Original Air Date
Original WKMS Program interview aired on
Sounds Good, WKMS.
Original WKMS story description
Pogue Library at Murray State University is home to numerous special collections and oral history projects. One of these recordings is the voice of Murray resident Florence Kenley-Hudspeth, who is now 80. In an oral history recording with Murray State in 1979, she reflects on life growing up in a time when Murray was a segregated community. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian, describing Hudspeth's experience growing up in the 1940s and 50s and her thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement.
Florence Hudspeth was born in 1935 just south of Murray. Her parents lived on the farm of a family her father worked for. The oldest of six children, she lived there until she was five. Her parents then moved to the predominantly African American community in Murray, which she described as around 4th and Olive (where Murray Electric System is today). This was once an open spot where people who came to do business downtown would park their buggies. Also, she recalls gypsies camping in this lot as they made their way through the area.
Hudspeth said this is where the black community was located. Once you went up the hill, past the jail, the white houses began. This part of town was also one of the last to get paved roads, electricity and running water to the houses. These were things that had to be advocated for. Hopley remarks that it's hard to imagine being so close to downtown and finding roads that weren't paved when everything around it was.
Her father worked at the Calloway County Lumber Company, where they got their water. Her mother was a renowned cook and took care of the kids.
This part of town had a clothing shop called "Dotties." There were three African American restaurants and a blacksmith, she said in the recording. Murray had two movie theaters at this time: Capitol and Varsity. Capitol was integrated and allowed African Americans to sit in the back of the balcony. If white people didn't show up, then they could move into the closer balcony seats. Hudspeth talked about the joy of finally letting African Americans have the full balcony to sit.
Hudspeth remarked on how many African Americans couldn't go to the dentist in this time period. She recalled having teeth issues and the white family she worked for called her dentist asking to see her as a favor. She remembered the dentist saying if African Americans went to the dentist on a regular basis then they'd have excellent teeth. She said the black community was provided emergency care in the hospital but many tried to avoid it. She went to Dr. Butterworth, a doctor in the black community. She als remembers receiving a smallpox vaccine in school.
Hudspeth lived her whole life in Murray. She left school in 8th grade to work because her family needed money. She worked cleaning houses making 30 cents an hour. She eventually got her GED. The interviewer, who was white, remarked on how she was a few years younger than Florence and while working as a waitress in high school earned 50 cents an hour.
Regarding moments in her childhood, she said she remembers the Great Depression being a rough time for her family. Her mother had a story about how she thought Florence was going do die after eating too many tomatoes, which was all they had to eat. She says her dad tried to join in WWII, but was sent back to take care of his six children. She remembered it being a scary time with tanks and trucks.
This interview was recorded in 1979. The interviewer asked "did your parents teach if you were different?" Hopley says this seems like an abrasive question to ask someone today, but Florence's response was unfazed. She said no, that her parents didn't tell them they were any lesser than anyone else. She said that it was a way of life and some people were nicer than others, that nice people made up for the mean people.
When the Civil Rights Movement came to Murray, she said it was "a ray of hope." She said there were a few sit-ins in Murray, though she didn't participate. She commented on how her children started at Douglass High School and transferred to Murray when Douglass shut down. She had five children and said she was proud they all graduated high school and that some went on to college.
Florence Hudspeth is now 80. Her daughter Rosa says she's doing well.
WKMS, Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf
Markgraf, Matt; Hopley, Sarah; and WKMS, "Florence Hudspeth: Growing up in a Segregated Murray, 1940s & 50s" (2016). Special Collections on WKMS. 11.