Dorthy L. Pennington

Dorthy L. Pennington

Interviewed by Leonard Monroe and Reta Cosby,
Virginia Hamm and Nancy Hiebert
June 6, 2006

MR. MONROE: My name is Leonard Monroe, and I'll be interviewing Dr. Dorthy Pennington. This is the 5th of June, 2006. Dorthy, what is your full name, including your maiden name, and what is your date of birth?

DR. PENNINGTON: My full name is Dorthy Lee Pennington, and my date of birth is May 24, 1946.

MR. MONROE: Where were you born?

DR. PENNINGTON: I was born in the state of Mississippi, in a county called Holmes County, which is sort of North Central Mississippi. The way that we in Mississippi demarcate Mississippi is that Jackson, which is the capitol, is sort of the center of the state. Anything north of Jackson is considered north or north central and, of course, anything south of Jackson is south and even the coast, like Biloxi and Waveland, where hurricane Katrina hit. I'm from the north central- western part of the state, north of Jackson.

MR. MONROE: How long have you lived in Lawrence?

DR. PENNINGTON: Since 1968.

MR. MONROE: What part of Lawrence do you identify most closely with?

DR. PENNINGTON: I identify with, in a way, the black community for most of my cultural activities. But my employment takes me, of course, up to KU. So I would consider myself to be bicultural. When I first came to Lawrence, I came as a student to KU and I had grown up in Mississippi in a segregated social order, extremely segregated. There was no integration at all. So everything was either black in those days or white. There were a few Chinese merchants in our black community, but because I had gone to segregated schools and churches all my life, when I came to Lawrence I was sort of entrenched in the culture of the black community, as it was in those days and, of course, the African American church as well.

I was United Methodist. In a way I still am, because that's what we grew up as in Mississippi. But, as I said, the churches were segregated. So there were black, they would call those Methodist churches, and white Methodist churches. When I came to Lawrence, I had the mindset that I knew that I wanted to attend church, but I thought there were black Methodist churches here that were of my particular denomination, and there weren't. There were no black United Methodist churches in Lawrence. So I had a choice as to whether to continue to attend the United Methodist Church, which would have been predominantly white as my first church down here, or to look for a black church that was closer culturally to what I was most accustomed to. I chose the latter. St. Luke was the only black Methodist church that I knew of.

At that time, I was living on New Jersey, which is just a couple of blocks over, and I was living with an African American person, who was an older lady who had been a registered nurse here in Lawrence back in her day. She was quite elderly when I came to Lawrence. Her name was Bertie Harris and she was a native Lawrencian. Her father was one of the few black policemen back in Lawrence in the early 1900s. His name would have been Ellis. I don't remember his first name, but he would have been born back in the 1800s, and his name would have been Ellis. Her name was Bertie Ellis Harris. She married a black lawyer in Lawrence who unfortunately was killed in his office here in Lawrence back in the 1950s. It's part of Lawrence history. I never knew him because he was deceased before I came to Lawrence.

Anyway, she rented a room for me. So, as I was looking for churches, the strangest thing in the world was that I did attend First United Methodist Church probably for maybe at least a year or so. One day I walking in this area and I saw this church. Remember I was living in the 1200 block of New Jersey.

MR. MONROE: You were just one block over.

DR. PENNINGTON: Right. So I was walking here, actually, I think going to First Methodist on Tenth and Vermont, and I saw this church and I saw black people. Then I thought, "That's interesting." So I stopped in one day out of curiosity and, as I was introduced, it turned out that some of the people at this church were very cordial to me. People like Leonard McClanahan I'll never forget. Alice McClanahan. They welcomed me, and I just sort of started going here, again for that cultural familiarity that I'd talked about. And that's how I got to St. Luke.

In that sense, I identified a lot with the black community for the first year or so because I lived here. Then I moved over to campus because I didn't have a car at that time. I moved to an apartment near the stadium, so I started getting more and more familiar with that part of town. That's how I identified culturally with the things that are happening in the black community. But, in terms of KU, I also was more bicultural because I was going to school there and sometimes I was the only black person in my classes. So I became sort of bicultural in that sense.

MS. COSBY: What year did you come to KU?

DR. PENNINGTON: As I said, 1968, so hat's basically how I kind of see myself. And, even now, I live on the west side of town (laughter). West of Iowa they used to say is west. But I still identify kind of with events in the black community, and I still do things that are related to African American culture.

MR. MONROE: Naturally, going to segregated schools then, of course, your teachers, coaches and everything else were African Americans, right?

DR. PENNINGTON: That's right.

MR. MONROE: Did you hold any class offices while you were in high school?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes, in high school. Our high school system was sort of like Lawrence High in the sense that I think 10th, 11th and 12th went to one school, and the other grades went to a middle school. But, in high school, I was in the choir, I liked music then. In fact, in high school we had what we called career days, and you could choose a path of career opportunity that you thought you wanted to do later in life. If you were going to college and you knew you wanted to major, let's say in English or history, you could go to a career track in high school for that. They'd have some big speakers to come for all the tracks in those days. I thought that I would be a music major in college. So in high school when we had the career days, I'd always go to the music track. Wrong (laughter). But, at any rate, music was one of my hobbies. In junior high I also was an athlete. I had played basketball and I ran track. I also played women's softball. But when I got into my later high school years, I gave all that up except for music.

I was an officer in my class, I think I was maybe vice-president of the class my junior year. I might have been secretary one year. But there was a civic organization in my high school called the Tri-High Y and it taught you how to do civic things, how to do good public speaking and things of that sort. So I was the secretary of the Tri-High Y, which was the women's branch, and the men's branch was the High Y (laughter).

Things like that, civic activities, music, those were kind of my real interests. Of course, I was active in the youth organization in the church, too. In the United Methodist Church it was called the UMYF, United Methodist Youth Fellowship. I was the chairperson of my local church organization as a church member in the local fellowship.

MR. MONROE: Would that be like our lay organizations here?

DR. PENNINGTON: Probably, because you have a youth branch and then like an adult branch, and the youth branch was called the Methodist Youth Fellowship. We met on Sunday afternoons and we had all kinds of programs that talked about religious activities. But, also, leadership kinds of things as well.

