Kentucky’s ‘paradise lost’ estate for sale for first time in 131 years.

November 3, 2015
David Meade built the octagonal parlor at right at Chaumiere des Prairies about 1823. The rest of his house was a collection of log cabins, now long gone. The Greek Revival house now to the parlor's side was built by a subsequent owner in 1840. Photos by Tom Eblen

David Meade built the octagonal parlor at right at Chaumiere des Prairies about 1823. The rest of his house was a collection of log cabins, now long gone. The Greek Revival house now to the parlor’s side was built by a subsequent owner in 1840. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

NICHOLASVILLE — A pioneer estate whose elaborate gardens attracted three U.S. presidents and virtually every other notable person who passed through the Bluegrass two centuries ago is for sale for the first time in 131 years.

Chaumiere des Prairies, 1439 Catnip Hill Road, which includes an antebellum mansion and 169 acres of farmland that once included the 40-acre gardens, will be sold to the highest bidder at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 14. If Wilson Auction Co. can’t sell the entire estate, the house and five acres will be offered separately from 164 acres of land.

Margaret Steele Rash’s grandfather bought the place in 1884 to celebrate her mother’s birth. Rash lived there for 40 years, until she died in 2013 at age 95. Her son, Lloyd McMillan, is moving to South Carolina and decided it was time to sell.

“It’s a real treasure,” McMillan said. “It’s my wife’s and my hope that there’s somebody who falls in love with this place as much as my mom did.”

Lloyd McMillan is selling Chaumiere des Prairies, a famous antebellum estate that has been in his family since 1884. The estate's builder, David Meade, entertained three U.S. presidents and many other notables there. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Lloyd McMillan

The Greek Revival mansion, built about 1840, has stellar craftsmanship. But what makes Chaumiere special is an adjoining eight-sided parlor with a 16-foot ceiling. It was built about 1823 in anticipation of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Kentucky in 1825.

The parlor is the last remnant of early Kentucky’s version of “paradise lost.”

David Meade was born in 1744 to a wealthy Virginia family and was educated in England. A patriot, he helped finance the American Revolution. In 1795, he decided to sell his 600-acre Maycox plantation along Virginia’s James River, where for 22 years he had dabbled in English-style garden design.

Meade sent the eldest of his nine children, also named David, to Kentucky, where he bought 330 acres in what is now northern Jessamine County. The elder Meade, his wife, Sarah, and the rest of their family arrived the next year with 40 slaves and 50 wagons of possessions.

Meade had a log house built on his new estate, which he called La Chaumière des Prairies (or La Chaumière du Prairie), which roughly translates from French as “little house on the prairie.” (The accent mark has since been lost to history.)

By 1806, the house had grown into a cluster of log rooms connected by hallways. The heart of the home was a large, square dining room for guests. Meade was a man of leisure, always ready to entertain.

Under Meade’s direction, his slaves created the elaborate gardens. The Rev. Horace Holley, who left Boston for Lexington in 1818 to transform Transylvania into one of the nation’s best universities, described them in a letter:

“His house consists of a cluster of buildings in front of which spreads a beautiful sloping lawn, smooth as velvet,” Holley wrote. “From his walks diverge in various directions forming vistas terminated by picturesque objects. Seats, verdant banks, alcoves and a Chinese temple are all interspersed at convenient distances. The lake over which presides a Grecian temple, that you might imagine to be the home of water nymphs, has in it a small island which communicates with the shore by a white bridge of one arch. The whole park is surrounded by a low, rustic stone fence almost hidden by roses and a honey-suckle, now in full flower. … There is no establishment like this in our country.”

In addition to frequent local guests including Holley and statesman Henry Clay, Meade hosted Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. When former Vice President Aaron Burr was on his way to Virginia to stand trial for treason in 1807, he spent several days at Chaumiere. (Burr was acquitted of a charge of trying to separate Western from Atlantic states and create a new nation.)

David Meade died in 1829, a year after his wife. They were buried in the gardens. Their monument, destroyed by vandals, was replaced a decade ago by a descendant.

Meade’s children decided to sell Chaumiere at auction in 1832. When farmer William Robards won the bidding, distressed neighbors posted a sign proclaiming “paradise lost.” The sign infuriated Robards, who spitefully turned his livestock loose in the gardens until they were destroyed.

The only part of Meade’s house to survive was the octagonal brick parlor built for the French general, who apparently never saw it. A subsequent owner, Edward Carter, added the fine brick house to the parlor.

Recent open houses have been well attended, Nicholasville auctioneer Bobby Day Wilson said, and several out-of-town prospects have toured Chaumiere des Prairies and have expressed interest in restoring it to glory.

Perhaps “paradise lost” may yet be found again.

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The front hall of the Greek Revival house built in 1840.

 

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Outside detail of the circa 1823 octagonal parlor.

 

The octagonal parlor at Chaumiere des Prairie was built about 1823, reportedly in the hope that the Marquis de Lafayette would be entertained there when he visited Kentucky. Longtime resident Margaret Steele Rash bought the chandelier and mirror, which came from old Lexington homes. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Inside the octagonal parlor.

 

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A descendant helped restore the Meades’ cemetery in 2005, including new monuments.

 

Now a cattle field, the grounds around Chaumiere des Prairies were beautiful botanical gardens in the early 1800s that gained international fame. Decorative Greek and Chinese temples once stood beside the ponds. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Now a cattle field, the grounds around Chaumiere des Prairies were beautiful botanical gardens in the early 1800s that gained international fame


With Breeders’ Cup coming, black jockey Isaac Murphy gets his due

October 13, 2015

The most celebrated jockey in Lexington this month won’t be riding in Keeneland’s fall meet, or afterward at the Breeders’ Cup.

In fact, he died 119 years ago.

Isaac Burns Murphy, a black Kentuckian who was the most successful jockey in Thoroughbred racing history, will be the focus of a series of free public programs and events Oct. 20-24.

Murphy

Isaac Murphy. Keeneland Library photo

The celebration begins Tuesday with a lecture at the Lyric Theatre by Pellom McDaniels III, an Emory University professor, former professional football player and author of the 2013 biography The Prince of Jockeys.

The Kentucky Horse Park on Thursday will unveil a newly engraved tombstone for Murphy, who is buried there. Later that afternoon, new interpretive panels will be unveiled at the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden in the East End.

I Dedicate This Ride, former Kentucky poet laureate Frank X Walker’s play about Murphy, will be performed at the Lyric Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights. Also on Saturday, a new memorial will be dedicated at Murphy’s original gravesite at African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.

Each day that week, McDaniels will be speaking at the Lyric to local school groups and showing them an exhibit of photo and text panels about Murphy. The panels will remain on display in the theater’s gallery through Dec. 11.

“Isaac Murphy is a wonderful figure in history, for a lot of reasons,” McDaniels said.

Murphy was born into slavery in Frankfort four days after the Civil War began in 1861. After his father died in Union Army service in 1865, Murphy was raised in Lexington by his mother and grandfather.

Murphy became a jockey at age 14 and rode in the Kentucky Derby 11 times, winning three of them, in 1884, 1890 and 1891. By his calculations, Murphy won 628 of his 1,412 races, a 44 percent victory rate that has never been equaled. In 1955, Murphy was the first jockey to be inducted into the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. He died of pneumonia in 1896.

McDaniels, 47, is from San Jose, Calif., and played for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. After retiring from football, he earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in American studies from Emory University in Atlanta, where he is now an associate professor of African American studies.

McDaniels said he discovered Murphy while working on his doctoral dissertation about the role of black athletes in the 20th century, when racism made sports one of the few areas where black men could advance.

In looking at the roots of that phenomenon, he discovered black athletes in the 19th century who were revered by white Americans before the Jim Crow era led to systematic discrimination.

Pellom McDaniels III, an associate professor of African American studies at Emory University and former professional football player, is the author of The Prince of Jockeys, a biography of Lexington native Isaac Burns Murphy. Photo provided

Pellom McDaniels III. Photo provided

The star among them was Murphy, a celebrity described in the white press as an “elegant specimen of manhood.” He was lionized for his good looks, his intellect and his gentlemanly behavior.

“I thought it was very interesting that this man coming out of slavery would be in newspapers being represented as this quintessential man,” McDaniels said.

By the end of Murphy’s career, though, discrimination was marginalizing accomplished blacks who had made gains during Reconstruction, including athletes.

Previous biographers speculated that Murphy’s polish came from his association with whites in the horse industry. But McDaniels thinks a more likely explanation was Lexington’s black community, which was quite advanced for that time.

“The community was thriving,” he said. “There were businesses and very well-educated people there, lawyers and doctors.”

McDaniels thinks Murphy’s life story is a great teaching opportunity, especially for young people.

“Sports history is an opportunity to teach, especially young men, about these different nuances of social and economic and racial history,” he said

Murphy was a professional athlete who knew how to handle success with grace and responsibility — something rare now as it was then. His success brought fortune as well as fame, and Murphy and his wife, Lucy, lived in a Third Street mansion about where the Isaac Memorial Art Garden is now.

“He and Lucy had plenty of opportunities to leave Lexington and go to California and New York and Chicago, but he kept coming back home,” McDaniels said. “I think he came home because the people in Lexington knew him. They were his family and they helped him maintain his rootedness.”


New mural an effort to overcome a disaster and a near-miss

October 6, 2015
Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong and his trumpet on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen

Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Jazz great Louis Armstrong played at a private party at the old Phoenix Hotel in 1961 and, according to some people’s memories, he might have performed at the Lyric Theatre in its heyday.

Now, a larger-than-life Satchmo is starting a more public and permanent gig between those two historic venues.

Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith began work Tuesday on a photo-realistic mural of Armstrong and his trumpet on the 30-foot by 70-foot south wall of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane.

Odeith is here as part of the fifth annual PRHBTN festival, which brings renowned street artists from all over the world to Lexington to create spray-painted murals.

This is Odeith’s second trip to PRHBTN. He returned because a mural of running horses that he painted on a Bryan Avenue building in November 2013 was accidently painted over in June.

Entrepreneur Griffin VanMeter’s North Limestone Community Development Corp. had contributed $2,500 toward the first mural on a building now occupied by Kentucky for Kentucky, another VanMeter venture, which sells Kentucky-themed merchandise.

