Desegregation of Murray State College

Historical Maker #2191 at Murray State University notes the 1955 desegregation of that educational institution.

Much of the evidence that prompted the United States Supreme Court in the landmark "Brown v. the Board of Education" decision centered on the fact that most segregated states were unable to provide "separate but equal" educational facilities for African American students seeking a graduate education. Such was the situation at the University of Kentucky when Lyman Johnson sued because the state did not provide separate graduate opportunities at the historically African American Kentucky State University. In 1949, UK admitted twenty-eight blacks to its graduate school.

Lyman Johnson’s precedent set in motion a sea change in Kentucky. In 1950, the state legislature amended the Day Law, which had legally segregated both public and private educational facilities in Kentucky since 1904. This allowed blacks to attend colleges with the institution's approval. That year, Berea College and some other private colleges integrated. In 1951, the University of Louisville, then a private school, also integrated.

The "Brown v. the Board of Education" decision in 1954 prompted more Kentucky colleges and universities to move toward integration. Murray State College, which became a university in 1966, officially desegregated in the summer of 1955, when Mary Ford Holland enrolled. Murray State was the fourth of seven four-year public institutions of higher learning in the state to desegregate.

In the fall of 1955, Murray State admitted four more African American students, Geneva Arnold, Bobby Leonard Brandon, Arlene France Keys and Willie Earl Perry, all graduates from Murray's black Frederick Douglass High School. Today, Murray State University has more than 10,000 students, of which seven percent are African American.


Shortly after the historic U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education, et. al. decision, Murray State College "with all deliberate speed," welcomed Mary Ford Holland of Kuttawa, Ky., as a student in the summer of 1955. Holland's enrollment earned her the distinction of being Murray's first African American student.


(Reverse) Holland's enrollment at Murray State occurred without incident. In the fall of 1955, four more African American students enrolled. They were Geneva Arnold, Bobby Brandon, Arlene Keyes, & Willie Earl Perry-graduates of Murray's segregated Frederick Douglass High School.

This marker was dedicated on October 22, 2005.