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BC Found Guilty One Century Ago

Exactly one hundred years ago in Madison County Circuit Court, Berea College was found guilty of violating the Day Law.

The Day Law, legislation sponsored by Representative Carl Day, who opposed Berea's intention to educate black and white students together, took effect on January 14, 1904. Stating that it is "unlawful for any person, corporation or association of persons to maintain or operate any college, school, or institution where persons of the white and negro races are both received as pupils, and any person or corporation who shall operate and maintain any such college, school, or institution, shall be fined $1,000," the Day Law was intended to stamp out racial integration at schools in Kentucky.

During the trials, Berea insisted that the Day Law violated the fourteenth amendment rights by denying citizens “the right of enjoying and defending their liberty, the right of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences, the right of seeking and pursuing their safety and happiness, the right of freely communicating their thoughts and opinions, the right of acquiring and protecting property, and the right to freely and fully speak, write, and print on any subject.” However, the prosecutors argued that the House of Representatives must have regarded the education of blacks and whites as “inimical and detrimental to the public peace and morals, and hurtful to society.”

Throughout the trial prosecutors insisted that the Day Law did not obstruct Berea from educating black students; rather, the law obstructed Berea from educating black and white students together. The prosecutors asserted, “If they want to establish and maintain a school for the colored youth, they can do it, and if they at the same time want to establish and maintain a school for the white youth they can do it, but if one school is to be a branch of or connected with the other they must be twenty-five miles apart.” Following the court's decision, the College's Trustees considered several options, including relocating the college to Ohio or West Virginia, before deciding that Berea would admit white students only and build a new school - Lincoln Institute - for black students. $400,000 was raised for this purpose and 444 acres of land in Shelby County was purchased for the campus. On October 1, 1912, Lincoln Institute opened its doors and began the education of 85 black students.

Berea College appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Day Law did not violate the 14th Amendment. Thus, the college was ordered to stop interracial education.

Eventually, the Day Law was repealed in 1950, and Berea once again began its mission of interracial education.

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