Campus News

UK President Eli Capilouto: Honoring Lyman T. Johnson and his legacy


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 31, 2024) — University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto sent the message below to the campus community this week.


Campus Community,

This year, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of our most significant stories.

In the 1940s, Lyman T. Johnson and other young educators were determined to integrate the University of Kentucky. They searched for a talented, Black high school student interested in challenging UK, but they had trouble finding someone willing to take the risk.

By 1948, Johnson's fellow advocates urged him to take on the case himself. He agreed and applied as a graduate student for the university's 1948 summer session.

Johnson was rejected. So, he sued.

In 1949, a judge ruled in favor of Johnson, integrating UK and effectively overturning the Kentucky Day Law. That summer semester, Johnson and 29 other Black students enrolled at UK.

Although he didn't graduate from the University of Kentucky, Johnson still took with him a piece of our legacy — one he etched into our foundation himself — that was on the right side of history...

In the fall of 1949, standing as a force in front of the University of Louisville's Board of Trustees, Johnson declared, “We are fresh from victory at Lexington. You can read the handwriting on the wall and open these doors now, or you can be made to do it, with humiliation.” They integrated in 1950.

This is in contrast to the history in many states south of us that successfully opposed and resisted university desegregation for more than another decade. Kentucky was not perfect. But Lyman T. Johnson courageously and resolutely showed us we could be more perfect. 

Johnson knew the power of education. He was a lifelong and fierce advocate for desegregation, changing the trajectory and prosperity of Kentucky...paving the way for future generations. 

Johnson is part of our story. Hear him tell it in the links below. 

Eli Capilouto


As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.