MR. MONROE: That's interesting, because just this past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we had a lay convention here at St. Luke.

DR. PENNINGTON: I know, because one of the people from the church in Topeka came over, a Mrs. Garvin, and she was telling me yesterday that she was here. But, on Thursdays I go over there to Topeka. It used to be Wednesdays or Thursdays so I can go there, and then I was busy Friday helping someone who had a bereavement situation, so I just couldn't do anything Saturday because I was going down to the John Brown tour.

MR. MONROE: Do you believe there were differences in education of students when you grew up and students who grew up here in Lawrence?

DR. PENNINGTON: That would be hard to know, because I don't have any background of what happened here in Lawrence. I couldn't really say about that. What I can say is that growing up in a segregated school system, where all of my teachers were black, they were quite interested in our welfare as students. They would go beyond the call of duty in terms of a business relationship versus a personal relationship. And, now, it seems that in a business relationship with the school system mostly, people will say we can't afford something unless the school district gives it to us, and that we can't afford equipment for debate unless the state or someone. But, then, teachers would actually use their own personal funding to help a debate trip or to help the student go wherever. It wasn't so much that you had to depend upon the state.

So they were people that really cared about us, and I thought that we got a pretty good education. You've heard things in the South about segregation leading to poor facilities for blacks. That was true, poor school facilities. But, in my high school, which was in a city, the teachers there gave us a pretty good education. We could take like Latin and French and Spanish even in high school, which wasn't really true for all black schools in the South. And we had a good literary program as well. So I think that all in all you could get a pretty good education there.

MR. MONROE: I think that was the big difference though, because here, my elementary, junior high and high school were all integrated, but it wasn't nothing special about the teachers ever. Except I do know that when I was in high school, for some reason, especially my junior and senior years, they thought I was going to be a teacher for some reason. And they did send me to KU for some kind of—I can't remember what it was now—because everyone they thought was going to be a teacher was going through this program, and they sent me to that program, which I attended the program and it was really nice. But I don't know where they got the idea I was going to be teacher.

MS. COSBY: Was it something like Upward Bound?

MR. MONROE: I don't know just what it really was, but it was interesting.

MS. COSBY: Our education was similar to Dorthy's. We were segregated and our teachers were concerned about our welfare, our behavior, and our future.

MR. MONROE: I don't think that was necessarily the reason they sent me. I was a good student, was kind of a popular student, and a lot of teachers just flat liked me I guess, and they thought that's what I would be. Some of the coaches even, I didn't know at the time why, but they wanted me to go to Washburn or K-State or Emporia State because they knew I was an athlete. I kept telling them I was going to go to KU. Of course, you know what happened there. As it turned out, I couldn't actually compete in track at KU. But then they didn't tell me that I couldn't, but I think they knew that, but they never did tell me. But I think, as far as interesting, like your teachers were pushing black students because they knew what the situation was in the South. They didn't ever push us here, but we got the same education as anyone else in the class, black or white.

MS. COSBY: Our teachers were our neighbors. They went to our churches.

DR. PENNINGTON: That's right.

MS. COSBY: My home economics teacher lived just behind us. Our properties adjoined, and to this day our properties still adjoin. They were very concerned about us.

MR. MONROE: You went to college right after graduating from high school?


MR. MONROE: What college did you go to?

DR. PENNINGTON: I went to Rust College.

MR. MONROE: Rust College. The famous a cappella choir.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. I sang. I was a member of the choir for all four of my years, and we traveled everywhere throughout the state giving concerts. And then, in the spring, we'd go to northern states, usually in the Midwest, like Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois. Those four or five states.

MR. MONROE: I know I've never been so impressed with a choir in all my life as I was with that Rust Choir when they came up here. You might want to tell them about that. Did you all attend any of the services when that Rust Choir was here?

MRS. HIEBERT: I didn't attend that, but I did tell Dorthy on Saturday that you loved that choir and that you had mentioned that several times.

MRS. HAMM: Obviously, it was great.

MR. MONROE: It was outstanding.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes, it's a historically black college in the south. It's Methodist related and it was founded in 1866. Kind of that old Emigrant Freedman's Aid type of thing, where they would come and help found black institutions. And, actually it's funny that you should say that, because one of the most famous parts of the school is the choir. They've been traveling for scores and scores of years, really as a fund-raiser for the school. They're like an ambassador for the school. So what they travel to do is primarily to raise funds for the school.

MR. MONROE: That is very interesting. I know one thing right now I'd tell you, so help me God, if I hit the lottery, the first thing I'd do is to get that choir to come up here. No only to pay them, but for us while we're doing a lot of fund-raising here for St. Luke now, and I know that would be a sell out. I know that for a fact. It was so great. Boy, it was great.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah, they're award winning. I think the year that they came here, which was 2004, because it was for the 50th anniversary of the Brown versus Board of Education decision. I, as a member of that planning committee for Brown, thought that it would be good to have music as a part of this, because music has been such a big part of civil rights history throughout the years. And, so, I asked the committee if they would consider having a black professional choir come. I knew they were professional and the committee agreed, and that's really how they got here. But I thought that it was good in the sense that the Lawrence community seldom sees a black professional choir. Now we have gospel groups that pop up all over wherever to do a gospel thing. But a professional choir that sings classical music...

MR. MONROE: And all a cappella.

DR. PENNINGTON: Is an odd treat for the Midwest. You just don't have black colleges in the Midwest that do that. So I wanted to have that as kind of an image builder for African Americans as well, to see people do classical music as well as gospel stuff.

MR. MONROE: It was really great. Did you go to graduate school?

DR. PENNINGTON: Here at KU, yes.

MR. MONROE: How did you get to KU?

DR. PENNINGTON: I was an English major in undergraduate school and I had a minor in French, and I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school, but I didn't quite know what field I wanted to study. I wanted to do something other than English, which was my major. So I started looking around for programs that I thought were interesting, and I found that KU had a program in what they called speech communication and human relations. So that was an interesting major.

