Madisonville, Kentucky should commemorate James Van Leer and his contribution to the desegregation of Hopkins County schools
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Madisonville, Kentucky should commission a memorial, plaque or statue, prominently displayed, to commemorate James Van Leer, the first African-American to attend an all-white school in Hopkins County.
Mr. Van Leer passed away September 24th, 2017, so at this moment it is fitting that we should act to ensure that this history, and the courageous role he played as these events unfolded, are not forgotten. Some details of the circumstances surrounding the desegregation of Waddill school can be found in “Resistance on the Border: School Desegregation in Western Kentucky, 1954-1964” by David L. Wolfford.
“Cross burnings also sent a powerful message to African Americans pursuing equality. In early September 1956, after black students enrolled initially at Sturgis High and as litigation began, Klansmen "burned a cross out in the middle of a park" where black children played. In Webster County, segregationists burned two crosses at Sebree "on the heels of news that Negroes might attempt to enroll" at the community high school. Such intimidation served its purpose; the Union County students returned to the all-black Dunbar School in Morganfleld until the following year and Sebree High School never integrated. Additional cross-burnings in Madisonville discouraged plaintiffs there from integrating. Local NAACP activists, too, felt the heat from burning crosses on more than one occasion during the struggle to integrate the Hopkins County system. Willie Mae Elliot saw an ignited cross in front of her home during the early stages of the lawsuit.
“The VanLeers and twenty other plaintiffs pursued the legal battle. After Judge Brooks' ruling, young James Van Leer enrolled at Waddill Avenue Elementary. Days after classes began, his family discovered a torched cross outside their home after midnight. Indeed, segregationist pressures deterred every litigant in the suit except the Van Leers.
“Most plaintiffs dropped their names from the suit during the fall of 1956 and when school began in 1957 only young James Van Leer enrolled in otherwise white schools.” http://www.davidwolfford.com/wolfford/Resistance_on_the_Border.pdf
Please support our petition to memorialize James Van Leer’s courageous and important contribution to civil rights, the history of Hopkins County, and to the greater Kentucky Commonwealth.
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