But on June 9, as VanMeter was in Louisville to speak about “community place-making” and the value of public art, contractors he had hired to prime the wall beside Odeith’s mural for another piece of art painted over it instead.

“A picture of that mural was in my slide show as it was, unbeknownst to me, being covered up,” he said. “We just had this kind of ‘Oh crap’ moment.”

VanMeter quickly emailed an apology to Odeith and offered to bring him back to Lexington for another commission.

“He was really cool about it,” VanMeter said. “He was like, ‘These things happen.'”

But as Odeith returned Friday to paint a mural of singer Billie Holiday on a wall of the Limestone Street building that houses the Institute 193 art gallery and the French restaurant Le Deauville, the building’s owner backed out.

“These murals are almost like tattoos,” VanMeter said. “They have to really speak to you, because you live with them for a long time.”

That set off a desperate search for another available wall. VanMeter posted pleas on Facebook and contacted Lexington mural artist Dani Greene. She suggested the wall at Lighthouse Ministries, a social service agency, and approached its executive director, Tay Henderson, on VanMeter’s behalf.

Because that wall is bigger and more horizontal, Odeith decided the Billie Holiday image wouldn’t work. He suggested an image of Armstrong and his trumpet instead.

“I was elated,” said Henderson, who has operated Lighthouse Ministries from the building for 12 years. “He’s a world-renowned artist and he’s such a nice guy. I love his idea. I think it will help bring the community together.”

During a break from painting, Odeith, 39, said the Armstrong image will create a positive tone for people who come to Lighthouse Ministries for food and help rebuilding their lives. He said the image will include the title of Amstrong’s famous song, What a Wonderful World, and a message of love and encouragement.

“Like the Lincoln mural, I think this piece could really become an iconic image for Lexington,” VanMeter said.

Kentucky for Kentucky is paying about $10,000 toward the mural’s cost, including paint, lift machines, Odeith’s travel costs and artist’s fee. It is also making a $1,000 donation to Lighthouse Ministries.

VanMeter said he hopes to have a dedication ceremony for the mural early next week, as Odeith is finishing it. He was supposed to have begun Saturday, but bad weather, the search for a new wall and prep work delayed the start until Tuesday.

Odeith must leave town by next Wednesday; he has two commissions scheduled in Charleston, S.C., and one in Portugal, VanMeter said.

Despite his first mural being painted over, and almost not having a wall for his second, Odeith said he loves Lexington and was happy to return.

“I’ve been telling to Griffin and all the people that he was missing me,” he said. “So he found a way to bring me back.”

151005OdeithMural-TE056A

151005OdeithMural-TE077

 

If You Go

PRHBTN

What: Fifth edition of the popular street art festival

MURALS

MrDheo and Pariz One: Chase Brewing Co., 266 Jefferson St.

Odeith: Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane, Oct. 6-12.

Sheryo & The Yok: Oneness Boutique, 431 Jersey St. Oct. 6-10. Parking lot party 5-8 p.m. Oct. 7.

Hitnes: LexPark Garage, 350 Short St., Oct. 9-12.

CONCERT

Featuring Jon Dose and Jamples: 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9. Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. $5.

FESTIVAL

Live painting by area artists, food and beverage and other events: Noon-9 p.m. Oct. 10, Lexington Distillery District, Manchester Street.

More info: PRHBTN.com


Civil War general’s home featured on annual Bourbon County tour

September 29, 2015
Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photos by Tom Eblen

Historic Paris-Bourbon County’s annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford’s Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

PARIS — This year’s Historic Paris-Bourbon County house tour Sunday is at the boyhood home of one of Kentucky’s most-interesting and least-known Civil War generals, who ended his short life as an American diplomat in South America.

Nobody is sure when the Greek Revival mansion called Houston Dale was built. The best guess is around 1840, when the farm belonged to Henry Croxton, the son of a wealthy Virginia planter, and his wife, Ann.

For the past 36 years, Houston Dale has been the home of Thoroughbred breeder Phil T. Owens, who restored and added onto the mansion just west of the Paris bypass.

While building Houston Dale, the Croxtons probably lived in a circa 1790s log cabin now restored behind the mansion. The couple would have needed more room: they eventually had 12 children. They also had 20 slaves to work their farm.

John Thomas Croxton

John Thomas Croxton

Slavery was a subject of disagreement between Croxton and his eldest son, John Thomas Croxton, who was born in 1836 and went off to Yale in 1854. They argued about it in letters, with the younger Croxton explaining that he favored the gradual emancipation and deportation of slaves.

Anti-slavery views were not popular among white people in Bourbon County then. Nearly half the population was enslaved blacks, whose labor produced a rich agricultural bounty for their owners.

After graduating from Yale and earning a law degree from Georgetown, Croxton returned to Paris in 1859 to practice law. The next year, he was one of only two men in Paris to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s election sparked the Civil War, and Croxton was quick to join the Union cause. He recruited troops for the 4th Kentucky Infantry, of which he was elected lieutenant colonel.

Over the next five years, Croxton’s superiors repeatedly praised him as a skilled and fearless officer who fought despite several battle wounds. He was promoted to colonel at age 24, brigadier general at 27 and given an honorary promotion to major general for gallantry

Croxton saw action at many battles, including Perryville, Chickamauga, Nashville and Atlanta. He led a daring raid across Alabama that captured Tuscaloosa and eliminated one of the Confederacy’s last supply centers. After the war, he spent a year as military commander of central Georgia.

In 1866, Croxton returned to Paris, where he had built a house on Cypress Street. He practiced law, farmed, chaired the state Republican party and helped start a Republican newspaper, the Louisville Commercial.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Croxton as the United States minister to Bolivia. But a year after taking the post in 1873, he died in La Paz of tuberculosis at age 37. He is buried in Paris Cemetery.

After Croxton’s death, Houston Dale was owned for many years by James Hall, a prominent farmer.

In 1979, Owens was planning to buy a horse farm and build a new “old” house. He had just gone to Colonial Williamsburg to study traditional architecture when his father told him Houston Dale was for sale. He bought it.

Owens renovated the mansion, which has foot-thick brick walls and most of its original floors and woodwork. He added a wing to each side for additional space and bathrooms. Owens also restored the log cabin, where his mother lives.

He also built a swimming pool, a pool house and a garage with an apartment that looks more like a colonial-style guest house from the front.

Between the mansion and Houston Creek is a stone wall along what appears to be an old road. Built into the wall with big limestone slabs are steps and a platform, apparently for stepping out of a carriage or stage coach.

Owens and his wife, Michelle, recently put the 9,665-square foot house and surrounding 31 acres on the market for $1,675,000. She said they want less house and more land to expand their broodmare stock and run cattle.

“It will be hard to leave,” Owens said of Houston Dale, recalling the first time the late Lexington horseman and philanthropist W.T. Young Jr. visited.

“He said, ‘If I lived here, I’d never leave home,'” Owens said. “It is a special house.”

If you go

Historic Home Tour

When: 2 p.m. — 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4

Where: Houston Dale Farm, 2328 Fords Mill Rd.

Why: Annual benefit for the preservation group Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

Cost: $10 members, $15 public. Children younger than 17 free.

More info: (859) 987-7274 or Hopewellmusuem.org.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens bought the house in 1979 and renovated it.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. This is the dining room. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The dining room at Houston Dale includes original woodwork.

 

Phil and Michelle Owens and the youngest of their three children, Jack, 4, pose in the dining room of Houston Dale, their circa 1840 house near Paris. The house was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Phil and Michelle Owens and the youngest of their three children, Jack, 4, pose in the dining room of Houston Dale, their circa 1840 house near Paris.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. This is a dining area in the kitchen, which features an original stone fireplace. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

This is a dining area in the kitchen, which features an original stone fireplace.

 

Steps and a landing to help passengers get on and off carriages and stage coaches was built into a stone wall beside Houston Dale, site of Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Steps and a landing to help passengers get on and off carriages and stage coaches was built into a stone wall beside Houston Dale.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Houston Dale was the boyhood home of Union Gen. John T. Croxton.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. He built the back of the garage, which faces the house, to look like a guest house. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Owens built the back of the garage, which faces the house, to look like a guest house.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The dining room at Houston Dale.


Paris Independent Schools celebrate 150 years of small-town pride

September 15, 2015
Kenney Roseberry, 92, asked her 9-year-old twin great-granddaughters, Kitty and Annie Berry, to guess the identity of the lady pictured in an old Paris High School yearbook. It was her as an English teacher in the 1960s. Roseberry graduated from Paris High and taught there for 35 years. Larry Shelt looked on at left. Photos by Tom Eblen

Kenney Roseberry, 92, asked her 9-year-old twin great-granddaughters, Kitty and Annie Berry, to guess the identity of the lady pictured in an old Paris High School yearbook. It was her as an English teacher in the 1960s. Roseberry graduated from Paris High and taught there for 35 years. Larry Shelt looked on at left. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

PARIS — For a century and a half, people here have been true to their schools.

The devotion is apparent in a new exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of Paris Independent Schools that will be up through Oct. 11 at the Hopewell Museum, 800 Pleasant Street. (More information: Hopewellmuseum.org.)

“We started reaching out to folks for memorabilia, and the community stepped up,” Superintendent Gary Wiseman said at an opening reception Sunday afternoon that attracted dozens of alumni.

“Paris High was a fantastic school,” said Hank Everman, a 1959 graduate who before retirement was a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University. “My history teacher, Helen Hunter, was better than any professor I had in college.”

Everman, whose books include a two-volume history of Bourbon County, said Paris Independent Schools have enjoyed both academic and athletic success.

Famous graduates include statesman and education advocate Edward Prichard; college and professional football coaches Blanton Collier and Bill Arnsparger; Basil Hayden, the University of Kentucky’s first All-American basketball player; and Donna Hazzard, the first Kentucky woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.

“With an independent school district, you get much more of a family feel and community involvement,” said Jami Dailey, the principal of Paris High.

Paris’ first public school opened Sept. 11, 1865, soon after a Union Army hospital vacated the Bourbon Academy building, which had been a private school before the Civil War. The new public school began with three teachers, 130 students and a curriculum that included Greek and Latin.

Paris created a public school for black children in the 1870s, a time when many districts ignored them. By the 1890s, Paris Western was one of the few black public high schools in Kentucky. The district also was early to offer night classes for laborers, both black and white, and agriculture extension classes for farmers.