So I wanted to go some route like speech or communication, and I applied to three schools. KU was one. The University of Oregon was another one, because I liked the state of Oregon. I fell in love with that when I traveled as a teenager. And the University of Chicago was the third one. But KU was the one that wrote the letters that I found to be really just so warm and inviting, and that was really how I got here. They just sort of out-paced everybody else in terms of public relations, and they said, "We'd love to have you come. Please come." They wrote really quick responses. That's really how I got here, because I had no contact, I had no family, nothing to tie me to this place. I just came on faith, because I knew no one here.

I came here to graduate school and I got both my graduate degrees here. But I really didn't know that I would be living here 32 years later. When I graduated, I got a position here and, I mean, that's like the story of it. I have no idea of how it happened other than just to say I was offered a position on the faculty and, as Paul Harvey says, "The rest is history."

MS. COSBY: Where did you go for undergraduate school?


MS. COSBY: What was the name of your elementary school?

DR. PENNINGTON: It was an elementary-junior high called Cruger. It was a junior high, now they call them middle schools. But like a West Junior High, except in our junior high we had all grades one through eight. It wasn't just like you had sixth, seventh and eighth, ours was elementary combined with junior high school.

MS. COSBY: What was the name of your high school?

DR. PENNINGTON: Broad Street High School.

MR. MONROE: You said it was faith and it must have been, because God sure blessed St. Luke for letting you stay here in Lawrence. What are your first memories of St. Luke?

DR. PENNINGTON: When I came to St. Luke, I was just coming as a visitor. For a number of years I just came as a visitor, and what I remember was that some members were very warm, and I keep mentioning them in the name of Leonard McClanahan and Alice McClanahan and, let me see. I've got to remember other people. Oh, there was a Mr. Robert Jones who was very kind to me. Oh, I remember Mr. Jones' sister, Faye Black or something like that was her name.

But that was how I got here. Shortly after I got here, there was kind of an organizational structure to St. Luke, because most of the organizations were active then and most of the organizations were working toward retiring a debt, because the church had been remodeled by a Rev. W. Lamar Brown. What you see upstairs now was really renovated in the early 1970s.

MR. MONROE: Right.

DR. PENNINGTON: But that left the church with a great amount of indebtedness, and so each organization or auxiliary was trying to help the church to retire the indebtedness on the remodeling project. So each Sunday, each organization would serve dinners here in the basement. I was asked to join a women's club—it was one of those women's organizations—I think it was called the La EntrĂ©e Nous Women's Club here at St. Luke.

MR. MONROE: I think that is what it was called.

DR. PENNINGTON: We served dinners once a month. That's how I got into those clubs. With my continuing love for music, I think I joined the choir.

MS. COSBY: How do you spell that women's club?

DR. PENNINGTON: La Entrée Nous. The plural would be L-e-s E-n-t-r-e N-o-u-s. "Between us" in French. The Between Us Club.

But, then, as I became more familiar with St. Luke, I found that there was another community-based club called the South Culture Club, whose members primarily were members of St. Luke. This was a women's club similar to "Stitch and Chatter" at some of the other churches. But a lot of the churches, especially like St. Luke and Ninth Street, had women's organizations that were related to the church, but not a part of the church. I was asked to join the South Culture Club with these women who came to St. Luke, and I became more familiar with the church through that. South Culture Club's founding member was the daughter of one of the people who invited me into the club. Alice McClanahan's mother founded South Culture Club back in 1915 as a literary culture club for black women. So Alice, who is her daughter, invited me to be a member and that's how I got affiliated with them, and so I was a part of that for a number of years.

MS. COSBY: Are any of the people that you mentioned, the McClanahans or the others, still living?

DR. PENNINGTON: No, they are all deceased. They passed away some years ago. But this woman on this picture, Della Bryant, was a strong member of the South Culture Club, and a lot of the meetings were held at her home or at St. Luke's Church. There was a strong association between that kind of literary activity and the church.

MR. MONROE: They did organizations and clubs back them. It's a shame that we don't have those now. What were some of the ways you were involved in the music at St. Luke, either during services or at other times? I know you played for us for quite a while and the choir.

DR. PENNINGTON: For a long time I wasn't a musician here, I was just a singer, and most people did not know that I was musician until like many years later. Because St. Luke had musicians and I wasn't actively pursuing music then. I hadn't done it in years. For my high school class I was the musician and for my college class I was the musician. Every one of those groups had a ceremony at the end of the year at graduation. We'd have the class song or something, so I was the musician then. But after I came to Lawrence, I just wasn't pursuing music actively. And I think it was only in a desperate situation when St. Luke had nobody willing to play that I stepped forth and said, "I can play a little bit."

MR. MONROE: Right. I remember that (laughter).

DR. PENNINGTON: And that was the way it was. I never intended to be a musician in Lawrence, and I still don't think that I'm that great of a musician. It's just that I'm all they have, so to speak. But that's really how I got into playing music and was singing for a long time before that.

MR. MONROE: That's great. II know that every year we have our Christmas banquet and, of course, you're always our musician for that and the songs and things—it's really wonderful. Of course, I know you consider faith an important part of your life.


MR. MONROE: Do you remember anything in particular about the ministers at St. Luke since you've been here that is interesting?

DR. PENNINGTON: I remember most of the ones who were here during my time. They were all different in their own right. But one that really stood out in my mind was Rev. Joseph Washington. And the reason was that he had such a strong outreach ministry with the political structure in Lawrence. He would know the mayor at city hall. He knew the governor, who was John Carlin at the time. When St. Luke had its 120th anniversary back in 1982, he invited Governor Carlin to come and speak. Governor Carlin brought some of his aides or his constituent aides with him.

Rev. Washington was just that kind of an outreach person, and he always made sure that St. Luke was in the public's eye, either through the newspaper or some other way. I remember that when St. Luke had that 120th anniversary, the Bishop came. That Bishop Brookings, the same person who's pictured here, was a bishop by that time in California. He came back for that. And Rev. Washington was interviewed by the Journal World, and that picture of St. Luke with him sitting on the steps was on the front page of the Journal World at that time, which I thought was kind of unusual, because I didn't remember that Lawrence churches made that big a deal about an anniversary. But he sort of brought that mindset to Lawrence, saying, "It's a big deal to have an anniversary," and then other churches started playing up their anniversaries a lot more after then, as I recall.

