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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.


The student newspaper also covered the Lyman T. Johnson case. As students, the writers, and readers of the paper had less authority than the Board of Trustees and less influence than university alumni. Their perspective shows the reaction of a younger demographic and reflects the sentiments on campus, not only of students, but also of faculty. This article also sheds light the environment that Lyman T. Johnson and other students of color would enter as they became part of the student body.


  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 Kernel, April 1, 1949

Front page of the Kentucky Kernel, April 1, 1949

This is the front page of the April 1, 1949 issue of the Kentucky Kernel. The top-right article discusses the Lyman T. Johnson case. A close-up of the article is on the next slide. 

Kentucky Kernel front page

Kentucky Kernel, April 1, 1949, Page 1, Column 5

This clipping from the first page describes the Lyman T. Johnson case. It presents the information found in the other documents to University of Kentucky students. Does this change how the information is presented? What information is unique to this source? 

Kentucky Kernel clipping, headline reads