University of Kentucky: In Black and White

The world is not black and white. The real world has a got of gray areas and no matter how much we wish it so, there’s not a lot of clean, cut and dried distinctions to be made.  One of the biggest issues that continues to linger for America is race relations. Since the country was founded by well-intentioned slave owners until we elected our first African-American President, Americans of all shades have continued to struggle with the concept of race and how people of different races and ethnicities should interact with each other. It’s ongoing because people, in general, have a hard time letting go of deeply ingrained notions of how things are. And that’s why it continues to be difficult to be African-American AND a fan of the University of Kentucky.

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, born in 1977 and raised in the 80s, I was a diehard Cardinal fan. My parents have degrees from UofL, my brothers and my extended family were all fans and alumni of the university as well. In the 1980s in Louisville, you’d have been hard pressed to find any African-Americans in the city of Louisville that supported the University of Kentucky in any way. Why? Because of Adolph Rupp. Because of Texas Western. And Because of this mindset that the University of Kentucky was inherently racist. I bought into it. It made sense, especially because I didn’t know any better. In those days, it wasn’t so much Blue vs. Red, but UK vs. UL as a black and white issue.

As I’ve pointed out before (clearly tongue-in-cheek), I converted and became a UK fan when I enrolled at the university in the fall of 1995.  I was the first person in my extended family to attend UK. And I paid for it. I heard, “Why are you going to that white school, what’s wrong with UL?” I was labeled as a sellout to my race and was warned to watch myself or I might be lynched on campus.  For those people sharing this “advice,” the fact was that UK was somehow institutionally and inherently racist because of a basketball coach that may or may not have racist and who had last coached at the university in 1972. Which begs the question, how long can you hold a grudge?

My main argument with these people is: Let’s say Rupp was racist.  So what? If black people couldn’t support an institution that at one time employed a racist, then where could we go? The men that signed the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, so can we not support America? I mean, when my dad was growing up, he was legally forbidden from attending both UL AND UK. It wasn’t until 1948 when Lyman T. Johnson sued UK, challenging the state’s Day Law (prohibiting black and white students from attending school together), and was subsequently admitted in 1949 that either school was integrated. UofL followed suit and opened its doors to blacks in 1950.

I attended UK from 1995-2000, graduating in May 2000. Over that time period, not once did I feel threatened or out of place or that I was in danger while on campus. I never saw a burning cross and I was never called the “N Word.” I never saw anything like that. And I’m just tired. I’m tired of opposing fans, most notably UL fans, berating my school, my alma mater, by likening it to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s not. To many people sacrificed too much to give me, and others, the opportunity to go to any school of our choosing, even the University of Kentucky, I enjoyed my time there, I love my school and the only colors that should really matter between Card and Cat fans IS just Red and Blue.

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  • Chris

    Admittedly, I grew up in Georgetown, Kentucky where the UofL/Uk patronage was just as you say and was clear cut by those very lines and a microcosm of our society as a whole. I had never heard, prior to your article, that it was because of Rupp’s views at the time. We are all products of our environment and our time. For our society to continue to vilify people such as Rupp, Henry Ford and Walt Disney (see Meryl Streep’s recent comments) for their supposed views is unfortunate. It is easy to armchair quarterback the decisions or view points these folks promulgated years ago when our society was a much different place. What was accepted at that time (not to be confused with what is right) and what we now view as being an archaic mindset are two very different things. These are very difficult and sensitive conversations, but because these great men of the past had views which are not in line with the way we think today does not mean that we give up on college basketball (UK), stop buying Ford products, or boycott all things associated with Disney. These men left positive legacies for future generation to enjoy and we should focus on the light and leave the darkness in the past.