MR. MONROE: I know one thing that Rev. Washington did. You remember when he put on this tea we had down here in the lower level, and everybody had to wear formals. We had to have a tux, and the women had to have the long dresses. It was a huge success. It was just something that had never been done here before.

That's the type of person Rev. Washington was, and I got to know him real well. As a matter of fact, he was from the military anyway, and we used to go to Leavenworth to go to the commissary and the PX. His wife was just a lovely woman.


MR. MONROE: I remember when she made those little scarves for my daughters. They were just a wonderful family. You know he passed. As a matter of fact, he passed in a rest home in New Orleans.

DR. PENNINGTON: He did? I didn't realize that.

MR. MONROE: I didn't either at the time, but he did. As a matter of fact, he told me this story: He was in the Navy in World War II, and got the ship shot out from under him in Tokyo Bay (laughter). I think that's when he decided he wanted to be a preacher, due to the fact that God really spared his life. But that is really a wonderful memory, and I never will forget Rev. Washington. He was really one of my favorites.

As a matter of fact, one of his favorite sermons, and I never will forget it, was "Call Me by My Name."And he preached a sermon from the names in the Bible. I can't remember it all now. But I just thought it was one of the most wonderful sermons I'd ever heard in my life. "Call Me By My Name." "Because," he said, "God knows your name."

MRS. HIEBERT: I just have to add that Vernell Spearman first invited me to come over in '82, and he and his wife were so wonderful. And they were so friendly and everything, that he'd have to be good at outreach. He had such a personality for that. He just seemed like a genuinely good person.

MR. MONROE: One Sunday afternoon program he had Arden Booth, who was the owner of KLWN radio station at that time. It was Arden Booth, Rev. Washington and Dr. Sam Adams and myself, and we sang in this afternoon program. And it was really something. I felt real great about that, for me especially to sing with those three guys (laughter). But it was a wonderful afternoon.

DR. PENNINGTON: He was good at community programming and involving different speakers from different areas.

MR. MONROE: Yes, he was. What inspired you to conduct research about the local black churches?

DR. PENNINGTON: I can't recall any specific thing that prompted me to do that. I think what maybe inspired me slowly was the fact that when I did this research initially, this was about at the time that St. Luke was having that 120th anniversary that we just talked about. I did my initial project a year later, which was in 1983.

I knew that black churches had always been the heart of the black community, and I knew that that was particularly true in more segregated types of settings. What I had found out about early Lawrence was that it was still fairly segregated in terms of churches. And, so, I wanted to just know more about, "How the churches in Lawrence played a part in the forming of the black community back in the 1800s," when Lawrence was formed.

I was at that time very involved in the Kansas Committee for the Humanities, which later became the Kansas Humanities CounciI, applied for a public research grant for one summer, to research, I think it was titled The Histories and Cultural Roles of Black Churches in Lawrence. And I got the grant. So I wanted to look at how the churches got started back in the early years. I did just the early histories from their forming date up until that year, which was 1983. At that time, there were nine black churches and, one church was being formed, which was Rev. Barbee's church, which is now Victory.

St. Luke's history was a part of that bigger project, because I was looking at the starting dates for all of the black churches that were in Lawrence at that time. As I said, there were nine. I went about finding out if there were any written records already for the churches. Some of them had written records and others didn't. So for the churches that had no written record, I actually contacted people within the churches and interviewed some of the older founding members. And I put two things together. I put together every written piece of information I could find, plus face-to-face interviews with older members, and I put them all on cassette tape, and then I just sat down and pieced together all of that information for each church, and I put it in a little document that is up at the Kansas Collection, Spencer Research Library, by that same title, The Histories and Cultural Roles of Black Churches in Lawrence.

MS. COSBY: Was this published? Did you have it published?

DR. PENNINGTON: It was not published. I think it's on their website now. But it's not like published. I never had that published. I probably should have, but I didn't. But what the grant required was that I had to do a public presentation at a neutral site. I couldn't do it at a church site. So I did my public presentation at the Watkins Community Museum, and it was publicized in the paper, and the paper was there to cover the presentation, too. So if you look back at the Journal World for—it must have been February of 1983—something in my young days, they had my picture there, giving that presentation on the churches back then.

MS. COSBY: You are highly recognized as someone knowledgeable of the black churches here in Lawrence.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah, that's very interesting. But I guess I had a more cultural reason, too, because I'm really not, as you know, a historian by trade. I mean, I think of Bill Tuttle or David Katzman, when there's somebody as a historian. So I really had no formal training in history per se. But, from what I was able to read about how to conduct oral history, I knew that it was important to collect those histories. Because, first of all, no one else was doing it on the black churches. And, secondly, a lot of the older people were passing away who had the knowledge of the history in their minds, but it was never written down. So, unless you captured it through interview, you would never have that history. That was what really personally motivated me to do it, for the sake of saving our stories, saving our histories. Telling those stories, having them tell their stories.

MR. MONROE: I know that's one important reason why we started our oral history group, because we were losing so many of the old-timers. They could have really told us a lot more than we'll ever know now. But we waited so long to get this thing started. But I do know that your research is one of the biggest things that really helped us as far as getting on the National Historic Record, too.

DR. PENNINGTON: Is that right?

MR. MONROE: Because of the things that we already knew, then the things that you researched. As a matter of fact, when we went up to Topeka to get on the State Historic Record, even at that meeting, they said, "Wow!" They said, "You guys ought to be on the National Historic Record." And then we had to do some more research, which you were a part of, and now we are on the National Historic Record.

MS. COSBY: One of the events that you had brought out in your research was that St. Luke had put on plays earlier. Are there any other events or things that came out in the interviews?

DR. PENNINGTON: That came out in my research with the newspapers. It didn't come from the interviews, because I did a lot of primary research by going back to the archives of the Journal World, or the Lawrence Journal, whatever it was called back in the day. I did a lot of archival research on microfilm—where you put your head in those machines and just read that little faint print.

That was how I got a lot of that information, too, by going back to the newspapers for those early years. What I found really good was, and many people may not know this, but I cite it in my document, was that in Lawrence in the 1800s, there were two black newspapers. One was called the Western Recorder, and the other one was called the Historic Times. They were on microfilm at the State Historical Society in Topeka. So I went over there through this grant and researched everything about the churches in the Lawrence from those years. Those newspapers were really short-lived, because they were published for a couple of years, and then they were discontinued. The Historic Times was published in 1891, and the Western Recorder was published in 1883 and 1884, and then they just disappeared from view.

