By Hal Morris
Lee Jackson has been there from the start.
Jackson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UK in 1973, has been involved in the Lyman T. Johnson African-American UK Alumni Group since its founding and serves as the group’s president.
For One Day for UK, the University of Kentucky’s 24-hour digital giving day on Sept. 16, the UK Alumni Association is fundraising for the Lyman T. Johnson Scholarship Fund. The fund was selected to anchor the 70 Years of Integration celebration at UK and provide minority students financial assistance in their pursuit of higher education. The alumni group is named after Lyman T. Johnson, who was the first African-American to enroll at the University of Kentucky in 1949 which paved the way for integration in Kentucky higher education.
Since 2008, the Lyman T. Johnson African-American UK Alumni Group has awarded one or two scholarships each year based upon the funds available. The group’s goal is to ultimately raise $500,000 to fund approximately 20 scholarships annually for minority students. Among the organization’s major activities, each year the group awards the Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Awards to students and alumni at a ceremony during Homecoming.
“I was there from the beginning when it started, going back to Dr. Bill Turner’s tenure at UK,” Jackson says. “We felt we needed an organization that would focus on the scholarship and financial needs of African-Americans and other minority students, and we wanted to find a way to bolster the scholarships and get more involved with the university. When I was at UK, there were no scholarships available like this. So we felt it was important to give students some small financial assistance for books, lab fees, that sort of thing — fill in the gaps for students who don’t have outside scholarships.”
Jackson says there have been “peaks and valleys” in growing the group, but feels involvement is on the rise.
“I think we have been on the uptick in African-American alumni being more involved, particularly around Homecoming. Not just with LTJ but with other organizations on campus,” he says. “If we can bring all these groups together under one umbrella, it would be better for all concerned. The group’s members are heavily involved with the university outside of LTJ. A lot of us get back to campus with different organizations and assist the groups and students on campus. We are very involved with the UK community.”
Jackson, a native of Lynch, came to UK in part because of fellow eastern Kentuckian Turner, a 1968 graduate who went on to become the Vice President for Multicultural Affairs at UK.
“When he was back home he would talk about UK, and that piqued my interest. I had a lot of friends go to Kentucky State and Eastern Kentucky, but Dr. Turner kept talking about UK,” Jackson says.
Jackson began his college career at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College before transferring to UK. At UK, Jackson was active in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the UK Black Student Union and Black Voices Choir.
“When I hit campus, there were not a lot of African-American students, the majority were probably the football team,” he says. “So I just felt (with LTJ) it was important for the university to have a more diverse look.”
After graduation, Jackson went to work for the state, eventually serving as president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees and vice president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. He has been retired since 2006.
He is also part of a UK legacy. His daughter, Michelle Ramsey, a physical therapist, earned two bachelor degrees, a master’s degree and doctorate from UK.
You can make a difference and ensure students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to earn a degree at UK. Give to the Lyman T. Johnson Scholarship Fund on One Day for UK (Sept. 16) and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $15,000.