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Passing for Black

Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd

Wade Hall
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Passing for Black
    Book Description:

    In 1976, Kentucky state legislator Mae Street Kidd successfully sponsored a resolution ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It was fitting that a black woman should initiate the state's formal repudiation of slavery; that it was Mrs. Kidd was all the more appropriate. Born in Millersburg, Kentucky, in 1904 to a black mother and a white father, Kidd grew up to be a striking woman with fair skin and light hair. Sometimes accused of trying to pass for white in a segregated society, Kidd felt that she was doing the opposite -- choosing to assert her black identity.Passing for Blackis her story, in her own words, of how she lived in this racial limbo and the obstacles it presented. As a Kentucky woman of color during a pioneering period of minority and women's rights, Kidd seized every opportunity to get ahead. She attended a black boarding academy after high school and went on to become a successful businesswoman in the insurance and cosmetic industries in a time when few women, black or white, were able to compete in a male-dominated society. She also served with the American Red Cross in England during World War II. It was not until she was in her sixties that she turned to politics, sitting for seventeen years in the Kentucky General Assembly -- one of the few black women ever to do so -- where she crusaded vigorously for housing rights. Her story -- presented as oral history elicited and edited by Wade Hall -- provides an important benchmark in African American and women's studies and endures as a vital document in Kentucky history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4891-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. A Visit to Millersburg
    (pp. 1-5)

    To get to Millersburg, Kentucky, it’s best to start from Lexington, taking the Paris Pike (Highway 68 north). Drive leisurely up the lovely two-lane, tree and rock-fence bordered road for a dozen miles to Paris, the seat of Bourbon County, circle the courthouse, then continue north for some six more miles. After you cross Hinkston Creek, you are in Millersburg.

    Along this scenic route—one of the most beautiful in Kentucky—you will pass long rows of maples, pin oaks, and fir trees that line driveways leading back to old and new country mansions that befit a country bred to...

  6. Introducing Mae Street Kidd
    (pp. 6-14)

    I was born on February 8, 1904, in the middle of a dark period for black people. Throughout the South the racial reforms and advances that had been made possible by the Civil War and Reconstruction had been mostly wiped out by racist politicians, aided and abetted by racists all over the country. In Kentucky 1904 was the year that the infamous Day Law took effect, which prohibited the mixing of races in both public and private schools. Many blacks lived in horror of lynching for minor and imaginary offenses. It seemed that the freed slaves and their children had...

  7. Growing Up in Millersburg
    (pp. 15-36)

    To begin at the beginning, I was born Minnie Mae Jones on Main Street in Millersburg and grew up in Shippsville or Shipptown, as it was sometimes called, a small black neighborhood of some fifty families on the outskirts of Millersburg, Kentucky, in the Bluegrass horse country. My mother was a beautiful woman of mixed Mrican, Indian, and white blood. My father was a white farmer from the adjoining Harrison County, just a few miles away. More about them later.

    Millersburg was a town of getting along with each other. The people were refined and considerate. Blacks and whites lived...

  8. Surviving and Thriving in Louisville
    (pp. 37-60)

    I had been working as an agent for Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company for about four years when there was a bad tornado in Lexington. People came from everywhere to see the damage. Mr. W.H. Wright came with his adopted daughter, Lucille Fitzpatrick, who had been a friend of, mine since I met her at an annual meeting of company agents in Louisville. Mr. Wright was president of Mutual Savings Bank, a black bank in Louisville, and was chairman of the Mammoth Board of Trustees. He had come to Lexington to check on the damages and to see how...

  9. My Two Husbands
    (pp. 61-72)

    I was never very popular as a girl or young women. A lot of women were jealous of me, and a lot of men thought I was stuck-up. It’s been a fact of my life that I’ve had to live with. I never intentionally did anything that I thought would make others jealous, and I never consciously behaved in a superior manner. I’ve only tried to live my life in a way that was meaningful to me. I had to live it my way. I’ve always wanted people to like and respect me, but I cannot control how other people...