MS. COSBY: Do you remember the editors?

DR. PENNINGTON: I do not remember the editors, but they did have information about some of the churches, especially St. Luke. In the Western Recorder I found that St. Luke had a pastor called Rev. Bates, and he was really active in the Prohibition movement in those days, and they would quote different things that he would say. Or they would talk about the activities that were being held here at St. Luke. For example, they had one time what is called a "Mum Social," and as nearly as I can determine what that was, was that people would come and they would see who could sit the longest without saying anything (laughter).

MR. MONROE: That must have been interesting.

DR. PENNINGTON: And then they had something like a "Raggedy Social," where you would dress in raggedy types of clothes. And we would have a lot of fund-raising activities like that. Those were some of the activities.

Another thing that I discovered was that the Music Department at KU had a close relationship with St. Luke's Church and that, if a student from KU did anything in the Music Department here at St. Luke, they could actually get credit back through KU. If they sang in the St. Luke Choir while they were here in Lawrence attending KU, they could get credit in the Music Department at KU. So there was a strong relationship between KU and St. Luke in those days.

MR. MONROE: I never realized that.

DR. PENNINGTON: So plays, plus all kinds of music presentations were really big at St. Luke. Concerts, poetry, recitations, and things of that sort, and big on literature.

MR. MONROE: What are some of your future plans for your research? Do you have any plans as far as the churches or the city itself with the historic parts of it?

DR. PENNINGTON: I really don't. I sort of put that on the back burner for my other research. But I still get called on to present this research every now and then for different churches. For example, some church might contact me and ask me to give them their portion of the history from the big document. So I'll maybe just take those pages out and Xerox them and give them to that particular church, especially when they have anniversaries or things like that. Some of them will say, "Send us what you have on our church," and I'll do things like that. But I really kind of put that on the back burner.

MR. MONROE: I know you know that, of course, Langston Hughes went to St. Luke?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes, that's right.

MR. MONROE: When did you first learn about that, and what all do you know about Langston Hughes?

DR. PENNINGTON: I first learned about that fairly recently. I think maybe a year or two before we did that St. Luke's Centennial for Langston Hughes. I really didn't know a lot about it at the time. I had read his works years and years ago, and I had heard that he might have attended St. Luke. But that, for me, was pretty much like hearsay, because even in reading his works, he would mention the church.

I remember maybe back in the 1980s or so was when I first knew this, because Vernell Spearman was a part of a movie made here in Lawrence. You would have to be like someone from back in the '80s to know this. But there was a movie producer who came to Lawrence and wanted to do the story of Langston Hughes and his relationship with St. Luke, plus his relationship in Lawrence. I don't remember the guy's name, but he came here and he wanted people to play the part of Langston Hughes' relatives. Vernell Spearman played the part of Langston Hughes' grandmother. There was a movie that was made in the '80s. It should be still around. I don't know if he left a copy here. I've got to remember his name.

In these pictures from St. Luke, he got the Community Choir. At that time, there was the Ecumenical Fellowship Choir. The black churches got together on the fourth Sunday afternoons. All the churches came together with the Ecumenical [Fellowship], Rev. Dulin, and they had this Ecumenical Choir. It just turned out that this man, who was this producer, wanted to have a black choir that was reminiscent of what Langston Hughes would have experienced. The Ecumenical Choir happened to be meeting just the weekend that he was in town, having a service, and so they became the choir that was reflective of what Langston Hughes' days were like.

They got some little guy to play the role of Langston Hughes as a youngster, and Vernell, seated in this role, was holding this little guy in her lap in a rocking chair on the porch. That was a part of that movie. I wish I could remember it because he probably should have left a copy of it in Lawrence. This was like back in about 1987. Rev. Stevenson was the Pastor at that time, Norman Stevenson, about '87.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, he's the one that started our Heritage Choir.

MS. COSBY: So did you read Langston Hughes' works while you were in high school, or did you have any of his works then? Did you know about him?

DR. PENNINGTON: No. Only after I came to Kansas, back during the '80s, when this movie was being made. If I can remember that guy's name, I will surely say it because he made this movie.

MR. MONROE: I know in one of Langston Hughes' books, he particularly specified that St. Luke did inspire him in a lot of ways.

DR. PENNINGTON: Right. Back to this movie, I do recall that they had a screening of that, oh, early '87 or '88, somewhere. And Rev. Dulin might know more about it. I don't know if they left a copy with him or not. But, at any rate, I do remember going to a screening up at the KU Union, in one of the rooms up there. So it was a good movie, if we can get a hold of that.

MR. MONROE: Maybe Rev. Dulin may know something about that.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah. It's been a many a year ago, but I just remember that after you said about Langston Hughes.

MR. MONROE: Because he was really into that Ecumenical Fellowship. As a matter of fact, he has been president of that I think forever. So he might know about that. Do you remember any of the African American businesses when you came to Lawrence?

DR. PENNINGTON: I remember Waldo Monroe's Barber Shop. I don't remember anything else.

MR. MONROE: What about the Blues Bucket Shop, that restaurant?

DR. PENNINGTON: What was that?

MR. MONROE: The Blues Bucket Shop was a restaurant up there on Vermont Street.

DR. PENNINGTON: No, I never knew about that one. I don't remember too many.

MR. MONROE: It may not have been there then, I don't know because I was gone a long time myself.

DR. PENNINGTON: I can't say that I do remember any businesses other than the Monroe Barber Shop. I just heard people talking about that. Oh, I hear people talk about this nightclub. I never went to it, but it was like Green Gables.

MR. MONROE: Green Gables. Yes, it was right over here on East Eighth Street.

DR. PENNINGTON: Okay. I would hear about things like that, and I'm trying to see were there any other businesses.

MS. COSBY: Did you know Dorothy Green?


MS. COSBY: Dorothy Folsom?

DR. PENNINGTON: I knew her.

MR. MONROE: That was Dorothy Green.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, she was a Green.

