Education is the key, black history speaker says

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Author will share her experiences during celebration Feb. 28

By Stephen Lega

Charlene Hampton Holloway was arrested when she was 13 years old.

She was arrested for participating in a march in downtown Louisville in 1961. The march was intended to raise awareness about businesses that discriminated against African-Americans.

"I wasn't afraid," Holloway said. "I felt like they would release me to my parents or my grandparents."

After her first arrest, she was taken to jail, but that didn't discourage her and others from continuing to march. The second time, she was taken to a children's center.

Those marches led to a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who offered the marchers support and encouragement to continue their fight for equal treatment.

Holloway will be sharing more of her story as the featured speaker during the annual Black History Celebration, which is sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP. The event is free to the public, and it is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, at Centre Square.

"I think it was fruitful," Holloway said about the marches. "I think what we did was peaceful and nonviolent."

In fact, one downtown restaurant, the Colonnade, opened its doors to African-Americans after the first march, and Holloway was one of the first blacks to eat inside the restaurant.

"They were as nice as they could be," she said.

Holloway and her companions marched throughout the spring of 1961, and that year, several businesses opened their doors to African-Americans.

"It was all worth it," she said.

Holloway saw at an early age what a group of dedicated people could do, but she was also encouraged to improve herself through education by her parents and her grandparents. She started her collegiate career at Western Kentucky University, but later transferred to Jefferson Community College (which was then part of the University of Kentucky), where she completed her nursing degree.

Today, she works as a psychiatric nurse at Our Lady of Peace, but she has also written a book, "Whitlock's Compositions," about her grandfather, Charles D. Whitlock, who was the son of a slave.

Whitlock would later become the first African-American florist to open his own shop in Kentucky.

Holloway's grandfather was born in Hopkinsville, but moved to Louisville where he worked as chauffeur for a florist. After learning the profession himself, her grandfather opened his own shop, Whitlock's Florist, in the 1920s in Louisville.

The book tells the story of how he struggled to put both of his daughters through college. Holloway added that her mother became the first African-American from Kentucky to graduate from Indiana University's School of Music in 1939.

Holloway said her family always stressed the importance of a good education.

"The key to raising yourself up is through education," she said.

Sunday's celebration will also include a praise team from Springfield and solo musical performances. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information, call Rose Graves at (270) 692-4118.