When Lee Kirkpatrick was superintendent in the 1920s, he paid top-dollar for teachers. The result was one of the best-educated high school faculties in Kentucky, Everman said. Many Paris students went on to success at Ivy League colleges, including Prichard, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law.

The greyhound was chosen as the high school’s mascot in the 1920s. The school colors of orange and black were said to have been inspired by the racing silks of Claiborne Farm when owner Arthur B. Hancock was chairman of the school board.

This professionally curated exhibit in one of Kentucky’s best local museums showcases the school system’s successes, including peaceful desegregation in 1964. There are many old photos, trophies, uniforms and other memorabilia.

Paris is one of 53 independent school districts left in Kentucky. Economics and the perceived advantages of school consolidation have prompted many other independents to merge into larger countywide school systems in recent decades.

Paris has always resisted the trend, despite a small enrollment. The elementary, middle and high schools have fewer than 700 students, including 204 in the high school. The surrounding Bourbon County school system is four-times larger.

Changes in the economy and its effect on city residents have been a challenge. Paris has more poor and minority students than the county system: 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 18 percent are black and 17 percent are Hispanic.

Paris schools have a new curriculum to try to boost lagging test scores, Wiseman said. Paris High students this fall were issued laptop computers for the first time.

“I think we have some things in place that will pay off,” he said. “We’re trying to help overcome a lot of the challenges our families face.”

Paris schools remain financially sound, Wiseman said, and the school board is committed to remaining independent, in part because of the system’s rich heritage.

“City schools have been good for the community,” said Kenney Roseberry, who graduated from Paris High and then was an English teacher there for 35 years before retiring in 1982. Now 92, she has two great-granddaughters in the system.

Many years ago, Roseberry said, she and other members of the League of Women Voters studied the school system and recommended that it be consolidated with Bourbon County.

“Fortunately,” she said, “nobody paid any attention to us.”

 

Norma Adair, a 1939 graduate of Paris High School, talked with Ron Carter.

Norma Adair, a 1939 graduate of Paris High School, talked with Ron Carter at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district’s 150th anniversary.

 

Old photos of cheerleaders from Paris High School and Western High School, which was closed when it merged with Paris High in 1964 as part of peaceful desegregation. The photos are part of an exhibit at the Hopewell Museum in Paris marking the 150th anniversary of Paris Independent Schools.

Old photos of cheerleaders from Paris High School and Western High School, which was closed when it merged with Paris High in 1964 as part of peaceful desegregation.

 

Gary Wiseman, left, superintendent of Paris Independent Schools, chatted with Lindrell Blackwell, a 1981 graduate of Paris High School, at the Hopewell Museum on Sunday at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district's 150th anniversary.

Gary Wiseman, left, superintendent of Paris Independent Schools, chatted with Lindrell Blackwell, a 1981 graduate of Paris High School, at the Hopewell Museum on Sunday at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district’s 150th anniversary.

 

The Hopewell Museum exhibit honoring Paris Independent Schools' 150th anniversary pays tribute to former band director Tom Siwicki.

The Hopewell Museum exhibit honoring Paris Independent Schools’ 150th anniversary pays tribute to former band director Tom Siwicki.


Writers Crystal Wilkinston, Ronald Davis reopen Wild Fig Books

September 8, 2015
Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening their Wild Fig Books in a renovated turn-of-the-century house on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening Wild Fig Books on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Writers, partners and book-lovers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis struggled to run Wild Fig Books in the Meadowthorpe Shopping Center for nearly four years before they shut the doors for good in February.

“There was such an outpouring when we closed,” said Wilkinson, who also is Appalachian Writer in Residence at Berea College. “People were so upset.”

But those people were thrilled when they heard Wild Fig Books & Coffee was opening this week in a renovated turn-of-the-century cottage at 726 North Limestone.

Still, some friends wonder if Wilkinson and Davis have lost their minds. In a retail landscape dominated by Amazon.com, e-readers and chain stores, few business niches are tougher these days than the independent bookstore.

“We get these earnest looks,” Wilkinson said. “People cup our hands and say, ‘You are so brave!’ We just roll our eyes.”

Wilkinson and Davis hope things will be different this time, thanks to a new business format and location.

150901WildFig-TE023The first Wild Fig was a reincarnation of Morgan Adams Books, a used bookstore Mary Morgan ran for more than 20 years on Leestown Road. The couple bought her store in June 2011 as other shops and websites were becoming competitors. The big blow came when the chain Half-Price Books opened a second Lexington location.

The old Wild Fig had a stock of about 20,000 mostly used books, which it bought from customers. Davis said the new store, a much smaller space, will have maybe 4,000 books, most of them new literary titles.

The new store also will have a coffee bar run by their daughter, Delainia Wilkinson, who has worked four years for Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff & Coffee.

“We’re going to be a very niche market here,” Wilkinson said, more along the lines of the successful Morris Book Shop in Chevy Chase. “We’re going to have what I call a literary boutique — books, clothing items or bags that have literary themes. We’re not going to try to compete with the big-box stores.”

Davis said that while the Leestown Road location was convenient to their home in Meadowthorpe, many customers told them they lived in the redeveloping neighborhoods along North Limestone.

“So, after about three years of that, we said, apparently we need to be somewhere near Limestone,” he said.

Soon after the first Wild Fig closed, they began talking with entrepreneur and marketing executive Griffin VanMeter about an old house he had just bought to renovate and lease at the corner of North Limestone and Eddie Street.

150901WildFig-TE007The couple thinks the neighborhood is a good fit for their ambitions. For the past seven years, Al’s Bar down the street has been home to Holler Poets, a popular monthly series of readings organized by poet Eric Sutherland.

“There’s already sort of a literary community,” Wilkinson said. “So many of our art and literary friends are either over here or clamoring to get over here. There’s a happening.”

Wilkinson is already planning readings, literary classes and public discussions that could be held at various places in the neighborhood. “We know we won’t necessarily have the space, so we’ll have to collaborate, which is also exciting,” she said.

Davis just published a book of poetry and art, Caul & Response (Argus House Press, $18). Wilkinson is a widely published poet and short-story writer who was among the founders of the Affrilachian Poets group. In March, the University Press of Kentucky will publish her first novel, The Birds of Opulence.

One decision the couple faced when resurrecting Wild Fig was whether to change the name, which is taken from a 1983 poem, “Wild Figs and Secret Places,” by the reclusive Lexington writer Gayl Jones, one of Wilkinson’s favorites.

Because the old store and new one will be so different, they considered other names. Playing off the North Limestone area’s new moniker, NoLi, Davis suggested calling it NoLiBrary. But, after much debate, they stuck with Wild Fig.

“We’re artists who own a business, and we’re trying to figure out how to make that work,” Wilkinson said, noting that writers have a natural affection for bookstores. “We couldn’t imagine ourselves, as much as we like ice cream, having the same passion for owning an ice cream parlor or a tire-changing place or a laundromat, although we probably would make more money.”


If we can’t face facts about the Civil War, how can we ever deal with modern issues?

September 1, 2015

You have to wonder: With all of the challenges our state and nation faces, why do we still spend so much time arguing about the Civil War? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Americans have an uncanny ability to believe what they want to believe, regardless of facts. No chapter in our history has been more mythologized than the Southern rebellion that officially ended 150 years ago.

If you want to understand the facts, a good place to start is Ken Burns’ 1990 television series, The Civil War. For five consecutive nights beginning Sept. 7, Kentucky Educational Television will show a high-definition version of that acclaimed series, which has been digitally re-mastered for its 25th anniversary.

I remember when the series first aired — and a record 40 million people watched. I lived in Atlanta, where the Civil War remained an everyday presence. It seemed like the whole city was sleep-deprived that week; people stayed up night after night, mesmerized by a compelling history lesson told simply with narration, old photographs and music.

If you have time to see only one episode of The Civil War this time, make it the first one. I watched the original again this week and was impressed by how well it explained the war’s causes, which generations of myth-making tried to obfuscate.

While there were a few side issues, the Civil War was all about slavery. White supremacy was the Confederacy’s core belief. Read every state’s secession documents. Read the politicians’ speeches. There is no doubt.

The other reason the Civil War still resonates is that deep divisions of race and class in America have never gone away; they have just become more subtle and complex. And each time it feels like our national wound is healing, the scab is torn off.

A white racist slaughters black worshipers in church. A black man assassinates a white deputy sheriff. White police officers shoot unarmed black men. A black man videotapes his murder of two TV journalists. So many white people find it so easy to hate a mixed-race president with a foreign-sounding name.

JeffDavis1

A participant in a Sons of Confederate Veterans rally at the state Capitol in July takes a “selfie” with the Jefferson Davis statue. Photo by Charles Bertram.

This ugly reality has refocused attention on Confederate symbolism, which has always been racially divisive. In Kentucky, the hottest debate is over the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed in the Capitol rotunda in 1936.

Like most Confederate monuments, including the statue of Gen. John Hunt Morgan in front of Lexington’s old courthouse, Davis’ statue was erected decades after the war, largely at taxpayer expense, by a Confederate memorial group as part of a well-organized effort to reinterpret the South’s racist rebellion as a noble “lost cause”.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, both candidates for governor and other prominent Democrats and Republicans have called for moving Davis’ statue from its symbolic place of honor in the Capitol to a museum.

That view was endorsed Monday by 72 historians from 16 Kentucky colleges and universities, who sent a letter to Stumbo and members of the General Assembly.

“The statue is not a neutral evocation of facts, but an act of interpretation that depicts Davis as a hero with an honorable cause,” the letter said. “Virtually no respected professional historians embrace this view — a perspective that minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions, and endows the southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve.”

But a recent Bluegrass Poll found that 73 percent of Kentuckians think the statue should stay in the rotunda. The all-white Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission agreed by a vote of 7-2, but recommended adding a plaque with “educational context.” Myths are stubborn things.

What I find most disturbing about this debate is the willful ignorance of so many white people who insist the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. They ignore the fact that Confederate symbolism has always been a tool of racial intimidation. They remain oblivious to the pain black people feel toward veneration of Confederate heroes.