  10. The House and Street Where I Live
    (pp. 73-85)

    I love my home. It is a sacred place to me. When Mr. Street and I got married in early 1930, he was living with a family on Eighth Street; and I was renting a room in this very house from a Mrs. Mahin. We moved into an apartment on the fifth floor of the Mammoth Building, where we both worked, and lived there until we bought this house in 1938. It was just after Christmas in 1937, and I was in New York attending a convention of Iota Phi Lambda, my businesswomen’s sorority, with a friend of mine. When...

  11. Service Abroad
    (pp. 86-106)

    When World War II came on, I wanted to do something to help the war effort; but my first husband was already sick, and I had to stay close to him. It wasn’t until after his death in 1942 that I could make a significant contribution as an overseas Red Cross volunteer. At the beginning of the war, however, l helped organize a USO at the old YMCA at Tenth and Chestnut in Louisville. We had a group of more than 150 women and girls who served and entertained the black soldiers from Fort Knox. When I was asked to...

  12. My Life in Politics
    (pp. 107-126)

    For seventeen year—from 1968 to 1985—I was called the “Lady of the House.” Those were the years I served in the Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort as representative from Louisville’s Forty-first Legislative District. I was a member of a double minority. I was a black and a woman back when there were very few of us in elective offices. Like most blacks, I was a Democrat and voted in every election; but I had never been interested in politics. Never. I had run a successful campaign in Detroit some years before for a candidate for the city board...

  13. Lives of Service
    (pp. 127-147)

    The Bible says, “By your fruits shall ye be known.” In other words we will be judged not by what we say, not by how much noise we make, not by our public acclaim, not by our position, not by our income, not by our skin color. We are all judged by what we produce. The fruits of our labors tell us what kind of life we have lived. Ofcourse, the Bible also says, “Judge not that ye be judged.” In other words, be careful how you estimate a person’s worth — your own or anybody else’s. It is only the...

  14. Today’s Problems, Tomorrow’s Solutions
    (pp. 148-162)

    Today everybody has problems—big problems. It’s not just a black problem or a white problem. It’s a universal problem. The general moral decay and lawlessness of our society have infected everyone, but none more deeply than the black community. Sometimes I almost despair when I count the troubles that afflict my people—joblessness, drugs, violence, promiscuity, the breakdown of the family, and disrespect for everything from language to authority. To some young people, a human life—their own or anybody else’s—is worth no more than the insect you kill with the fly swatter.

    I’ll start with the family...

  15. Living in the Nineties
    (pp. 163-173)

    When you get my age, you think a lot about where you’ve been, and you begin to think about what you have left. By any measure of longevity, I’ve been very lucky. Until my stroke and heart attack and eye problems, I’ve had no serious illnesses. When I was in my twenties, my heart doctor discovered that I had a heart murmur, but he was able to control it with medicine and rest. Nowadays, doctors want you to keep active even with a weak heart, but back then I was put to bed periodically for three or four weeks at...

  16. Passing for Black
    (pp. 174-179)

    Despite my dominant white features, I have been classified as a black person all my life. I have lived as a black and have had to accept second-class citizenship. I never made an issue of my color or race, and when I was off by myself and no one knew my racial identity, I lived like a first-class American citizen. I went where I wanted to go. I did what I wanted to do. Nobody asked any questions. I never wore a badge saying, “Look at me! I’m Black!” Some people might call that “passing,” but I don’t. I was...

  17. Last Words
    (pp. 180-186)

    I believe I’m a religious person. I believe firmly in God, and my faith has increased as I’ve gotten older. But I have my own special understanding of God. I believe that He is everywhere. He’s like a giant net or a spider web that covers everything and draws all things together. We don’t have to look in special places for Him because He’s with us everywhere now. As a Christian, I believe we can seek a special relationship with Him through His only Son, Jesus Christ. When we die, we become one with Him. That is what I think...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 187-187)

    May 1995. Come in and be seated in my retirement apartment at Treyton Oak Towers. My assistant will get you a glass of iced tea if you want one. I’m doing all right here. I have my privacy. All the medical attention I need is close by. Yes, I had to sell my car and my house. It had to be done. And I didn’t cry at all. I’m still trying hard to accept things I can’t change. believe I’ve made a little progress.

    April 1996. I’m not doing very well, Baby Doll, and I had to give up my...

  19. Index
    (pp. 188-193)