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Exploring Primary Sources: Lyman T. Johnson Exercise

This guide contains the materials and activities used for a class exercise on Lyman T. Johnson, the first African American to attend the University of Kentucky.


This magazine from the University of Kentucky Alumni Association includes news about the university and about former students, e.g., marriages and obituaries. In this issue from 1948, there is an article about the new education plan between UK and Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University), a result of the Lyman T. Johnson case. The article describes the results of the case in more detail and provides more historic background for the case, e.g., the Day Law and a similar Oklahoma case.


  1. Brainstorm. List 10-20 words or phrases about the documents/items. (Start with the details of the document, like topic, names, publication, etc. What do you find interesting? Strange? Do you find anything appealing or disturbing? Things you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with?)
  2. Articulating Problems. Formulate 2-4 possible problems that could be developed from the above list of words and description of materials. (Problems can be found by looking for tensions between ideas, conflicts between your own experience and what the text/image presents, assumptions underlying the arguments of the text/item, or if you notice any gaps or missing information overlooked by the source).
  3. Posing Fruitful Questions. List 2-4 open-ended questions for one problem that could lead to more in-depth research.
  4. What is at Stake? Thinking about the description, brainstorming list, problems, and questions, write 2-5 sentences answering the following: So what? Why does this matter? Why would someone care about this document and why?

Kentucky Alumnus Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 19, 1948

Cover of Kentucky Alumnus Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 19, 1948

The Kentucky Alumnus cover page

Kentucky Alumnus Magazine, 1948, Page 11

Note how the plan is framed in the article and how the events that led to it are described.

Alumni magazine article about the use of University of Kentucky facilities by Kentucky State College as part of a plan to provide equal educational opportunities.