As the historians’ letter pointed out, this discussion isn’t about “erasing” or “rewriting” history; it is about making history more accurate. It is about no longer honoring people whose actions and beliefs are now considered despicable by a more enlightened and inclusive society.

With so many people so willing to ignore facts about the Civil War’s cause, it is no wonder we have trouble discussing race relations, economic justice, climate change and other issues that now threaten our future.

When willful ignorance and ideology replace facts and logic, it produces the kind of dangerous polarization that America saw in the 1860s — and that we see far too often a century and a half later.


African American Encyclopedia reveals untold Kentucky stories

August 29, 2015

Gerald Smith and his co-editors spent most of a decade working on the newly published Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. It wasn’t just research, writing and editing; they had to raise much of the project’s $400,000 budget.

In addition to courting big donors, they gave dozens of fundraising presentations in small-town libraries, churches and community centers across the state.

Those presentations often led to conversations, driving tours, stashes of newspaper clippings and walks through cemeteries with the keepers of community history.

smith

Gerald Smith and co-editors Karen Cotton McDaniel and John A. Hardin and a staff of graduate students compiled  the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Photo by Tom Eblen

The content of the encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky, 551 pages, $49.95) is much richer for that process, Smith said. Many fascinating stories had never made it beyond the counties where they happened.

Amateur historians were an enormous help to Smith, a University of Kentucky history professor, and his co-editors, Karen Cotton McDaniel, a retired Kentucky State University professor and director of libraries, and John A. Hardin, a history professor at Western Kentucky University.

“I can’t tell you how many folks we met like Yvonne Giles,” Smith said, referring to the woman whose years of research have made her an authority on black history in Lexington.

“They could point out all the places, tell you the history of the buildings,” Smith said. “It takes special people like that who are working at the grassroots level.”

The editors also discovered small archives, sometimes in unlikely places.

Smith got a surprise when he spoke at the public library in Owingsville, the seat of Bath County, which Census records show now has only about 15 black residents.

“They had a nice clippings file on African-Americans; who would have ever thought?” Smith said. “That’s why we had to go to see what was out there, and to meet and visit and talk to people.”

That file included information about the Owingsville Giants, which helped prompt Sallie Powell, the encyclopedia’s associate editor, to research and write a detailed entry about Kentucky’s black baseball clubs between the late 1800s and 1960s.

Smith said the saddest part of editing the encyclopedia was recounting tragedies of racism, large and small.

There is the horrific story of Isham and Lilburne Lewis, nephews of President Thomas Jefferson, who in 1811 took an ax and in a drunken rage murdered a slave child they thought had tried to run away after breaking their mother’s pitcher.

More common were the pervasive acts of discrimination used for two centuries to keep black Kentuckians down.

For example, who knew there were black bicycle racers in Louisville in the 1890s?

The Union Bicycle Club may have been the largest club of black riders in the country during a decade when cycling became a wildly popular American pastime.

But the club’s success led William Wagner Watts, a white cyclist and Louisville attorney, to successfully lobby the League of American Wheelmen in 1894 to exclude blacks from membership. That move sparked national controversy.

What is amazing is that so many black Kentuckians found ways to succeed before the civil rights movement. “I didn’t realize there were that many African-Americans from Kentucky who went on to serve as college presidents,” Smith said.

Many had to leave Kentucky to achieve their goals; for example, George French Ecton, a runaway slave from Winchester, in the 1880s became the first black elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

“When you look at that, you think about how many African-Americans could have been governor or senator or the president of the University of Kentucky or Eastern or Western,” Smith said. “They had all the skills necessary to be successful but were denied the opportunity.”

The encyclopedia’s research files, many of which did not result in completed entries, have been turned over to University of Kentucky Special Collections so future researchers can use them.

The editors expect the encyclopedia to generate some controversy because of their decisions about what would and wouldn’t be included. For example, they had a bias toward telling new and little-known stories rather than rehashing some famous ones that have often been told in other books.

“It helps serve another purpose of the encyclopedia, and that is to generate new discussions and debates,” Smith said. “This is actually a beginning rather than an ending, because what this is going to do is churn up even more material. I’m hoping it will inspire more people to not only want to learn about Kentucky history, but to understand it and to preserve it.”

Book signing

What: Editors of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will sign copies, along with authors of other books produced by faculty of the University of Kentucky Department of History.

When: 5 p.m. Sept. 18

Where: The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St.


Centennial celebration planned Saturday for historic Duncan Park

August 25, 2015
A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. The park originally was a wealthy merchant’s estate. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

There’s a party Saturday to celebrate the centennial of Duncan Park, a piece of land that has reflected the changing character of Lexington for more than twice that long.

Four nearby neighborhood associations are sponsoring the public celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. at the five-acre park at North Limestone and East Fifth Street. There will be live music, food trucks, family activities and exhibits by community organizations.

“We just want people to come out and enjoy the park,” said James Brown, the new First District member of the Urban County Council.

Duncan Park has a fascinating history.

It was part of 20 acres that William Morton acquired in the early 1790s. He built one of Lexington’s first mansions there in 1810, and that mansion dominates the park. The federal-style house has oversized proportions to make it look good from a distance.

The Englishman, who came here in 1787 and opened a store, became a wealthy merchant and financier. Because of his aristocratic bearing, everyone called him “Lord” Morton, but probably not to his face.

Morton gave away a lot of his money, creating Lexington’s first public school. He also was a benefactor of what is now Eastern State Hospital and Christ Church Episcopal.

Two years after Morton died in 1836, his property was bought by Cassius Marcellus Clay, the fiery emancipationist who published an anti-slavery newspaper, The True American, and was Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia during the Civil War.

Clay sold the place in 1850 to his wife’s uncle, Dr. Lloyd Warfield, who subdivided three-fourths of it to create the neighborhoods now north and east of the park.

The house and five acres were bought in 1873 by Henry T. Duncan, editor of the Lexington Daily Press and the city’s mayor. Because of how well he and his wife maintained the grounds, it was known as “Duncan Park” long before their daughter, Lucy Duncan Draper, sold it to the city as a park in 1913.

A month before the park officially opened, it was the site of a May 1915 rally by women seeking the right to vote. That was fitting: Clay’s daughter, Laura, was a national leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

Duncan Park was a happening place for more than four decades, with a baseball field, tennis courts, ping-pong tables and playgrounds.

The Lexington Leader reported in 1925 that three young girls were forming a girls’ club at Duncan Park. One of them was Elizabeth Hardwick, 8, who lived on nearby Rand Avenue. She later moved to New York and became a famous literary critic, novelist and founder of The New York Review of Books.

City officials have always struggled over what to do with the Morton house. Early plans called for it to become a museum or a girls school. More recent proposals have included a black history museum and an official home for Lexington’s mayor.

Instead, the mansion has always housed social service agencies. In 1914, it became a “milk depot” for Baby Milk Supply, a new charity. Now called Baby Health Service, the organization cares for uninsured children at a clinic beside St. Joseph Hospital.

The Morton house was a Junior League “day nursery” in the 1930s and then was the city children’s home until better accommodations were built on Cisco Road in 1950. In recent years, it has housed The Nest Center for Women and Children.

Until the 1950s, Duncan Park was only for white people. The city built Douglass Park on Georgetown Street for black residents in 1916. By the time city parks were legally integrated, a different kind of segregation was taking place.

Lexington’s suburban sprawl contributed to white flight from the neighborhood. In August 1972, 200 black people marched from Duncan Park to city hall to protest the closing of inner-city schools and the busing of black children to the suburbs.

As owner-occupied homes surrounding Duncan Park became poorly maintained rentals, crime soared. Things have slowly gotten better, especially since last year’s fatal shooting of Antonio Franklin in the park prompted his mother, Anita Franklin, to organize well-attended monthly “peace walks.”

Many people attribute the drop in crime to a renaissance in the North Limestone area. Many old houses are being restored and reconverted from low-income rentals to owner-occupied homes.

The Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association has focused on improving Duncan Park since 2001. Discussions are now under way about adding more features to the playground and basketball courts.

Travis Robinson, the association’s president, said the park is becoming safer thanks to better policing and more use by area residents. Regular activities include potluck suppers and story-telling programs for kids.

“It’s a community asset that has been underutilized,” said Vice Mayor Steve Kay, who lives nearby. “More people are coming to live in the neighborhood, and that is making a difference.”

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old columned entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many people are moving into nearby neighborhoods and fixing up long-neglected houses.

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies.


Fraternity’s ‘second mom’ remembered for her cooking, love

August 18, 2015
Baby Cook Pic

Grace Cook in her kitchen of the Sigma Chi house at the University of Kentucky. Photo provided

 

Elinor Grace Cook took care of the brothers of Sigma Chi for three decades. After she retired in 1994, they spent the next two taking care of her.

About three dozen alumni of the University of Kentucky fraternity were in the crowd that nearly filled Consolidated Baptist Church on Monday to say goodbye to Cook, who died Aug. 11 at age 90.

Each fraternity brother placed a white rose atop the casket of the short black woman who cooked his college meals and did so much more.

They recalled how Cook’s unconditional love touched them and hundreds of other white fraternity boys. Decades later, she could remember their names — not that she ever used them. She called each of them Baby, and they called her Baby.

In a eulogy, Darryl Isaacs, a Louisville personal-injury lawyer famous for his “heavy hitter” TV commercials, said he first met Cook when he was a scared 18-year-old pledge having a bad day.

Isaacs said he put out his hand, “and she said, ‘We don’t give handshakes. We hug.’ She said, ‘I love you, Baby.'”

“I’ll never forget that,” said Isaac, who later introduced Cook to his parents as “my second mom.”

“She loved you whether you were white, black, rich, poor, fat, skinny,” Isaac said. “Of everybody I’ve ever met, there’s nobody that stands out like Baby.”

Elinor Grace "Baby" Cook cooked at UK's Sigma Chi fraternity house for 30 years and became a second mother to many of its members. She is shown in 2012 at a reunion with some of them. Photo provided

Cook in 2012 at a reunion.

Cook also was a legend at Consolidated Baptist. She was an active member for more than 80 years and the church’s culinary minister. She was in her kitchen, cooking, when she suffered the fall that put her in a hospital for the last time.

The Rev. Richard Gaines said Cook was mentally sharp and in good spirits to the end, complaining about hospital food and saying she was ready to meet her maker.

