
“We met with the Pastor of First Baptist Church and some other members from different congregations and we figured out how to do this in a peaceful manner,” Mason said. “Almost overnight things changed in the businesses. Everyone, as far as the public, knew each other and kids played together. Integration happened but it wasn’t easy.”
Goatley credits time, faith and Christian people who brought about the change King worked for.
“We are living in a different world. The city of Eminence has changed since I lived here,” Goatley said. ”We’ve got schools where everyone can go to school. The opportunity for an education and a future is anywhere you want to get it. Dr. King started this revolution for all people.”
Mason stressed the need for present and future generations to remember and honor the sacrifices made.
“I want them to know that what they are enjoying today their rights and freedom it wasn’t given to them,” Mason said. “Some had to lose their lives to give them what they have. We had to fight for it. It wasn’t given to us. “