Audrey Grevious pushed for integration of Lexington businesses in the 1950s and 1960s, leading sit-ins and protests as a leader of Lexington’s NAACP and the Lexington Congress on Racial Equality.
The former teacher and principal of the Kentucky Village Reformatory — an alternative school that is now Blackburn Correctional Complex — was also a longtime educator.
Later this month, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is expected to approve renaming the Lexington Day Treatment Center to honor the Civil Rights activist and educator. Grevious died in January 2017.
The center is a school operated jointly by the city, Fayette County Public Schools and the state’s juvenile justice department.
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“I never want another kid to say they go to day treatment,” said Councilwoman Peggy Henson, who pushed the council to rename the school.
Henson, whose council district includes the school near Red Mile and Versailles roads, said the name is misleading and stigmatizes kids who attend.
“Grevious was a teacher and a leader and took an interest in kids like the ones at the day treatment center,” Henson said. “I think this is a perfect solution.”
The switch comes as the city council continues discussions about how to honor more women of historical importance. There is no statue of a woman of historical importance in downtown Lexington.
There are other Fayette County schools named for black women, including Edythe J. Hayes Middle School and Rosa Parks Elementary School, but there are few city-owned buildings named for black women. There is a community center in Douglass Park named for Oteria O’Rear, another Civil Rights leader, long-time activist and the first black woman to be elected to a county-wide position when she was elected as a county magistrate in 1984.
Grevious was inducted into the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2012.
She was first elected president of the Lexington NAACP in 1957. Grevious worked closely with Julia Lewis, president of the local Congress on Racial Equality chapter and eventually became vice president of the group. The two organized protests at restaurants, businesses and movie theaters that at the time refused to serve black people.
The movement for civil rights in Lexington was largely ignored by the two local newspapers at the time, the Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader. In 2004, Grevious was interviewed as part of a Herald-Leader series highlighting aspects of the movement that were not covered at the time.
She told the Herald-Leader about her experience at a Lexington lunch counter sit-in in 1960, when a waitress dumped a cold glass of Coca-Cola all over her.
Grevious also talked about a protest where she and others stood behind a chain at a downtown Lexington business. A manager flicked the chain repeatedly across Grevious’ shins, but she would not move and just sang “Yield Not to Temptation.” She had to be helped away afterward and, at the time of the 2004 story, still had pain in her shins.
Grevious received a degree in education from what is now Kentucky State University, then called Kentucky State College. She worked as a teacher and principal at Kentucky Village, a reformatory school for delinquent boys. After the school closed, Grevious became a teacher at Maxwell Elementary School in Lexington.
Social Services Commissioner Chris Ford, who oversees youth services and the day treatment center, said he knew a lot about Grevious’ civil rights work but not as much about her education career. Ford said after he learned more about her, he realized her work as an educator and social justice advocate aligned with the mission of the day treatment center.
“I knew she was a civil rights leader and an activist,” Ford said. “It was her connection early in her education career to the Kentucky Village Reform School that provided a sense of connection to the services that we provide at the day treatment center.”
Ford said the school will officially be renamed the Audrey Grevious Center later this summer.
The day treatment center is on Harry Sykes Way, which was renamed in 2017 to honor another black civil rights leader. Sykes was the first black city commissioner, mayor pro tempore and vice mayor. Sykes was also a teacher and a basketball coach and at one time played for the Harlem Globetrotters. He was instrumental in the creation of Lexington’s Urban League.