“She lived a powerful life,” Gerald Smith, a University of Kentucky history professor and minister who grew up in Consolidated Baptist, said in his eulogy. “Everybody’s got a story to tell, because she had this infectious as well as contagious kind of spirit.”

Cook used to joke that she would write a book about all that happened at the Sigma Chi house. The guys joked back that she would make more money if she let them pay her not to.

After she retired and her husband, William Edward Cook, died, the brothers realized she could use their help. She had a large family that eventually included two children, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Michael Dammert, an investment advisor in Covington who met Cook as a pledge in 1969, worked with Isaacs and others to organize the “Baby Fund” that alumni contributed to for 20 years. And they gave her more than money.

Jay Rodes, who met her in 1981, took her meals and kept her sidewalk salted each winter. His wife drove Cook to doctor appointments. Someone mentioned in a group email that she needed a railing outside her house; one appeared within days.

When UK’s largest fraternity moved to a bigger house in 2012, a plaque was placed in the new kitchen declaring it “Gracie’s Place” in honor of “Sigma Chi’s beloved cook and sage.”

The meals Cook prepared in the old house’s small, hot kitchen were amazing, the men said, leavened with plenty of butter and sugar. And she always had time to hear their troubles and secrets, and give them advice about girlfriends and life.

Cook wouldn’t put up with foolishness. A boy who once thought it would be funny to bring a rubber snake into her kitchen narrowly missed a rolling pin to the head.

“If you acted up, she made you come to Consolidated Baptist Church with her,” Dammert said. “I was on that list.”

“She had a cuss jar,” Ted Tudor recalled. “It was always full of money.”

As Consolidated Baptist’s pastor looked out over the crowd at Cook’s funeral, he saw her family and friends from church and the Radcliffe-Marlboro neighborhood. He also saw successful businessmen, prominent lawyers, a UK vice president.

“On most Sundays, you don’t see this kind of cultural diversity,” Gaines told the crowd. “But here we are on a Monday afternoon in church, and look at what God has done. Thank God for the lives she touched.”


Lexington police chief’s 1962 essay about race relations teaches lessons some have yet to learn

August 9, 2015
President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands with Lexington police Chief E.C. Hale on Oct. 1, 1956, while in Lexington as part of his re-election campaign. Hale, police chief from 1953 to 1972, was credited with helping to keep racial tensions in the city from turning violent. Herald-Leader Photo

President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands with Lexington police Chief E.C. Hale on Oct. 1, 1956, while in Lexington as part of his re-election campaign. Hale, police chief from 1953 to 1972, was credited with helping to keep racial tensions in the city from turning violent. Herald-Leader Photo

 

J.D. Hale of Lexington called me the other day. Like most of us, he was disturbed by recent incidents of white police officers shooting unarmed black people.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a year ago Sunday focused national attention on the uneasy relationship between many black communities and the police. There have been more shootings since Ferguson, including that of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati last month.

These tragedies prompted Hale to recall a widely published essay that his father, E.C. Hale, wrote in 1962. One magazine headlined it: “A Southern police chief explains why racism hurts law enforcement.”

E.C. Hale served as Lexington’s police chief from 1953 to 1972 after 21 years in the ranks. His 1974 obituary credited him with making the force more professional. Under Hale’s no-nonsense leadership, Lexington became a national model for police training, procedures, record-keeping and community relations.

As the 1960s began, segregated Lexington had some of the South’s first civil rights demonstrations. They did not become well-known, in part because this newspaper’s management policy was to ignore them.

But perhaps the biggest reason Lexington’s marches and lunch counter sit-ins did not attract national attention was that they did not turn violent. A big reason for that was Hale’s leadership of the police and his good working relationship with local civil rights leaders.

Hale said his goal was to enforce the law while treating everyone with firmness, fairness and respect. For example, he said an in interview in the late 1960s, there was a vigil outside the Fayette County Courthouse in 1963 to protest the racist church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls. As participants knelt in prayer, a white man ran out of a crowd of bystanders and slapped one of them. Within seconds, he was arrested and hauled off to jail.

“It could have been a model for other communities in the South,” said Yvonne Giles, an authority on Lexington’s black history. “But it didn’t happen that way.”

After talking with Hale’s son, I went online to look for the essay. I found it in the May 1962 edition of Negro Digest, a popular magazine similar to Readers Digest that was renamed Black World before it ceased publication in 1976.

“The Negro has had good reason to look with suspicion and fear upon the uniformed officer,” Hale wrote. “The effect of wrongful treatment will cause Negroes to carry over the memories of their past experience to the detriment of the whole community.”

Here are a few other excerpts:

“Firmness does not mean belligerence. The former is characteristic of good policing, and the latter is characteristic of bad policing.”

“Equal justice is not merely a term. The police officer who is tempted to vary his role according to personal notions as to the worth of various groups is himself in violation of the law. An officer has a capacity for delivering equal justice only to the extent that he has this problem under control.”

“The entire police force suffers as a result of the brutal measures of an individual officer. The true victims of police brutality are the police themselves, since it develops widespread hostility and disrespect for law among the members of the minority group.”

“A good standard of fairness would be treatment of the individuals in the same manner as the police officer would desire to be treated if he were the individual and the other party the police officer.”

“A good reputation for fairness in dealing with the public is an invaluable asset to a police department because it instills public confidence, making police work more pleasant and effective.”

Of course, neither Hale nor the city he served was perfect.

Hale ruled Lexington’s police force with an iron hand. In the late 1960s, he called efforts to create a citizens review board for his department a “communist plot.” When Vietnam War protesters complained about police tactics, he said, “I’m not going to be pushed around by these long-haired, fuzzy-face people.”

Lexington had no shortage of racial tension, and it finally exploded in October 1994, when a police sergeant accidently shot Tony Sullivan, an unarmed homicide suspect.

Lexington got its first black police chief in 2001 with the promotion of Anthany Beatty, a widely respected leader who since retirement has run for mayor and headed security at the University of Kentucky. His successors, Ronnie Bastin and Mark Barnard, have made community relations a priority, and it has paid off.

Hale’s 1962 essay, which was controversial among many whites at the time, strikes most of us now as common sense. But it is a common sense still lacking among some police officers and some police forces.

“I hadn’t read the thing in years,” J.D. Hale said. “But when I did, it struck me that a lot of these problems we’re having now could have been avoided if more people had listened to what he said back then.”

Read Hale’s full essay by clicking here.

 


Readers suggest many Lexington historic figures worthy of honoring

August 1, 2015
coloredtroops

Some readers suggested a monument to blacks who fought for the Union during the Civil War, many of whom were trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

 

Public art starts conversations, and the debate over two statues of local Confederate heroes has started some great discussions about other figures from Lexington’s history who are worthy of honor and remembrance.

I mentioned several in a column three weeks ago and I asked readers for more. I got many good suggestions, including Mary Todd Lincoln, artist Matthew Jouett and John Bradford, an early Lexington publisher, education advocate and civic leader.

I especially liked the suggestions I received for honoring notable black men and women from the past whose accomplishments against great odds have often been overlooked.

Yvonne Giles, an authority on local black history, liked my suggestion of Mary E. Britton (1855-1925), the city’s first black woman physician. Britton also was a journalist, teacher, social reformer and civil rights activist.

Julia Britton Hooks

Julia Britton Hooks

Giles noted that Britton’s sister, Julia Britton Hooks (1852-1942), was equally deserving. Like her sister a graduate of Berea College, she became Berea’s first black faculty member, teaching instrumental music. She later moved to Memphis, married Charles Hooks and opened a music school. Blues legend W.C. Handy was among her students. Selma Lewis wrote a 1986 biography of Hooks, The Angel of Beale Street.

In 1909, Hooks became a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — an organization led by her grandson, Benjamin Hooks, from 1977 to 1992.

Their brother, Tom Britton (1870-1901), was a successful jockey. Lexington has recently honored two great black jockeys, Isaac Murphy (1861-1896) with a park and Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) with a street.

Another great black jockey worthy of honor is Jimmy Winkfield (1882-1974), whose fascinating life story was chronicled in the 2006 book Black Maestro, by New York Times racing writer Joe Drape.

Giles suggested several accomplished black women from Lexington’s past, including E. Belle Jackson (1848-1942), who led creation of the Colored Orphan Industrial Home, now the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center on Georgetown Street.

Charlotte Dupuy (1787-after 1866) was a slave owned by Henry Clay. She sued him for her freedom in 1829, when they were living in Washington, D.C. and he was secretary of state. The gutsy Dupuy lost her legal case, but Clay eventually freed her.

Giles also suggested “Aunt Charlotte,” whose full name and years of life are unknown. She came to Lexington as a slave in the late 1700s and became free when her owners died. She sold baked goods at the public market. She is best known for buying the one-year vagrancy indenture of a white man, William “King” Solomon, in 1833 and setting him free. He was a drunk who soon became a local hero for burying victims of cholera epidemic.

Several black women educators are worthy of honor, Giles said. Among them: Elizabeth Cook Fouse (1875-1952), founder of the Phillis Wheatley YWCA in Lexington; and Fannie Hathaway White (1870-1958), a longtime teacher, principal and education advocate.

White was the sister of Isaac S. Hathaway (1872-1967) a sculptor who was the first black man to design a U.S. coin. He created images for the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver half dollars.

Several readers suggested balancing Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s statue outside the old courthouse with a monument honoring black Union soldiers, who trained at Camp Nelson and fought in all combat branches during the Civil War.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan

Rab Hagin, a Lexington journalist, suggested several of those soldiers whose quotes would be appropriate for a monument, including this one from Sgt. Maj. Thomas Boswell of the 116th U.S. Colored Infantry: “We are Kentucky boys, and there is no regiment in the field that ever fought better.”

Several readers suggested Charles Young (1864-1922), who was born into slavery near Maysville, became the third black graduate of West Point and the first black Army colonel. He likely would have become a general were it not for racism among his fellow officers. A community center on East Third Street is named for him.

I have always thought Thomas Hunt Morgan, one of the most influential American scientists of the 20th century, was more worthy of a statue than his Confederate uncle. But there also is black man worth considering, whose father was one of the general’s slaves — and may also have been his son.

Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963) was an inventor and entrepreneur who created and marketed a smoke-protection safety hood for firefighters that saved many lives and a chemical solution for straightening hair. He also designed an unsuccessful version of an early traffic signal.


‘Dead Poets’ journey leads to grave of murdered Lexington poet

July 28, 2015
Walter Skold of Freeport, Maine, who driven his white Dodge "Poe Mobile" to 46 states over the past six years visiting the graves of more than 500 poets, uses his iPhone to look up lines from poet William Wordsworth carved on the headstone of Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote. His grave is in African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Walter Skold of Freeport, Maine, who has driven his white Dodge “Poe Mobile” to 46 states over the past six years visiting the graves of more than 500 poets, uses his iPhone to look up lines from poet William Wordsworth carved on the headstone of Robert Charles O’Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote. His grave is in African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

When Walter Skold quit his teaching job to write poetry, he didn’t know that his personal journey would become as literal as it was metaphorical.

While studying at The Frost Place, an educational center on poet Robert Frost’s farm in New Hampshire, former state poet laureate Patricia Fargnoli read her poem, “Visiting Frost’s Grave.”

“I had just visited his grave, and it and her poem intrigued me,” said Skold, 54, who lives in Freeport, Maine. “On a whim, I started researching poets’ graves and I was just completely fascinated by the uniqueness of them — their design, their epitaphs. It turned into this sort of pilgrimage.”

He is now six years into that pilgrimage, having driven his “Poe Mobile” van on four major road trips to visit the graves of more than 520 poets in 46 states.

Skold, a former journalist, takes photos and videotape for a planned book and documentary film. He also promotes his idea for a new national holiday: Dead Poets Remembrance Day on Oct. 7, the day in 1849 when Edgar Allan Poe died and James Whitcomb Riley was born.

I met Skold Tuesday at African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street. He had come to visit the grave of Robert Charles O’Hara Benjamin, a black poet, lawyer, newspaper editor, minister and activist who suffered a tragic death.

Robert_Charles_OHara_BenjaminBorn in 1855 on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, Benjamin first came to Kentucky in 1879, possibly to teach school. Then he moved around the country, practicing law in California and Rhode Island and becoming a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Benjamin moved to Lexington in 1897, got involved in politics and edited The Standard, a black newspaper. He wrote books, pamphlets and poetry and became involved in early civil rights struggles.

On Oct. 2, 1900, Benjamin got into an argument with white precinct worker Mike Moynahan, who was challenging blacks trying to register to vote. Moynahan followed Benjamin outside and shot him in the back at the corner of Spring and Water Streets. An inquest ruled it justifiable homicide.

“I had never heard of Benjamin,” he said. “But I was so amazed when I came across his story.”

Skold examined a marble monument that a fraternal organization erected at Benjamin’s grave on the 10th anniversary of his death. And he read aloud the faded epitaph, an 1834 poem by William Wordsworth: “Small service is true service while it lasts; Of friends, however humble, scorn not one: The daisy, by the shadow that it casts, protects the lingering dew drop from the sun.”

Skold placed at the base of the monument a pebble from Mount Parnassus, Greece, which ancient Greeks believed to be the home of the Muses. Then he poured a bit of Cognac on the grave, from a bottle almost empty from moistening the graves of dead poets throughout the South over the past seven weeks.

After taking photographs and video, Skold was off to Lexington Cemetery to visit the graves of two more forgotten poets, James Thomas Cotton Noe and Catherine Ann Warfield. I suggested he also look up writer James Lane Allen while he was there.

Skold had already spent seven days traveling around Kentucky in the Dodge van he calls the Poe Mobile. “It’s a big part of my shtick,” he said, pointing to the Maine license plate that says, “Dedgar.”

The van is a conversation-starter, and for Skold, this pilgrimage is mostly about starting conversations.

“Every day I learn so much, just from meeting people, friends and family of dead poets, archivists, other poets,” he said. “It’s like a journey of discovery.”

This is Skold’s third trip to Lexington, which he said has “a special place in my heart.” On his first trip, in 2009, the Poe Mobile broke down. He spent a few days in Lexington and got to know poet Eric Sutherland, who introduced him around.

On this trip, he met several more living poets, including Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, Jeff Worley and Richard Taylor. Skold’s next stop is the annual writers’ workshop at Hindman Settlement School to meet even more.

“This whole project seems a little weird, even to me, but what has really kept me going is people’s responses, their enthusiasm for my project,” he said.

Skold thinks most people understand the value of poets, and why it is important to remember them long after they are gone.

“They speak to the deepest beliefs and questions and concerns of the people they write among,” he said, citing as an example the beloved Kentucky poet Jesse Stuart, who died in 1984. “By reading him, I can enter into the culture and history of Kentucky.”

Walter Skold, whose project is called the Dead Poets Society of America, has spent six years traveling in a Dodge van to the graves of more than 500 poets in 46 states. The license plate from his home state of Maine is in honor of "Dead Edgar", the writer Edgar Allen Poe.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Skold’s Dodge van honors Edgar Allen Poe.

Walter Skold of Freeport, Maine, who driven his white Dodge "Poe Mobile" to 46 states over the past six years visiting the graves of more than 500 poets, poured a bit of ceremonial Cognac on the grave of Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote. His grave is in African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Skold poured a bit of ceremonial Cognac on the grave of Robert Charles O’Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote

Walter Skold, who has traveled to 46 states over the past six years visiting the graves of more than 500 poets, read a quote from the English poet Robert Wordsworth on the tombstone of Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote. He is buried at African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Skold read a quote from the English poet William Wordsworth on Benjamin’s tombstone.

Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet, was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote. He is buried in African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Benjamin’s monument was erected by a fraternal organization a decade after his death.

Walter Skold of Freeport, Maine, who has driven this white Dodge van to visit the graves of more than 500 poets over the past six years, came to Lexington's African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street to visit the grave of Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, a black lawyer, activist and poet who was shot in the back in Lexington in 1900 while trying to register blacks to vote.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.


Now that we’re talking about statues, who else should we honor?

July 14, 2015
Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city's Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen

Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

One consensus that seemed to emerge from last week’s public forum on local Confederate statues and symbols of slavery was that Lexington’s history should be presented in a more accurate and complete way.

Mayor Jim Gray opened the forum organized by the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning by announcing he had asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, gather comments and make recommendations about the placement and presentation of two controversial statues and an historical marker about slavery outside the old Fayette County Courthouse.

The statues are of Confederate Gens. John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, also a former U.S. vice president, who lived in Lexington. The statues were erected in 1911 and 1887, respectively, at the behest of Confederate memorial groups with considerable funding from taxpayers. The slavery marker was erected in 2003 and paid for by Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity.

Several people spoke against the statues at the forum, saying they should be moved or removed. But I thought the wisest comments came from panelist Yvonne Giles, who knows more about and has done more to promote black history in Lexington than perhaps anyone.

“Rather than spending money moving statues, create new ones that tell the rest of the story,” Giles said. “African Americans were crucial to the development of Lexington.”

“We wouldn’t be talking about it if it weren’t for those monuments,” she added. “Public art creates conversations.”

Giles named a couple of black Lexingtonians worth memorializing, and I can think of several more. I also can think of several great women from Lexington history — and white men who did not fight for the Confederacy.

What other people from Lexington’s history do you think are worth honoring and remembering? Comment on this column online, or send me an email.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s keep the nominations to people who are no longer living. In fact, I like the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission’s rule that people honored with monuments should have been dead for at least 40 years so their place in history can be more accurately assessed.

Here are some names I would suggest:

William Wells Brown (1814-1884) the first black American to publish a novel, a travelogue, a song book and a play. He also wrote three volumes of black history, including the first about black military service in the Civil War. He then became a physician, and he did all of this after escaping slavery. Brown said he was born in Lexington, but new research shows he probably came from Montgomery County.

Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) was born into slavery in Lexington, escaped and settled in Boston, where he became a famous activist against slavery. After the Civil War, he also worked for black education and women’s suffrage. Like Brown, his dramatic life story would make a great movie.

Mary E. Britton (1855-1925) was Lexington’s first and, for many years, only licensed black female doctor. Educated at Berea College, she also was a journalist and influential civil rights and women’s rights activist.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872-1920) was a social reformer from Lexington whose many causes included women’s suffrage, juvenile justice reform, tuberculosis treatment, job training, parks and recreation.

Laura Clay (1849-1941) of Lexington was another nationally known advocate for women’s suffrage and equal rights. At the 1920 Democratic National Convention, she became the first women nominated for president by a major political party.

Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945) was the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize, in 1933 for medicine. More than that, he was one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century because of his research into genetics and embryology and his approach to scientific experimentation. And, by the way, he was the Confederate general’s nephew.

I can think of several others, but that’s a good start. Send me your ideas. If I get enough good ones, I’ll write about them.

Statues of bronze and stone are not the only ways to memorialize notable people with public art. One of my favorite additions to the downtown skyline is Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s colorful 2013 mural of Abraham Lincoln on the back wall of the Kentucky Theatre.

Kentuckians of all genders and races have made important contributions, not only to this city and state but to civilization. It is important to remember them not just because of what they did, but for the examples they provide for what is possible.


Convergence of gay rights, civil rights complex for black churches

July 7, 2015

Like other conservative churches, many historically black congregations are unhappy with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

And for many of them, there is an additional rub: the court majority’s acceptance of the legal argument that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights.

Black churches were at the forefront of the civil rights movement that swept away legal discrimination against black people in the 1960s. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, is that movement’s icon.

The more the gay rights movement has likened its struggle to the black civil rights movement — and the more the public has accepted that analogy — the more many black Christians have bristled.

“You can’t equate your sin with my skin,” Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of Mt. Hope Christian Church in Maryland famously said after his state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

The Roman Catholic Church still opposes same-sex marriage, but some mainline Protestant denominations recently have changed their policies. The Episcopal Church now allows it, following the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ. But many individual churches and members strongly disagree.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lets its congregations decide for themselves. The United Methodist Church prohibits gay marriage in its churches or by its clergy, but some pastors have performed them in protest.

Many black churches are affiliated with Baptist denominations and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which remain opposed to same-sex marriage because of their understanding of Scripture.

The Pew Research Center reported recently that while 59 percent of white Americans now support same-sex marriage, only 41 percent of blacks do.

