New novel explores race, class in 1940s Central Kentucky

November 18, 2014

In his novel Pickering’s Mountain, Joseph Anthony wrote about the complexities of strip mining and economic survival in Eastern Kentucky, where he lived in the 1980s as an English professor at Hazard Community College.

The New Jersey native has lived in Lexington ever since, and he has looked for a way to use fiction to explore two of Central Kentucky’s overarching issues: race and class.

While reading microfilm copies of the Lexington Leader in the public library, Anthony found his hook. It was a small ad placed near, but not with, a “Colored Notes” column from 1948, when even the news was segregated.

bookThe ad began: “Wanted: Good family with plenty of help … ” It was placed by a farmer needing share-croppers to live in a vacant house beside him and help with his tobacco crop.

It made Anthony wonder: what might have happened if the “good family” that answered that ad was black? And that is how he begins his new novel, Wanted: Good Family (Bottom Dog Press, $18.00).

The book is masterfully written and well-grounded in Kentucky history and mannerisms. It explores issues of race, class, relationship and the potential for change that are as relevant today as they were when this story takes place more than six decades ago.

“I wanted to write about our big drama story in Lexington, race, and how things have and haven’t changed,” he said. “And I had an idea of how to write about somebody who could do terrible things and not actually be a bad person.”

The newspaper ad said interested parties should not call or write, just show up. So that is what Rudy and Nannie Johnson do. He is a World War II veteran looking for work. She cleans houses, but was a nurse’s aide at Good Samaritan Hospital until she applied to train for a better job and was branded as a “troublemaker.”

The Johnsons and their four children — Herbert, Franklin, Eleanor and Harry, all named for people occupying the White House when they were born — live with her mother and sister in cramped quarters off Georgetown Street.

Lexington had a housing shortage in the late 1940s because of veterans returning from war. Things were worse for blacks, who were only allowed to live in certain parts of town and could rarely get credit to buy a house anywhere.

joeDesperate enough to take a chance, the Johnsons pile their children into a borrowed pickup truck and drive to the next county to answer the ad. The farmer and his wife, an older couple who lost their only son in the war, are surprised to see them. But they, too, are desperate. Like all good Kentuckians, everyone tries to be polite.

“We didn’t think to say ‘whites only’,” Wilma Lawson, the farmer’s wife, explains to readers. “We figured anyone who knew our place would know that.”

Indeed, they would. James Lawson has a dark past that everyone in their county seems to know. The Johnsons, being from Lexington, are unaware. But they have their own family secrets and shame.

Everyone’s secrets come out as the book’s major characters alternate chapters of first-person narrative. Readers wonder if any of these people, black or white, can escape the ghosts and prejudices of their past.

The characters are still working through events that occurred two decades earlier, when Kentucky race relations included lynchings and black residents being run out of small towns en masse.

What makes Anthony’s book so interesting is that it doesn’t try to preach or over-simplify. It shows that racism comes in black as well as white, and that injustice can afflict the oppressors as well as the oppressed.

“I’m a much nicer person as a writer than I am as a human being, and the reason is I have to see everybody’s point of view,” Anthony said. “I have to really try to understand their dilemma.”

While racism and prejudice are no longer legal, that doesn’t mean they have disappeared. Human relations are complex and always evolving.

“The book is about change, about the possibility of change,” Anthony said. “As Rudy says, if we can’t change we’re lost, we’re done. And that’s really what I wanted to write about.”

If you go

Joseph Anthony will sign copies of his novel,Wanted: Good Family.

■ 5:30 p.m. Thursday, The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St.

■ 3 p.m. Dec. 13, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington Green.

Plan would create 200 miles of multi-use trails in Scott County

July 15, 2014

legacyGabe Schmuck, 9, left, Nate Schmuck, 5, and their father, Paul Schmuck, rode on the Legacy Trail in Lexington in 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley.

GEORGETOWN — The popular Legacy Trail out of Lexington now stops just short of the Scott County line at the Kentucky Horse Park. But what is now the end of the trail could someday be just the beginning.

Scott County leaders have worked for three years with the regional visioning group Bluegrass Tomorrow and the National Park Service to develop an ambitious plan for Kentucky’s most extensive trails network. Plans call for 200 miles of biking, hiking, horseback riding and waterway trails throughout Scott County.

“Our vision is that this is going to eventually branch out and include the whole region,” said John Simpson, director of Georgetown/Scott County Tourism.

The Bluegrass Bike Hike Horseback Trails Alliance unveiled a draft of the proposed master plan Monday at the monthly meeting of the Georgetown/Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Alliance leaders hope to finish the plan by the end of the year and begin negotiating property easements, designing trails, raising private money and applying for federal transportation grants.

