Monday, March 18, 2013

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #102

Helen Fisher Frye was born on June 24, 1918 in Danville, Kentucky.  One of nine children, her parents were George Fisher and Lettie Moran Fisher. In 1963 she became the first African American woman to receive a library science degree from the ALA-accredited library school at the University of Kentucky. Her path to higher education through the University was a challenge however.  Frye and two other students attempted to attend a University of Kentucky extension class taught in Danville in 1954, but they were forced to drop the class because they were African Americans. Though the university graduate program was integrated in 1949, it was interpreted to apply only to students who took classes on the main college campus. Frye attended two class sessions before she was notified that she had not been officially accepted.  Frye filed a lawsuit, but it was dropped when none of the other African American students would testify that they too had been forced to drop the extension class. Eventually, Frye went to the University of Kentucky campus to earn her library degree. 

Helen Frye was an educator and librarian who participated in the integration of the Danville school system.  She was active throughout her life in civil and human rights.

In 2006, she was nominated by Danville native Dr. Frank X. Walker for the University of Kentucky's Lyman T. Johnson Award, then chosen as one of the two recipients by the UK Libraries and the UK School of Library and Information Science to receive the award for her many years of service as a librarian, teacher, and civil rights activist. 

Among her many accomplishments, Helen Fisher Frye helped organize the first integrated production on the Centre College campus in 1951: Porgy and Bess, featuring Danville native R. Todd Duncan. Helen F. Frye was one of the first African American students to enroll at Centre College. In addition to her master’s degree in library degree, she earned her B.A. in elementary education at Kentucky State University in 1942, and an M.A. in secondary education from Indiana University in 1949. She retired from teaching in 1980 but remained active on the human rights and public housing commissions in Danville. The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History has two interviews with Helen Frye.

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