The 225-year-old First African Baptist Church, the oldest black congregation in Lexington, believes in the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. But the Rev. Nathl Moore said the Supreme Court ruling hasn’t been a big topic of conversation in the congregation.

“We don’t condone all activities,” Moore said, “but we still love.”

Main Street Baptist Church’s website lists the traditional definition of marriage among its beliefs. Church leaders have discussed the court ruling, the Rev. Victor Sholar said.

“Our concern as a church at large is that there will be much slander and attack” because of religious objections to same-sex marriage, Sholar said. “We are still a pluralistic society. People will still have different views.

“But we continue to make mention that we welcome all persons in our church,” he added. “We’re like a hospital. We want to make people well.”

Main Street Baptist has a unique association with black civil rights. The church was founded in the 1850s on land Mary Todd Lincoln’s family owned beside her childhood home. Her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, personally conveyed the property to the church for $3,000 in 1863, the year after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Confederate states.

Sholar is among those who objects to comparing the gay rights movement with the black civil rights movement.

“It was an issue of human rights,” he said of the black civil rights movement and “had nothing to do with sexual preference or orientation. I think that is somewhat offensive to those who look at history. It’s apples to oranges, really.”

The Rev. Anthony Everett of Wesley United Methodist Church, whose denomination opposes gay marriage, respects the various religious beliefs on the issue. But he disagrees with trying to distinguish black civil rights from gay civil rights.

“It’s problematic sometimes for African Americans, because people are saying we haven’t really accomplished all the things we need to do with race and now here comes the next group that’s using the civil rights movement as a platform,” he said.

“It’s like my pain is worse than their pain,” he said. “We’re all in pain. Let’s all deal with the pain without worrying about whose pain is worse.”

Everett noted that Bayard Rustin, one of King’s main advisers and strategists during the civil rights movement, was gay.

“There wouldn’t have been a March on Washington had it not been for him,” Everett said of Rustin. “Do we just ignore him and ignore the battles he had to deal with? If you’re about social justice and human rights, you’re about all of that for everybody.”


History shouldn’t be erased, but made more accurate and complete

July 4, 2015
The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan outside the old Fayette County Courthouse was erected in 1911 as part of a well-organized Confederate memorial movement. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan was erected in front of the old Fayette County Courthouse in 1911 at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Taxpayers paid $7,500 of the $15,000 cost after private fundraising efforts fell short. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

I went to see Gone With The Wind last week at the Kentucky Theatre, the same place where I saw it the first time almost five decades ago.

The 1939 movie is a classic, and quite entertaining. As a credible account of history, though, it is laughable. Given modern views about racial equality, parts of it are downright offensive.

What I knew this time, but not the first, was that Gone With The Wind was the ultimate expression of how the Civil War’s losers fought long and hard to win the battle for collective memory.

By spinning history and erecting hundreds of monuments across the South, Confederate veterans, their descendants and sympathizers sought to sanitize, romanticize and mythologize the rebel legacy. It became a noble “lost cause” of gallant cavaliers, Southern belles, moonlight and magnolias.

Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves but fought out of loyalty to their state. But the ugly fact is that the Confederacy’s main goals were to preserve an economy based on slavery and a society grounded in white supremacy.

As Robert Penn Warren, the grandson of a Confederate veteran, wrote in his great 1961 essay, The Legacy of the Civil War, “When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten.”

As desegregation and civil rights began roiling America in the 1940s, many Southern whites embraced Confederate symbolism again, with a nasty twist. They added the battle flag on their state flags, flew it from public buildings and waved it in defiance.

Over the next half-century, discrimination was outlawed and racism became less socially acceptable. Confederate symbolism became more benign — at least to white people. Many now see the rebel flag as a symbol of “heritage not hate” and of regional pride and identity.

Besides, since so many outsiders look down on Southerners, we like being rebels, with or without a cause.

But the racist massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church has forced us to confront the fact that the Confederate flag has been tainted by racism as surely as the ancient swastika was by Nazism.

We also are re-evaluating the propriety of state-sanctioned monuments to the Confederacy. Should they stay, or should they go? It’s a complicated question.

A CNN/ORC poll surveyed 1,017 Americans last week and found that 57 percent see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, 33 percent see it as a symbol of racism and 5 percent see it as both. But there was a stark racial divide: while 66 percent of whites think it symbolizes pride, only 17 percent of blacks see it that way.

Interestingly, though, a majority of both blacks and whites said they were against renaming streets and highways that honor Confederate leaders.

That finding is pertinent to Kentucky, a divided slave state that remained in the union but embraced Confederate identity after the war, amid decades of racist violence.

What should be done with the Jefferson Davis statue in the state Capitol rotunda? Move it to a museum.

The physical heart of state government should be a place to honor Kentuckians of the past whose lives and ideals set examples for the future. There are many more worthy of that honor than the Confederate president.

What about the statues beside the old Fayette County courthouse of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate raider, and John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president who became a Confederate general and secretary of war?

The Davis statue, placed in the Capitol in 1936, and Morgan statue, placed on what was then the courthouse lawn in 1911, have similar histories: they were erected at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Breckinridge’s statue went up in 1887. State taxpayers subsidized the cost of all three statues.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning will host a free public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss these issues. Mayor Jim Gray is to be among the speakers.

To me, these two monuments present a more complicated situation than the Davis statue. The old courthouse is no longer a seat of government, but a space used to commemorate Lexington’s history. For better or worse, those men, their statues and the forces that put them there are significant parts of that history.

This is what I would do: leave Morgan where he is, but rewrite the historical marker to say that some thought he was a hero while others considered him a terrorist. And explain that this statue played a big role in the influential Confederate memorial movement.

As for Breckinridge, I would move him to the back of the old courthouse lawn. That is where, in 2003, a long-overdue historical marker was placed to explain that one-fourth of Lexington’s residents were held in bondage by 1860, and this was the spot where slaves were publicly whipped.

At the Main Street entrance to Cheapside park, where Breckinridge now stands, I would erect a significant memorial to those slaves and the abolitionists who fought for their freedom. It also should explain that Cheapside was once one of the South’s leading slave markets.

History should not be erased or forgotten, because it holds important lessons for the present and future. But we owe it to ourselves to make the retelling of that history accurate and complete.

  • If you go
  • What: Forum on race, Lexington’s history with slavery and Confederate statuary and symbolsWhen: 6-8 p.m. July 7
  • Where: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 W. Second St.
  •  More information: Carnegiecenterlex.org or (859) 254-4175

Move Jefferson Davis’ statue from state Capitol to a museum

June 23, 2015

The young, white thug who sat for an hour in a prayer meeting at a South Carolina church, then pulled a gun and murdered nine black worshipers, touted his racism by posting a picture of himself online holding the Confederate flag.

His heinous act has had one positive effect: It has forced conservative Southern politicians to rethink state-supported veneration of the Confederacy.

This is long overdue, and Kentucky leaders should join them by moving Jefferson Davis’ 15-foot marble statue from the Capitol rotunda to a museum.

Others have tried before and failed. Now, the idea is gaining rapid support from, among others, prominent Republicans including Sen. Mitch McConnell, state Senate President Robert Stivers and gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin.

Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Tuesday that he would have to think about it — a hesitation he might soon regret.

jeffdavisAcross the South, Confederate symbolism is suddenly under siege. The Confederate battle flag’s days on the South Carolina capital lawn appear numbered, and some Mississippi leaders are talking about removing the emblem from their state flag.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the battle flag removed from a license plate produced for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Texas can refuse to allow the flag on its license plates.

Walmart and Sears announced that they will stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.

Since 1936, a statue of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, has had a place of honor in Kentucky’s Capitol, along with four other Kentuckians: his nemesis, Abraham Lincoln; statesman Henry Clay; pioneer physician Ephraim McDowell; and Vice President Alben Barkley.

Davis’ statue was put there at the urging of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1934, legislators appropriated $5,000 of taxpayer money to help pay for it. That sum is now worth about $89,000.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans campaigned for decades to erect memorials to their Confederate ancestors, including the statue of Gen. John Hunt Morgan on Lexington’s old courthouse square. They were more interested in history than white supremacy.

But the same cannot be said for the people behind many official displays of the Confederate flag around the South. Most of those flags appeared a half-century ago as acts of defiance against the civil rights movement. Intent is key, and their intent was racist.

Their sentiments live on in the underground white supremacy movement, which is bigger than most politicians want to admit. It is why the Confederate flag continues to be embraced by people such as the South Carolina murderer, whose name I will not dignify by publishing.

But let’s get back to Jefferson Davis.

A Mississippi planter’s son, he was born in Kentucky, near the Christian-Todd county line, where a 351-foot obelisk that’s now part of the state park system was dedicated to his memory in 1924. He went to prep school near Springfield and attended Transylvania University before graduating from West Point.

When Mississippi seceded from the union in 1861, Davis resigned his U.S. Senate seat and led a war against the country he had sworn to defend.

Late in life, Davis claimed that the Civil War had never really been about slavery, a ridiculous argument that some Confederate apologists still try to make.

The central issue of Southern secession was the preservation of slavery and the economic system that depended on it. It was about denying black people basic human rights because of a belief that they were inferior. Davis was the man in charge of that effort, and he doesn’t deserve our honor today.

Some people would say that moving Davis’ statue out of the Capitol is an attempt to rewrite history. That isn’t so.

Davis’ statue should be prominently displayed in a state museum along with other relics of Kentucky’s complex and controversial past. He should be remembered, and his story should be studied in the context of his era.

If nothing else, Davis provides a great lesson for current and future Kentucky leaders, and that lesson is this: Doing what is politically and economically expedient but morally questionable can leave you on the wrong side of history.

Museums honor history. The Capitol rotunda — the very center of our state government — should honor those whose accomplishments and ideals we value.

State rules limit statues in the rotunda to people who have been dead for at least 40 years, according to David Buchta, the state curator of historic properties. That’s a good rule, because it gives time for famous people’s worth to be seen in perspective.

Moving Davis’ statue to a museum would make room for at least one other Kentuckian more worthy of our honor. I can think of several candidates, and some of them are of a different race or gender than the five white guys there now.


Richmond author’s final book chronicles World War I fighter pilots

May 30, 2015

RICHMOND — The new book First to Flychronicles the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of young Americans who flew primitive fighter planes for France before America entered the First World War.