Some trails would be shared, with bike/pedestrian and horse paths side-by-side, but most would be separate. The plan was developed with help from interested residents during a June 2013 design workshop, and the alliance is eager for more public participation.

At this point, there are no cost estimates, but such a trails network would run well into the millions of dollars. Still, many officials think it would be a great investment.

“This has the potential to have a tremendous impact, economically and socially, on the community,” said Russell Clark, the alliance’s National Park Service representative.

Clark and Rob Rumpke, president of Bluegrass Tomorrow, cited the economic impact that trail systems have had on Damascus, Va., a once-depressed logging town where hikers and mountain bikers now flock to the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper trails; Loveland, Ohio; and Indiana’s Brown County.

The trails alliance has more than a dozen partners, including the cities of Georgetown, Sadieville and Lexington; Scott County Fiscal Court; the state tourism department; the Horse Park; the Kentucky Horse Council; Georgetown College; the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; the Bluegrass Area Development District; St. Joseph Health System/Kentucky One; and several horseback-riding and cycling groups.

Rumpke said horse trails should be especially popular, given the number of local horse enthusiasts and the tourists who come to Central Kentucky to see horse farms and events.

“We’re the horse capital of the world; why are there so few horseback-riding facilities?” he asked. “This is an opportunity to address that.”

The first step in the plan is to extend the Legacy Trail 6.6 miles from the horse park to Georgetown. Christie Robinson chairs a steering committee that commissioned an engineering feasibility study, which was recently completed. The study estimates the total cost at about $8.3 million, including trailheads, bathrooms and other amenities. It could be built in four phases as money became available.

Georgetown recently awarded the Legacy Trail committee $25,000 as a match to a $100,000 federal grant that it will apply for this fall, Robinson said. That would move the design process forward.

Claude Christensen, mayor of Sadieville, said he sees the trail system as an opportunity to revitalize his town of 303 people at the northern tip of Scott County. Sadieville is applying for “trail town” status with state tourism officials. But it needs trails.

“It’s huge for Sadieville,” Christensen said. “It makes us a destination.”

Simpson, the tourism official, said many Scott County business and government leaders support trails development because they have seen the economic benefit that road cycling enthusiasts have had in the area.

The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s annual Horsey Hundred ride each Memorial Day weekend is based at Georgetown College. This year, more than 2,000 cyclists came from all over North America to ride Central Kentucky’s scenic back roads on marked routes ranging from 25 to 104 miles.

Georgetown hosted a downtown party for the cyclists, who filled Georgetown College’s residence halls and more than half of the 1,100 local motel rooms. A big group from Ontario, Canada, came for an entire week of cycling before the event.

An extensive trail network, along with Central Kentucky’s world-class cycling roads, could make Georgetown a major recreation destination, Simpson said.

“We’re at the starting point of something that could be phenomenal,” he said. “It could bring thousands of tourists to our community and enhance our own quality of life.”

‘Connectors’ projct seeks to find grass-roots leaders

January 31, 2011

GEORGETOWN — There are two kinds of community leaders. The first is obvious: mayors, county judge-executives and the heads of companies, civic groups and non-profits. Then there are the “connectors.”

Connectors are people who bring others together for the common good but often don’t attract much public attention. They are grass-roots dreamers and organizers who know how to engage the right people, gather the right information, connect the dots — and get things done.

You will soon hear a lot more about connectors because United Way of the Bluegrass is coordinating the Bluegrass Connectors project to identify them in the area.

The project’s goal is to identify the key 100 or so connectors in the region, based on analysis of nominations from the public. Those connectors will then be connected with each other, which should naturally increase communication and cooperation across city limits and county lines.

The project also could help empower a new, more diverse group of people to join the ranks of that first group of community leaders. That would be good, because leadership initiatives in Central Kentucky too often resemble the old movie Casablanca — we just “round up the usual suspects.”

This social-networking project grew out of a meeting last week at Toyota. Nearly 100 of the region’s first group of leaders were invited by Lyle Hanna, a local human-resources executive, to listen to Karen Stephenson, a cultural anthropologist who has taught in the design and management schools of Harvard and UCLA.

Over the past three decades, Stephenson has developed a lucrative international consulting practice, working with organizations to improve performance by identifying their internal networks of communication and trust. After 9/11, she even helped the Pentagon try to figure out the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Stephenson achieved a degree of fame after Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, wrote an article in the December 2000 issue of The New Yorker magazine about her work with furniture manufacturer Steelcase to design more productive offices.

