Title: Letter from Mary Atkinson Cunningham to Miss Miller, February 6, 1902
Archive Source: Laura Clay Papers, Box 6, folder 21. University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center, Lexington, Kentucky.
Attached is a series of images of a letter digitized by UK Special Collections Research Center staff -- Sarah Dorpinghaus, Director of Digital Services, has graciously agreed to allow it to be published on H-Kentucky for all to read. The letter was written by Mary Atkinson Cunningham of Henderson, Kentucky - recently appointed as State Regent to the Daughters of the American Revolution - to "Miss Miller" who is likely Anna Miller, the Corresponding Secretary of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in this time period. Cunningham is replying to a request from KERA to organize an event in Henderson - and she declines to do so given her fears of the fall-out from the recent events surrounding the repeal of school suffrage in Kentucky's second-class cities. This letter was brought to our attention by Mary Jane Smith who referenced it on page 95 in her dissertation, "Constructing Womanhood in Public: Progressive White Women in a New South" (2002) available online: LSU Doctoral Dissertations, 2626, https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_dissertations/2626. The letter from Cunningham is transcribed below:
139 South Main
My dear Miss Miller
Your letter came yesterday and I have given the subject [support for a KERA project] grave consideration. I am in thorough sympanthy with this movement and am firmly convinced that equal rights will ultimately prevail everywhere in this country, but in regard to the methods of hastening this end I am somewhat at sea. Pioneers in any movement are surrounded by many and great difficulties, and frequently have to try first one, and then another plan to insure success, and these plans must best be experimental. I enquired why the people of Lexington asked to have the school board franchise repealed and was informed that
two thirds [strike-out by Cunningham] twice as many negro women exercised the right of franchise as white and practically the board of education was controlled by negroes. If that is the case now, I do not think we would better ourselves for it seems to me to be infinitely preferable to have the board controlled by men than by negroes and a few white women, and I never believed in slavery. It is this black cloud that hangs over the South that prevents its progress in so many ways, especially in public enterprise and improvements.
We have a beautiful little park in the midst of our city, with a fountain, flowers, seats, &c, and everything to make it attractive, on which hundreds of dollars have been expended, but it is practically given over to the negroes as they congregate there in large numbers, and are so disagreeable and impertinent that very few white people will go there. We have a park near the city of sixty acres given by my Brother in memory of my Father who took a great interest in city affairs. The street cars run there, and the schools, Sunday schools, societies, have picnics there, but whenever white people have a gathering the negroes congregate in force to have a "picnic" too, and there is trouble and lately it is not ever pleasant to walk there. When Mr. Carnegie offered to give twenty five thousand dollars for a Public Library if the city would agree to keep it up. I was very much interested in getting the appropriation from the Council although I knew it ment (sic) amto (sic) an additional tax, when the taxes are already very heavy, until I heard of a "gang" of negroes saying they were going there "to read all day long," for they had just as much right there as the whitest and richest in the land." So I am afraid we will have to give up any rights that will additional rights to the negro. That is why this idea does not take a greater hold in souther people. They must consider the practical working of it. There are very few who believe in equal rights here and we would find great difficulty in getting a crowd. I could not possibly undertake to engineer this as I do not expect to be at home at that time, and have more work on my hands now than I can possibly get through with. Work for the D.A.R. and other work, which I have undertaken, and cannot be put aside. I will hand your letter to a friend of mine who thinks as I do, and see if she can do anything about it. If the effect [illegible additional word] be here as I have understood it to be in Lexington I fear we could not do much for the cause. Please understand me about this, I am in sympathy with the movement, but think we must gravely consider the practical working now. That there is a way in which this movement can be made successful I have not a doubt, though at present I do not see it.
I know it takes a brave independant woman to go on with this work and I wish you all success.
Mary Atkinson Cunningham
Feb 6th 1902