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African American History Suggested Resources

Providing Historic Perspective and Context to Current Events

The Kentucky Historical Society is dedicated to providing historic perspective and context to current events, especially as we look to end racial injustice and systemic racism. The resources offered below cover a wide range of topics and represent the work of programs across our agency.

Publications and Research

The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The Kentucky Historical Society has published a great deal of scholarship related to the history of Civil Rights and the relationship between Civil War history, African American history, and the Confederacy. Here are some articles from The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society that can provide greater context related to these complex and interwoven histories:

Additional articles from the 2011 Register entitled “Exploring Kentucky’s African American Past,” a special issue devoted to African American history in Kentucky, and other articles are available via Project Muse.


African American Genealogy

On February 18th, 2018, KHS and the African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky (AAGGKY) offered a joint panel session featuring four experts who spoke about research strategies when seeking African American roots in Kentucky. Speakers included: Dr. Alicestyne Turley of Berea College, Reinette Jones of the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, Yvonne Giles – the Lexington “Cemetery Lady” – and Mike Denis of Eastern Kentucky University. Watch the video below, or on our YouTube channel.


Civil War Governors

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) project offers a number of resources and content. Using the African Americans search tag, you can view primary sources from the CWGK project as well as blog posts and articles written by CWGK historians.

The Caroline Chronicles is a unique, document-driven learning activity. It can be used in an AP U.S. History classroom, undergraduate survey, or topical seminar on race and slavery, gender history, law and civics, the Civil War era, or Southern history. The classroom packet includes 17 rich primary source documents, three contextualizing secondary readings, three prompts for writing assignments with grading rubrics, and instructions for an in-class courtroom activity.


Kentucky's Historical Marker Program

Search Kentucky’s African American history on a local level by exploring Kentucky’s Historical Marker Database. Choose a county to search markers in your area or click the search button, and under “Subject Search,” select “African American” to find all markers related to African American history in Kentucky.

Collections and Primary Sources

Archival Collections (Documents, Photographs, Etc.)

The Community Memories: A Glimpse of African American Life in Frankfort, Ky. Project provides a glimpse of African American life in Kentucky’s capital city. The community’s families, neighborhoods, and occupations, as well as religious and educational traditions, are revealed in this collection of photographs and oral history interviews shared by local residents in 1995. The collection is shared as part of our online Digital Collection.

This United States Colored Troops Muster and Descriptive Roll for Kentucky contains information on the African American troops from part of the 7th District and all of the 8th and 9th Congressional Districts of Kentucky who were mustered into the U.S. Army during the Civil War in 1864-65. Over 178,000 free blacks and freed slaves formed approximately 175 regiments which served during the last two years of the war. Kentucky mustered in over 23,000 soldiers that comprised 27 regiments. However, all U.S.C.T. regiments were led by white officers, and there were limited opportunities for advancement for African American soldiers.

Dr. Thomas Tyler Wendell (1877-1953) was a prominent African American physician in Lexington, KY from 1902 to 1952. He attended Meharry Medical College to earn both his Pharmaceutical and Medical degrees at the turn of the 20th century. In 1928, Governor Sampson appointed Dr. Wendell to the physician staff at Eastern State Hospital, where he served until his retirement in 1952. He and his wife, Mary Alice, raised four children in the Lexington area while maintaining strong leadership roles within the civic, educational, and religious organizations of Kentucky’s African American Community. The Thomas T Wendell Collection includes materials from his personal and professional life, including scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, business papers, and photographs of the Wendell family and community involvement. 


Object Collections

WWII Poster used to recruit African Americans to join the military in WWII.

Stencil used for yard signs as part of red lining and “the housing problem” in Louisville.

Governor Andy Beshear’s pen used to sign the 2020 Juneteenth National Freedom Day proclamation.

"Church Picnic" painting by modern Kentucky artist Helen LaFrance depicting a Black congregation gathering for a church picnic.

Quilt made by Anna Lee Henderson Dishman, from the New Zion community in Scott County.

Collections about individuals:

Dr. Joseph Laine was an African American doctor who started practice in 1908. He was active both civically and in his community.

Mary Frances Clark was an African American woman Airman from 1965-1993. She also gave an oral history speaking about her experience in the military.

Harold Woodman was one of the first African American paratroopers in WWII.

Edward and Amy Hamilton owned a barbershop in Louisville.

Oscar Dishman, Jr. was a thoroughbred owner and trainer from New Zion.

William “Billy” Walker was a jockey in four Kentucky Derbies, winning in 1877 while riding Baden-Baden.

Georgia Powers was the first African American and the first woman to be elected to the Kentucky Senate.

Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville as Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942. He is a decorated boxing legend and was known as a humanitarian and social activist. 

Oral Histories

The Kentucky Historical Society’s oral history collection is available on the Pass the Word project.

The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project was initiated in 1998 as a statewide educational project that used oral history as the foundation for providing content and perspective. It is also available through the KET program website Living the Story. The panel presentation, “Beyond the Color Line,” produced by KET in 2012 in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the documentary, is also available online.

The School Desegregation in Western Kentucky Oral History Project was an initiative to document the struggle to desegregate schools in Western Kentucky between 1950 and 1975 through oral histories. David Wolfford specifically focused his interviews on the civil rights and school desegregation movements in Western Kentucky from the perspective of former students and teachers. Wolfford also interviewed parents of former students who witnessed school desegregation through the various experiences of their children.

Laurel County African American Heritage Oral History Project explores life in Laurel County with current and former African American residents. 

Special Topics

Doram Family

Follow the triumphant story of two former African American slaves who were freed in the 1840s and became prominent business owners in a predominantly white society. Historic records and photos document their journey, shared in vivid detail by former KHS curator Julie Kemper in a video produced by Kentucky Tourism.

Find out more about the Doram family by exploring their archival collection Doram-Rowe Family Collection or viewing the Diadamia Doram Portrait and Dennis Doram Portrait.


March on Frankfort

On March 5, 1964, Kentuckians marched to Kentucky’s capitol building in Frankfort to protest segregation in the Commonwealth. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson notably joined in the march. KET has two sets of documentaries and resources that commemorate the March on Frankfort: 50th Anniversary of the March on Frankfort and The Place, The March, The Movement: MLK Jr. March on Frankfort. In an oral history, Governor Breathitt described his meeting with MLK during the march.