Statement of Need
Kentucky African Americans have been a part of the Commonwealth of Kentucky from its inception. Although enslaved, blacks traveled with the first settlers and assisted them in founding Boonesborough and other frontier settlements. Since that era, Kentuckians of African American descent have played significant roles as builders, entrepreneurs, educators, politicians, athletes, soldiers, doctors, nurses, coal miners, lawyers, and religious leaders. Under the state's segregation laws, blacks built thriving business districts in cities and towns, established hospitals for the ill, supported public schools and teachers colleges and established cemeteries to bury their loved ones.
Kentucky African American history is as diverse, vibrant, and resilient as the state's general history. This history has been chronicled in doctoral dissertations, master's theses, occasional articles in scholarly journals, and a few general histories. In 1970, The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights published Kentucky's Black Heritage, a 161-page supplement for Kentucky history textbooks. In 1982, Alice Dunnigan's lengthy popular history, The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, was published by the Associated Publishers Division of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Ten years later, the Kentucky Historical Society published the well-received two volume History of Blacks in Kentucky authored by Dr. Marion Lucas and Dr. George Wright.
These historical works were complemented by biographies on famous Kentuckians including Muhammad Ali, Whitney Young, Lyman T. Johnson, Mae Street Kidd, Rufus Atwood, and Ted Poston. These biographies plus monographs on other special topics on Kentucky life have created a growing interest in Kentucky African American history.
The Kentucky Encyclopedia (1992), The Encyclopedia of Louisville (2002), and the forthcoming Northern Kentucky Encyclopedia have entries on African Americans, but these volumes were not compiled to focus solely on the many topics and issues relative to black life in the bluegrass state.
The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will provide a comprehensive volume of research on the black experience in the Commonwealth. It will include entries on the individuals, events, places, organizations, movements, and institutions which have shaped the state's history since its origins. It will also include topical essays on slavery, education, women, religion, sports, business, and civil rights. A first of its kind, The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will serve as a major reference for students, teachers, researchers, and anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of Kentucky and the South.
The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will include Kentucky African Americans who have been identified as having played significant roles in Kentucky life. Some will be Kentucky-born African Americans who later assumed important national roles and others who became Kentuckians by identification or migration.
A bibliographic essay and selected bibliography will direct the reader to other sources. An advisory committee will review an evolving list of entries and make recommendations. However, the editors will use their professional judgment in making the work one that encompasses the breadth and depth of the Kentucky African American cultural and historical experience.
Kentucky African American and Affrilachian poet Frank X Walker suggests in his poem "Kentucke" that Kentuckys history overlooks those persons of African descent who made significant contributions. His closing phrase in this poem drives home this point with a note that "some of the bluegrass is black." The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia supports this concept by providing its readers with a reference tool to grasp the diversity of Kentucky's culture and history.
Lyman T. Johnson (1906-1997) filed a lawsuit which ultimately desegregated the University of Kentucky's Graduate School in 1949. Johnson was an outstanding educator, administrator, and community activist in Louisville, Kentucky.