Since then, Stephenson has donated time to several cities, including Louisville and Philadelphia, to apply to communities the “connector” research that she has done for more than 500 companies.

“In every community, there are these people who work hard for the greater good, but they don’t always have the time to connect with everyone else,” she said. By asking the public to identify and recognize these citizens, she said, “It gives people an opportunity to think differently and find those people who have been overlooked.”

Louisville’s connectors project was organized in 2008 by Leadership Louisville. “We have never done anything like this before that has had so much impact on us and the community,” said Chris Johnson, who has been president of Leadership Louisville for two decades.

The Louisville project chose 128 key connectors from among more than 5,500 nominations. Many were executive-level leaders with recognizable names — including former Mayor Jerry Abramson and new Mayor Greg Fischer. But others included small-business owners, educators, a librarian and an administrative assistant. (People can’t nominate themselves, and Stephenson’s computer analysis tries to weed out “ballot stuffing.”)

“Word has really gotten out across the community that connectors are resources,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to dig deeper and ask them about issues they care about, issues that are under the radar.”

The nine-county United Way of the Bluegrass, with help from the Blue Grass Community Foundation, is facilitating the Bluegrass Connectors project so it won’t be viewed as Lexington-driven. Some previous efforts at regionalism have failed because leaders in counties surrounding Lexington resent Bigfoot.

Hanna, United Way president Bill Farmer and others who arranged for Stephenson’s help don’t know exactly what will result from the Bluegrass Connectors project, but they have high hopes.

“There are a substantial group of people who are getting things done in our communities who we don’t notice because we are often focused on the executive level,” Farmer said. “Because of the economic reset, we recognize that things have to be different if we are to maximize our potential.”

To watch some video clips from the session, click here.

Want to learn about Lexington? Become an ambassador

July 2, 2009

Did you know that both France and Spain once claimed to own Kentucky?

That the Marquis de Lafayette’s winemaker planted America’s first commercial vineyard here in 1798?

That a Lexington man invented the ripcord parachute pack?

And that Kentucky’s horse-to-people ratio is 1-to-12?

Do you know how to help someone visit a horse farm, see a distillery or find a good place to eat or hike?

I know these things because I am now a Certified Tourism Ambassador.

I’m sure you’re impressed.

I was one of 10 people who gathered at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau last Saturday morning for a four-hour class. We already had read a thick workbook and completed exercises on local geography and visitor problem-solving.

After we passed a test, we joined 860 others from 30 previous classes who have become Certified Tourism Ambassadors since early last year. We even get a badge. OK, so it’s really a lapel pin.

The bureau hopes to train at least 1,500 ambassadors by next fall, when Lexington will host its biggest tourism event ever, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Candidates for the training include hotel and restaurant workers, cab drivers, police officers, LexCall and airport staff members, Realtors and people who want to be volunteers at the Games. But anyone can do it.

In addition to Lexington, classes have been held in Frankfort, Richmond, Lawrenceburg, Berea and Nicholasville.

The idea behind the program is that the best way to build a tourism economy is to make sure each visitor has a great experience. That will make those visitors more likely to tell others good things about a city and come back again.

Tourism is big business in Central Kentucky, and not just because of the Games. The bureau claims tourism has a $2 billion economic impact in the region, thanks largely to horses, history and bourbon. Lexington alone has 2.5 million overnight visitors each year — an average of 6,900 a day.

“That’s almost 7,000 opportunities we have each day to make a good impression,” said Julie Schickel, who runs the training program.

My class was a diverse group that included a hotel supervisor, business people and several retirees who like to volunteer.

Wickliffe “Wickie” Hardwick, a retiree who wants to volunteer during the Games, decided to take the class because “we were told that this was a great place to start.”

Hardwick is a Winchester native who has lived here for most of her life. Still, she learned a lot from the training workbook, which is a great, concise briefing on Central Kentucky history, culture and attractions.

“There were so many details I didn’t know; it’s been fun going through all of this,” said Susan Morris, a retired Chicago native who has lived in Lexington for 36 years.

Almost everyone in my class was either a Central Kentucky native or had lived here a long time. We enjoyed sharing local trivia, restaurant recommendations and tips for places to go and things to do.

“I learned a lot from hearing people talk about their favorite places,” said Brenda Kirkpatrick, who at 19 was the youngest class member. She is a front office supervisor at the Hilton Suites at Lexington Green.

Kirkpatrick, who was born and raised in the Nonesuch community of Woodford County, said childhood vacations often involved traveling around Kentucky. After taking the ambassador class, she said, “I think I’m going to go do it all again.”

For more information

To learn more about Certified Tourism Ambassador training, contact Julie Schickel at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, (859) 244-7717 or