The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights recently announced that its out-of-print history reference book, Kentucky’s Black Heritage: The Role of the Black People in the History of Kentucky from Pioneer Days to the Present (1971), can now be downloaded in its entirety from the Commission’s website. The Commission had charged a committee of prestigious scholars – including one woman and several men of color – and support staff to create it as a textbook supplement for Kentucky junior high school history courses. Only five years before, in 1966, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act had passed. The book is free and now widely available to the public.
Filled with photographs and profiles of many African Americans in the history of Kentucky from pioneer days through the 1960s, the book is still an interesting resource for us to use today. Though few passages in the book refer to women, there are some key points that make the book still valuable, especially for those of us searching for ways to craft a more inclusive narrative about Kentucky’s history.
It was common all through the Civil Rights Era to overlook and to forget to document women’s participation in the Movement – and this book was compiled and published just as Black Power and the feminist movements were taking off. This booklet is no exception even though its purpose was to correct the wrongs of discrimination and exclusivity in traditional, mainstream histories.
The Kentucky Black History Committee for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights were listed at the back of the book (pp. 141-144). There were 15 African-American and 2 white members:
Dr. Eleanor Young Alsbrook (daughter of Whitney Young, Sr.), assistant professor and assistant dean, University of Louisville
- Dr. Rufus B. Atwood, President-Emeritus, Kentucky State College
- Dr. Henry E. Cheaney, professor and chair of Afro-American Studies, Kentucky State College
- Mr. Charles Franklin Hinds, Director of Libraries, Murray State University
- Mr. Lyman T. Johnson, Assistant Principal, Manly Junior High School, and Treasurer of Louisville NAACP
- Mr. Howitt C. Mathis, Superintendent, West KY State Vocational-Technical School (Paducah)
- Mr. James O’Rourke, Head Librarian, Kentucky State College
- Dr. Charles H. Parrish, professor-emeritus at University of Louisville, acting chair of Division of Social Sciences, Lincoln University
- Dr. William H. Perry, Jr., Grand Sec’y of Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F.& A.M. of Kentucky; Deputy for Kentucky, the United Supreme Council, 33 degree, Southern Jurisdiction
- Mr. Alvin M. Seals, assistant professor, Kentucky State College and President of Lexington Montessori Society
- Mr. Frank B. Simpson, assistant superintendent, Jefferson County Schools
Mr. Maurice Strider, assistant professor, Morehead State University
- Dr. Rhea A. Taylor, associate professor, University of Kentucky
- Dr. George D. Wilson, professor emeritus, Kentucky State College
- Dr. Whitney M. Young, Sr., President-Emeritus, Lincoln Institute
- Miss Tava Taylor, student at Kentucky State College
- Miss Charlotte Dunne, student at Eastern Kentucky University
The three women who were on the Committee probably felt tremendous pride in getting the book out at all. I can’t help but wonder, though, if any one of them had wished for more information on women’s history to include in the book. It may have changed some of the narrative as well when expressing the history of an event or series of events from a woman’s perspective too.
In addition to these women, the acknowledgements (p. 145) showed that more women scholars were involved in the creation of the booklet. Librarian Jacqueline P. Bull (director of Special Collections and Archives) at the University of Kentucky, Mrs. Amelia Buckley of Keeneland Racetrack Library, Librarian Elizabeth Gilbert of the Hutchins Library at Berea College as well as Barbara Miller from the Louisville Free Public Library are thanked for helping the Committee members with information and archival materials. Mrs. Charles Farnsley of the Lost Cause Press, Mrs. Lillie Gleaves of the Jefferson County Department of Welfare are also mentioned for helping to research facts and aiding the Committee in acquiring many of the rare pictures published in this book.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how these women worked to create the book – and to wonder if they had been able to craft a different book than the one we now have in our possession.