They were a fearless and colorful bunch who lived as if there were no tomorrow. For many of them, there wouldn’t be. Their dogfights with German aviators were often suicide missions.

Charles Bracelen Flood, the best-selling author and historian who moved to his wife’s Madison County farm in 1975, chose these men as the subject of his 15th book. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25.)

Cover of the book "First to Fly" by Charles Bracelen Flood.  Photo provided

But as Flood was completing the manuscript last year, he discovered he shared their brief life expectancy. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer June 15 and died two months later at age 84.

“He went out like he would have wanted to,” said his widow, Katherine. “Writing right to the end.”

Flood’s final book is a page-turner, written in a spare, vivid style like that of his literary hero, Ernest Hemingway. He told friends about meeting Hemingway in a Paris bar in the 1950s and being surprised to hear the famous author had read his first novel, Love is a Bridge, a best-seller published to critical acclaim when Flood was a 23-year-old Harvard graduate.

After six novels, Flood wrote a controversial book about his year as an embedded reporter with American troops in Vietnam and covered several Olympics for The Associated Press. He then began a series of non-fiction history books about Abraham Lincoln, Adolph Hitler, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman and the American Revolution.

The New York native’s last book grew out of reading a few memoirs by Escadrille veterans. Flood began the project in 2011, searching out other pilots’ diaries and letters. He and his daughter, Lucy, went to France in 2013 for more research.

“He would tell us about them, and you could just see his eyes light up,” said Lucy Flood, a freelance writer and editor in California. “They had such amazing stories.”

First to Fly weaves together short biographies of these men and their experiences flying flimsy, open-cockpit airplanes made of wood and canvas, with engines and machine guns that were anything but reliable.

The 38 members of the Lafayette Escadrille came from a dozen states. Their average age was 24. They were race car drivers, athletes, gamblers, soldiers of fortune and idealistic Ivy League university graduates from wealthy families. Several transferred to the unit after fighting in the trenches with the French Foreign Legion. They were looking for adventure, and they found it.

An undated photo of Charles Bracelen Flood (1929-2014), author of "First to Fly: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille, the American Heroes Who Flew for France in World War I." Photo provided

Charles Bracelen Flood

Aviation was such a novelty that fighter pilots were celebrities. When they weren’t flying, they were drinking or enjoying the company of legions of female admirers, whose silk stockings they wore under their leather helmets for good luck. They acquired two lion cubs, named Whiskey and Soda, as mascots and wrestled with them as if they were big dogs.

Eleven Escadrille pilots would not survive the war. Others suffered numerous wounds and injuries. Post-traumatic stress led some to later die of suicide, alcohol and drugs. But others went on to become successful businessmen and military officers in the next war. Four wounded fliers married their French nurses. Three others married movie stars.

An additional 231 American pilots served in French aviation units between 1914 and 1917, when the United States entered the war. Many of them sought transfers to the Escadrille, including the first black American fighter pilot.

Eugene Bullard was born in Georgia, left home with $1.50 in his pocket and joined the Foreign Legion on his 19th birthday. He was a machine gunner in the trenches until he was wounded. After recovery, he applied for pilot training and flew 20 combat missions.

Bullard stayed in Paris after the war, managed a nightclub and fought with the French underground during World War II. In 1954, the winner of 15 medals was asked to help two French veterans rekindle the eternal flame at the tomb of France’s Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Bullard died in 1961 in New York.

Flood had planned to write his memoirs after finishing First to Fly. So, on the day of his fatal diagnosis, he began working with his daughter to make audio recordings about his adventurous life as a writer, teacher and mentor.

Lucy Flood has almost finished transcribing those five hours of interviews, which she and her mother plan to turn into the memoir Flood ran out of time to write.

“He just had an unbelievable enthusiasm for life,” Katherine Flood said. “He loved people, could talk to anyone and was interested in everything.”


Lexington History Museum plans ‘museum roundtable’ Wednesday

March 16, 2015

The Lexington History Museum will host a gathering Wednesday of more than a dozen local museums and other history-related organizations to help them better coordinate their missions and outreach.

“Our goal is to build a strong working relationship with other area institutions and increase heritage tourism,” said William Ambrose, the museum’s president. “The more we talk, the better all of these organizations will be.”

LexHistThe Museum Roundtable is at 4 p..m. March 18 in the basement conference room of the Lexington Public Library on Main Street. For more information, email the museum’s executive director, Debra Watkins, at debra@lexhistory.org.

Each group has been asked to bring information to share about their organization’s programs, exhibits and events. Mayor Jim Gray will give opening remarks. The museum also is compiling a directory of Central Kentucky history groups.

The Lexington History Museum was housed in the old Fayette County Courthouse until July 2012, when city officials ordered the building closed because of concerns about lead paint and asbestos contamination.

Officials from the city and the Downtown Development Authority are working on a restoration and reuse plan for the circa 1900 courthouse, but it is unclear what, if any, presence the history museum will have there in the future. Most of the museum’s collection is in storage.

In the meantime, the museum has focused on education and outreach, sponsoring programs and small exhibits called “pocket museums” around town. The museum published an illustrated book about Lexington history in 2013, written by board member Foster Ockerman Jr. It also has built a website (Lexhistory.org) that includes WikiLex, a database of local history information.

“Actually, closing, in hindsight, may have been the best thing for us,” Ambrose said, adding that the museum’s board of directors is working on a long-term strategy.

The museum is preparing an exhibit for this fall focused on Central Kentucky’s bourbon industry. It is likely to be displayed at the former James E. Pepper Distillery complex on Manchester Street, which is being redeveloped into several businesses, including the brewpub Etherial Brewing.


New film tells the stories of groundbreaking Kentucky women

March 7, 2015

150308KyWomen0002Willa Beatrice Brown of Glasgow was a pioneering black woman aviator in the 1930s. She and her husband operated a flight school that trained 200 black pilots during World War II for the famed Tuskegee Airmen unit. She is featured in the film “Dreamers & Doers: VOICES of Kentucky Women.” Photo provided

 

When women demanded the right to vote a century ago, men scoffed.

“Masculine females, members of the shrieking sisterhood,” Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, called the suffragettes. “I doubt nine of 10 women would know what to do with the ballot if they had it. Politics will only pollute their domestic interests and coarsen their feminine character.”

Such comments did not deter several Kentucky women who would gain national prominence as progressive reformers, including Josephine Henry, sisters Laura and Mary B. Clay and Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, whose husband edited the Lexington Herald.

“Kentucky women are not idiots,” Breckinridge wrote to Gov. James McCreary in 1915, “even though they are closely related to Kentucky men.”

These four women’s stories are among 40 featured in a new film, Dreamers & Doers: VOICES of Kentucky Women, sponsored by the Kentucky Commission on Women.

The documentary by Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding will have its first premiere on Tuesday in Frankfort, followed by three more across the state, including Lexington, and will eventually be shown on KET. DVDs of the film will be sent to every state middle and high school.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

“We came to the conclusion that the role of women in Kentucky had never been recorded and disseminated as widely as it should be,” said Linda Roach, a commission member. “We want people to see this and say, ‘I never knew about that woman! Look what she did!'”

Trying to do justice to Kentucky’s long list of outstanding women in an hour-long film was a challenge for Breeding, an independent filmmaker who has a dozen shows in the KET catalog, including last year’s, Kentucky Governor’s Mansion: A Century of Reflection.

Breeding started with 69 names from Kentucky Women Remembered, an exhibit at the State Capitol. In the final selection, he looked for racial and geographic diversity and pioneering women who made contributions in a variety of areas, including politics, education, medicine, the arts, athletics and entertainment.

Martha Layne Collins, who in 1983 became Kentucky’s first and only woman governor, helps connect these women’s stories as the film’s narrator. Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and several other women add commentary.

First lady Jane Beshear and Madeline Abramson, wife of former Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, were instrumental in creating the film, as was Eleanor Jordan, the commission’s executive director, Breeding said.

Major funding for the film came from Toyota, The Gheens Foundation, Frontier Nursing University, the Kentucky Arts Council and the commission’s foundation.

Some women featured in the film are familiar figures: politicians Thelma Stovall, Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd; singers Rosemary Clooney, Loretta Lynn and Jean Ritchie; and Frontier Nursing Service founder Mary Breckinridge.

But what makes the film fresh are the stories of many lesser-known but no-less fascinating Kentucky women.

What Mary Breckinridge was to poor mountain children in Eastern Kentucky, Dr. Grace James (1923-1989) was to poor inner-city children in Louisville.

The pediatrician, who began a practice in 1953 when city hospitals were segregated by law, also was the first black faculty member of the University of Louisville’s medical school.

Nettie Depp was the first woman elected to public office in Barren County. She was county school superintendent from 1913-1917, and she took the job very seriously.

She repaired dilapidated rural schools, built new ones and added libraries. She initiated a uniform curriculum, created the county’s first four-year high school and fined parents who refused to send their children to school. During her tenure, county school attendance tripled.

Depp was the great-great aunt of actor Johnny Depp and Lexington sculptor Amanda Matthews, who is working on a statue of Nettie Depp she hopes to have placed in the State Capitol.

Rose Monroe, a Pulaski County native, became a feminist symbol during World War II when she worked at a Michigan factory building B-24 bombers. She was the model for the “Rosie the Riveter” image on the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster.

An even bigger contributor to the war effort was Willa Beatrice Brown of Glasgow, a pioneering black female pilot, aircraft mechanic and flight instructor. She earned business degrees from Indiana and Northwestern universities, but continued her education at Chicago’s Aeronautical University, earning commercial pilot’s and master aviation mechanic’s licenses.

Brown and her husband, Cornelius, operated a flight school in the 1930s that trained nearly 200 pilots who became part of the famous Tuskegee Airmen unit during World War II.

“These women … opened doors that other women walk through,” Roach said. “It’s important for girls today to look at these women and say, ‘If she could do it, why not me?'”

To learn more

For information about the documentary’s showings, including one in Lexington scheduled for April 9 at the Kentucky Theatre, go to https://secure.kentucky.gov/formservices/Women/Voices/

150308KyWomen0001Martha Layne Collins, the only woman to serve as Kentucky’s governor, narrates the film “Dreamers & Doers: VOICES of Kentucky Women”, which has its first premiere on March 10. Photo provided