Desegregation in Sturgis

In Sturgis, violence erupted as the school board attempted to integrate Sturgis High School.  In early September, 1956, a hostile mob of white farmers and miners prevented eight African American students from attending the all-white high school with 310 white students.  Black residents of Sturgis appealed to the governor to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v Board.  Kentucky governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler responded by ordering Major General J. J. B. Williams to send in the state’s National Guard to ensure that “no citizen will be molested by another citizen.”   He also ordered the Kentucky State Police to Sturgis to “ensure that all students had the opportunity to attend public school.”[1] Williams vowed to keep the troops in Sturgis as long as necessary. 

The following morning, a mob again formed to prevent the black youths from entering the school.  This time the guardsmen and state troopers created a path through the crowd for the students to safely go into the school.  The Washington Post wrote that the guardsmen had to charge into a “fist swinging” crowd of five hundred people.  Angry white men threatened that the black students would not be able to stay in the school all day.  In response, guardsmen, when the school day ended, formed a line from the entrance to the cars of the students’ waiting parents. 


                                         A.B. “Happy” Chandler

Chandler’s actions are in direct contrast to those of Allen Shivers.  Shivers sent a total of six Texas Rangers to Mansfield to essentially monitor the situation.  Chandler used both the Kentucky National Guard and State Police to enforce a federal court order.




[1] John M. Trowbridge and Jason Lemay, Sturgis and Clay: Showdown for Desegregation in Kentucky Education.  (Lexington, 2006) 4, accessed April 27, 2015.