Fayette County

Prominent Lexington civil rights activist, teacher Audrey Grevious dies

Audrey Grevious, a civil rights activist from Lexington, was interviewed in the KET documentary Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.
Audrey Grevious, a civil rights activist from Lexington, was interviewed in the KET documentary Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. KET

Prominent Lexington civil rights activist and longtime educator Audrey Louise Ross Grevious died Friday. She was 86.

Grevious was elected president of the Lexington NAACP chapter in 1957 and is credited with organizing numerous protests and sit-ins in Lexington during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Robert Jefferson, a former Urban County Councilman and Grevious’ brother, said Grevious had battled Alzheimer’s disease for the past seven years.

Jefferson said his sister had a lifelong passion for helping people — either through the civil rights movement or as a teacher.

“She was an individual who are cared a lot about people,” Jefferson said.

Grevious worked closely with E.C. Hale, who was Lexington’s police chief during the civil rights movement, according to The Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia. Their work together is credited for keeping Lexington’s movement more peaceful than in some other cities.

The movement for civil rights in Lexington was largely ignored by the two local papers at the time, the Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader. In 2004, Grevious was interviewed as part of a Herald-Leader series highlighting the aspects of the movement that were not covered.

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 out after the stand-in and, at the time of the 2004 series, still had pain in her shins.

“One of the things that a lot of the time people forget is just how racially segregated Lexington was during that time and the real racial oppression that existed in this community,” said Rev. Gerald L. Smith, a University of Kentucky historian. “Here was a woman who confronted this problem. When I think about her, I think about her and the number of other African-American women who were engaged in the local struggle.”

She confronted segregation with dignity and strength, said Smith, who was Grevious’ pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church.

“She was very classy, very articulate, very determined,” he said. “She embodied non-violent direct protest, and she embraced that philosophy as president of the NAACP.”

Grevious was never worried about how many people were at a protest, Smith said. She counted on herself and could be “an army of one” if she needed to be.

“She fearlessly confronted oppression. She was clearly more than a foot soldier, she was more than willing to get out front and take charge,” Smith said. “She had a presence that you knew she meant business. She was willing to look evil in the face and ready to face the consequences if necessary.”

Jefferson said his sister became a leader in the civil rights movement because she experienced injustice.

“It was just the inequality that existed at the time,” Jefferson said.

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.

Amanda Ferguson, a former Fayette County Public Schools board member, had Grevious as a sixth-grade teacher at Maxwell.

“She was just strong, but quiet and gentle with the kids,” Ferguson said. “I guess it was a quiet strength. She was never rattled. She was a calm spirit.”

Ferguson didn’t find out until years later that Grevious had led marches and been an instrumental civil rights advocate in Lexington.

“She was fighting battles, but she never let that get to the kids. She always did her job and taught the children,” Ferguson said.

Grevious was also an avid bowler, acquiring many trophies throughout her lifetime.

“She started locally and then started going to tournaments,” Jefferson said.

Grevious was inducted into the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame in 2012.

Visitation for Grevious will be held at Pilgrim Baptist Church from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday with the funeral immediately after, according to Fender Funeral Directors. A Delta Sigma Theta sorority service will be held at the church before the visitation, starting at 11:30 a.m.