MR. MONROE: But after her husband passed, then she married Folsom.

DR. PENNINGTON: I knew her through like Ninth Street.

MR. MONROE: She was a musician over there.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, she was a musician? I didn't know that about her. I knew her through Ninth Street, I would just see her occasionally and I knew her through this couple that attends St. Luke now. The Fullers?

MS. COSBY: Yes, Harold.

DR. PENNINGTON: I was over to their house. I visit Mrs. Woods, Delores' mother. And, sometimes when I'd visit Mrs. Woods, Dorothy would be there before she passed away. So that was how I got to know her, through the Fullers.

MR. MONROE: When you first came here, were any of the restaurants or anything like that still segregated, or could you eat anywhere you wanted to when you first came?

DR. PENNINGTON: When I remember restaurants, before I had a car, I would have to take the bus everywhere and I was living here in East Lawrence. I remember Woolworth's downtown, and Woolworth's had a lunch count, and I could go there and eat. I remember that. Maybe blacks weren't supposed to go there, but I didn't know any better, so I would go like to Woolworth's down on Massachusetts Street to eat there. Because I didn't have transportation, I just didn't know a lot about Lawrence. I would make a path between going to school or going to church, and that was it. I was here for a couple of years before I owned an automobile and, without transportation, I just couldn't get around the city. So I kind of had selected places to go.

MR. MONROE: I think most of them were integrated at that time.

DR. PENNINGTON: Probably so.

MS. COSBY: What was your boarding experience like?

DR. PENNINGTON: It was very interesting how I made the contacts. It was all like a string of coincidences. But the first night that I came to Lawrence, as I said, I was coming to go to school.

MS. COSBY: To graduate school?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. My father brought me and another person who was his friend, by car. We first went to the Holiday Inn hotel, and it was at that time on South Iowa Street where the Days Inn is now. Now, it's changed. It's Best Western now.

But, at any rate, we went there and they were booked up for the night. We arrived in Lawrence about 11 o'clock one night and I'll never forget it. We were trying to get rooms there, but they were booked up. And, so, there was a man who worked there who happened to be African American. He says, "Well, there's one possibility for you." He says, "There is an older man who lives off Florida Street. Sometimes he takes in boarders, so he might be able to take you in for the night, until you get situated." So he gave us directions there. We didn't know him. It turned out that this man was Mr. Robert Jones' brother; his name was Henry Lee Jones.

So we went to his house late at night. He had already gone to bed. But he got up and accommodated us. He was just a total stranger. In those days you could trust strangers. Here we were, my father, a man named Mr. Bradley, and I. He led us into his home as a total set of strangers. Right? So we stayed there for a couple of days until we could get situated in town.

At that time, as I recall, KU did not have graduate student housing. So I was faced with that problem. I thought, "Oh, dear! That means I've got to find somewhere else to stay in town." So this man pointed us to this lady, Mrs. Bertie Ellis Harris. He says, "I've got a good friend who lives on a street called New Jersey. She's a widow and she has a large home. She might be willing to take in a female boarder." Great chance! So we finally made the connection, and she took me in as a boarder. She had this huge house upstairs and downstairs, so she gave me the upstairs suite, and she and I really lived together because, as I said, she was a widow.

I stayed with her for about a year. But, because I didn't have transportation, I wanted to live closer to KU. So I moved in an apartment up there across from the stadium, and that's how I got on my own. But it was a great boarding experience. She was very kind. I had all kinds of kitchen privileges with just the two of us, so I got to prepare any food I wanted to, and we sometimes shared food. She would call me her gal. "My gal (laughter)."

MR. MONROE: So your experience in coming to Lawrence, though, was warm and friendly as far as living in Lawrence, Kansas?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. I think for the most part it really was. I remember that people tried to accommodate me and, if I needed transportation, they would provide me with transportation. Even the people in her community, because I would walk to KU every morning from Thirteenth and New Jersey, up that steep hill, and there were some people on the street who got to know me by then, because this was a black enclave. Most of the people that lived in her block were black. George Brown and Alberta Brown were across the street. Josephine White and her husband were just a couple of doors down. So they were well-to-do black people who owned their own homes and everything. I remember sometimes when Mr. White wasn't doing anything, he'd be setting out, and he would actually give me a ride up to KU just out of the goodness of his heart. So I got to know him and Mrs. Josephine White pretty well, and Mrs. Alberta Brown and Mr. George Brown, our neighbors. They were really kind to me. And I remember Rosie Shorter, who live somewhere in this area now, lived in that area then. And sometimes she would give me a ride. They were really kind to reach out to me. So I had I think that kind of experience.

MS. COSBY: And you never married?


MR. MONROE: But she has a wonderful family. I've met her whole family when they were here. A wonderful family. Would you like to share any family stories that have been passed down regarding your African American heritage or regarding slavery or the Underground Railroad?

DR. PENNINGTON: I didn't know a lot of history before becoming an adult. I can't remember any family stories necessarily. Growing up in Mississippi, all of our history was oral, but I do remember being a part of an extended family, because my mother was one of nine children. She was the eldest of the nine, and her parents had passed away at fairly young ages, leaving all these nine children without someone. So she sort of became the surrogate parent for her younger brothers and sisters. By the time that she got married and had me and my one other sibling, who's my brother, we grew up around all of her younger siblings, because she was still like their surrogate parent. So we were just like one big extended family. So I learned the values of sharing with the big family, traveling to church together in these pickup trucks or walking to these churches, and that kind of thing.

I became a part of a big family and all I knew about our history was that, on my mother's side, I'm told that her ancestry is part Native American Cherokee. They said that one of her maternal grandmothers was full-blooded Cherokee. And then on my father's side, I didn't know a lot about his grandmother, who was my great-grandmother. We lived with them part of the time too. But she had an interesting name. It was Lucretia, and I couldn't figure out where she got this. It sounded like a French name, Lucretia Pennington. I kept saying, "Where did she get that?" I never knew, but apparently there might have been some French blood that ran way back through the family on my father's side, where she got the name Lucretia Pennington. All the history was passed down orally, as far as I can remember.

