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Sounds Good, WKMS
Original WKMS story description
Pogue Library at Murray State University is home to numerous special collections, including letters an articles from an influential educator, Clarence Timberlake. Timberlake is considered the "Founder of Vocational Education in Kentucky," devoting his life working to improve education for African Americans in the Commonwealth. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf explored this collection with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian, and learns how his legacy left a lasting impact on the region, namely in Paducah, Madisonville and Hopkinsville.
Born in 1885 in a county close to Louisville, Timberlake went to college and focused his life on improving education for African Americans in Kentucky. He was a representative for the Kentucky Department of Education, a superintendent for African American schools, a builder of schools, launched a newspaper (the Frankfort Clarion), a priest in a Baptist church, volunteer at the Humane Society, and involved in the state and county historical societies.
Timberlake was involved in numerous education and social reforms, including extending the school year from seven to nine months, feeling that seven wasn't enough time to get an adequate education. He was on the Paducah Negro Committee to help bring about equality in western Kentucky. In the 1950s, he learned from students of discrimination in the hiring process at the Atomic Energy Plant. He wrote a letter to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, governors and the president. In 1957, there were two plants fined for discrimination and Paducah was one of them - likely a direct result from his letters, some of which exist in the Pogue Library collection.
While he attended several universities: what is now Kentucky State University, Tuskegee, Simmons and the Hampton Institute, returning to Kentucky in 1915, he found that many African Americans couldn't afford to go to school or didn't have a school nearby. He started two African American teachers colleges, drafting a bill to go through the state to build the Western Kentucky Vocational College in Paducah. This school would allow African Americans to gain trade skills, like hairdressing, welding and carpentry.
Timberlake retired in 1957 and died in 1979. He came out of retirement in 1966 to give the final commencement speech at Rosenwald High School in Madisonville, which he opened 40 years prior. This school closed because of desegregation. In this speech he said, "In this year is an historical significance that marks a milestone, but it's a great moment in tearing down barriers between races, a significance and brotherly love for all mankind."
Outside of the documents and newspaper clippings, there isn't much written about Clarence Timberlake, Hopley says. There's a short book about his life called The Timberlake Story, but she says he was never a very "showy" man, and let his work speak for itself. She says to honor him think about education and its accessibility today, that even 100 years he was fighting for that. Conceivably, nearly everyone has a chance to go to college today and get good consistent education leading up to college. This is due in part to the work of Clarence Timberlake.
WKMS, Matt Markgraf, Sounds Good
Hopley, Sarah; Markgraf, Matt; and WKMS, "How Clarence Timberlake Improved Education for African Americans in Kentucky" (2016). Special Collections on WKMS. 17.