MR. MONROE: I think a lot of Indians are involved in our ancestries. As a matter of fact, my great-great-grandmother was full-blooded Indian. But, like I say about this oral history, it's too bad we didn't get all this stuff. I know that my cousin, May Monroe Hampton, knew all that stuff. But I wished I'd just tape recorded all that back then. That was when I first came back home in 1976. But we just never think about these things.

MS. COSBY: Did you have any interactions with Native Americans in your life time?

DR. PENNINGTON: Back home I did, because there are a lot of Native Americans in Mississippi. But they primarily lived in rural areas and they were primarily in Mississippi. They were the Choctaw band of Indians. Sometimes out in the rural areas, I would go with my parents for whatever reason to visit someone in the country, and I would often see some of the Choctaws. But some of them didn't speak English, they spoke limited English. lf you grew up in the country, you were friendly to everyone back in that day. We'd just stop by some of their homes and have limited conversation. We just thought they were Indians and that was kind of it.

MR. MONROE: Back in the '50s, Haskell was a high school. Had you heard about Haskell at all?

DR. PENNINGTON: I knew nothing about Lawrence until I came here.

MR. MONROE: A lot of the Indians from all over the United States will come to Haskell University now for their education.


MR. MONROE: And even way back before it was a high school, I guess that's when Jim Thorpe even played football games at Haskell.

DR. PENNINGTON: I knew nothing about Lawrence until I came here as a student. My attraction to Lawrence was strictly KU.

MR. MONROE: But since you've been here, you have found that Lawrence is pretty historic?

DR. PENNINGTON: It's very rich in history. It's extremely rich in history. I think the thing that intrigued me about Lawrence is the fact that it was la free-state city. And, when I consider the fact that Lawrence was like a haven for black people and there were people here who fought for the freedom of blacks, I was really impressed with that. I thought, "This town had people who fought for the freedom of my people. It can't be all bad." So, in that sense, it just stuck in my mind. There were those battles and people were fighting for my race. I thought that was really great. You know, the John Browns.

MR. MONROE: There were blacks with John Brown.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, that's good.

MR. MONROE: There was even one that was hung with him. As a matter of act, he had relationships with Lawrence. Copeland, I believe was his name, and he was hung with John Brown I understand.

DR. PENNINGTON: In Virginia.

MRS. HIEBERT: He was hung two weeks later but captured at the same time. And Lewis Sheridan Leary was killed during the battle. He has connection to the Langston family.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, yes. After I got here, [I learned that] Lecompton became a part of this history, too, because it was the territorial capitol that was very pro-slavery. And I thought, "Lawrence was just like a little island of anti-slavery in the midst of all these proslavery towns." Atchison was pro-slavery, I'm told, all these little pockets. But here sat Lawrence in the middle as the anti-slavery little island. So it was really interesting.

MR. MONROE: I know that Tonganoxie was big on the Ku Klux Klan.

DR. PENNINGTON: I know that. I read about that in some of these newspaper stories. Lawrence was just this little island out here that believed in anti-slavery tradition.

MRS. HIEBERT: It seems to me, looking back into the history of Lawrence and everything, that this has been a community that's been willing to engage in that struggle even as the years maybe moved from slavery and then on. But I think, Dorthy, you mentioned at another time that the NAACP got energized here in this building.


MRS. HIEBERT: I don't remember all that.

MR. MONROE: I think the NAACP was organized right here at St. Luke.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. The history about that is more oral. What I have found in the newspapers, I did find evidence that it actually met here. I can point to sites for that because I kept those records from the Journal World. But, in terms of being formed here, there were different legends about that.

I know that the Sims, Rev. Sims from Second Christian, his wife, Rosa, were very active in the founding or the early years of NAACP. So it might have had a shared history. When you go back and look at it, the Sims were somewhere in this picture. I don't know if they were a part of the St. Luke group or what, but the history of the NAACP in the early years cannot be told without also bringing in Rev. Sims and his wife, Rosa, who were at Second Christian, because she was one of the forming members. And it might have just had cycles. It might have been that here's a time it just went and then phased out, and then got reborn or resurrected later. So it might have a lot of histories. But I know that St. Luke was one of those forming places in the 1950s version of the resurrection with Mr. Jesse Milan giving me that account of the story.

MRS. HAMM: Rev. Sims was the person who closed his church on weekends when black children didn't have a place to skate. And on weekends he made a place in his church for us to skate. So it was a skating rink on Saturday and church on Sunday.

DR. PENNINGTON: Really? Now was this the one on Tennessee, the old Pentecostal which he also owned, or was it the one here on 13th and Connecticut?

MRS. HAMM: The one on 13th.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. He also owned the building, the old Pentecostal church that's now torn down on 13th and...

MR. MONROE: Yeah. It was on 19th and Tennessee.

MRS. HAMM: I didn't know he owned that.

DR. PENNINGTON: For a time he owned part. Yeah. It's interesting that that church was torn down, but that's a separate story. It's like we lost a black church for development or something. But, at any rate, that's the story.

MRS. HIEBERT: When you were at KU, I know that I went back and started graduate work in the mid -1970s and not too long after that I met Vernell Spearman and Mary Townsend. I've always viewed the two of them, and later Marilyn Ainsworth Yarbrough, as very strong women—and people who were strong in standing up for their race and for women as well. Did you benefit from part of a network like that on campus?

DR. PENNINGTON: I did and it was coincidental that during the late 1970s I started the course on the black woman at KU, and it was through Professor Jacob Gordon, who was head of the black studies program at that time. It was called African studies, and those were the heydays of the women's revolution, the late '70s. So a lot of courses on women were being implemented, and I started the course on the black woman at KU. We were certainly a part of that network, so I would credit Mary Townsend with starting. I can't remember when she taught the course, maybe on the black family at KU, but it might have run hand in hand with my course on the black woman. But I certainly used those women as networks for my class. I would invite them in as keynote speakers for my class. Marilyn, Mary, and other women like that. We were a strong network of women.

MRS. HIEBERT: Marian Washington was there early on too.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. She was what I would really call a pioneer. I mean, she really had to pave the way for women's sports at KU in times that were not particularly friendly to women's sports or athletics.
But the networking was really good. I remember that after Marilyn Ainsworth Yarbrough came to teach law in those years, she was so good at networking that she would see ways that people in the community could be connected that they either had not thought of or didn't care to do. One of the ways that she networked was when Marian Washington was the women's basketball coach and she later became women's athletic director. Marilyn Yarbrough got her to lead a women's fitness program at the fieldhouse for black women, staff, and faculty. Once or twice a week we'd all meet, I think it was after work, and Marian Washington led us in a fitness program. So that was a part of the network. The same faculty women and staff were networking through a fitness program with anyone who wanted to. You could also do it as a spouse of a black faculty or staff person too. Black male faculty members or staff who had wives also were brought into the network, so it broadened the network of associates through the black faculty staff.

MR. MONROE: Since you bring up Marian Washington, just this past weekend she went to the Kansas Hall of Fame.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, that is wonderful.

MR. MONROE: Her and Bill Snyder the K-State football coach, and some other big names just went to the Kansas Hall of Fame in Wichita just this past weekend.

MR. MONROE: Is there anything anyone would like to ask or do you have any more comments? What is your complete title? I think I know, but I just wanted you to say it for the record.

DR. PENNINGTON: At KU, I'm an associate professor in the Departments of African and African American Studies, and Communication Studies. I work for two departments, but all of my training really is in communication studies. For the record, the one difference that I've seen over the years from what I've read about in doing the churches is that back in the founding years of churches, African Americans were a lot more innovative and they took church a lot more seriously, because I think that was the only meeting site that they had. When I read the record of St. Luke and other churches, like Ninth Street in particular, I would read that there might have been 250 people at a worship service on a given Sunday. You wonder what happened to that spirit of worship.

MS. COSBY: That was a discussion that we were having just this past Saturday. The paradigm has changed dramatically.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes, it has.

MS. COSBY: Whereas you had a lot of volunteers, people who volunteered at the church, now you have to have paid staff. You have to have paid people to carry the work of the church on.

MR. MONROE: I can remember going to St. Luke every Sunday, and this church was packed. And you had a lot of activity. We never did pay to staff the church.

DR. PENNINGTON: That was during your lifetime.

MR. MONROE: Right.

DR. PENNINGTON: But in the 1800s I would read that they would have an average attendance of 200-250 people on a given Sunday.

MR. MONROE: Church was a big part of their lives.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah, it was more central. But now I think there is a lot of specialization where you don't really have to have the church for everything. Now you've got separate places to have literary activities, you've got the art guild or the library. In those days, the church was the center of sporting activities, social activities, literary activities, economic activities, civil rights activities. It was all situated in the church.

MR. MONROE: They were around the church.

DR. PENNINGTON: Right. The church plays a very different role now for a lot of African Americans. Whereas in those days it was more the central activity, now it's considered to be more optional. It's like, I don't really need it, but it's an option on the list of things to do. So it's a big difference, with the paradigm.

MR. MONROE: You don't seem to have big turnouts in church any more unless it's a big program going on.

DR. PENNINGTON: That's true.

MR. MONROE: We really want to thank you, Dr. Pennington, for your interview. It was very interesting and enlightening.

MS. COSBY: Do you want to tell who else is present in the interview?

MR. MONROE: Reta Cosby is our transcriber. We have Nancy Hiebert, she does a little bit of everything in here. And Virginia Hamm, who's our photographer. We really want to thank you, Dr. Pennington, for your interview. Thank you very much.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, you're welcome.

MRS. HIEBERT: Thank you very much.


DR. PENNINGTON: The church entrance was on this side here, on the north side, instead of being on the west side. You can see the people walking in through that north side entrance there.

MR. MONROE: I remember that.

MRS. HAMM: And that's what I didn't remember at all.

DR. PENNINGTON: I think when this Second Century Fund group was meeting at Bill Tuttle's a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an email saying that I couldn't come, but I had some pictures. These are those pictures. And, also, what I was saying is that the Pastor and the people that you see, we were told that's Rev. Brookings, and he went on to become a bishop. So I was saying that there have been two bishops, I believe Bishop Brookings and Bishop Vinton Anderson, who pastored St. Luke. So maybe one of the projects...

MS, COSBY: So this was the entrance? The north side was the entrance?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah. From what I gathered, in the 1950s, on this side over here.

MS. COSBY: What was the front door now?

DR. PENNINGTON: I'm not sure what that was.

MR. MONROE: I think we did use both of them.

DR. PENNINGTON: Both of them? The reason was because the sanctuary was configured differently than it is now. In those days, the pulpit was on the south side, like over there, and the seats were in a semi-circle, so you could come from the west side or this side here, and you'd still be coming through that little circle like that. The pulpit was over back that way toward the south.

MR. MONROE: I remember that.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yeah. So those are the ones I had.

MRS. HIEBERT: I mentioned that right before I had to leave that morning, and I know that Stan Hernley, who couldn't come that day, was really interested in that.

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. He sent me an email, so I'm going to take them by his place one day this week. I called him last week, but he wasn't in and I was going to drop them by there then.

MS. COSBY: Do you know any of the members in there?

DR. PENNINGTON: Yes. Now Mrs. Harvey, I mean this has been like a long list of projects, she circulated this around all in the spring and sent me this letter. That's Rev. Brookings, but now let me see what she says.

MR. MONROE: I think we had four bishops go through here.

DR. PENNINGTON: Oh, that would be great.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, we had four I think. And actually it was five, one was my cousin. He wasn't really a bishop here, but he's buried out in Oak Hill.

DR. PENNINGTON: Now the first row, she said the second person is Mrs. Della Bryant, the third person is Mrs. Billie Givens and, of course, Rev. H.H. Brookings. There was the little girl, whose name is Sheila Williams, and there was an Ann Williams that's on the first row. Then the second row was Mason Nelson, Mr. James Bryant who was Mrs. Bryant's husband, Mrs. Marilynn Brown, Harvey Brown, Mr. Leslie Kimball who's Robert Kimball's father, and a Mrs. Turner.

MRS. HAMM: It sure is. She remembered all those names.

MR. MONROE: I just saw Mason yesterday when I went up to Lola's wake.

MRS. HIEBERT: Is that Mr. Kimball?

MRS. HAMM: Uh-huh.

MR. MONROE: I think he lives in Lawrence now. I hardly ever see him.

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