Photographing Freetowns: African American Kentucky through the Lens of Helen Balfour Morrison

Helen Balfour Morrison traveled to the inner Bluegrass region of Kentucky several times in the 1930s and 1940s, documenting African American life in Depression-era Kentucky. Her images, taken primarily in Zion Hill and Sugar Hill, reveal the dignity, independence and strength of the close-knit descendants of the freedmen who settled these Kentucky hamlets in the decades following the Civil War.

While this impressive body of work preserves images of subjects’ daily lives and shows their work, domestic rituals and social life, often the subjects’ names and the photos’ exact locations are unknown.┬áThis exhibit focuses on the relationships between the people in the photographs and their communities and explores how the camera lens captures race relationships.

KHS hopes to identify some of the unknown people in Morrison’s photographs and encourage other African American communities to share their history through supplemental programming. Be sure to watch our Calendar of Events.

The exhibit draws images from the Helen Balfour Photographs of Kentucky African American Communities in the collections of The Newberry research library in Chicago.

Photographing Freetowns will be on display Jan. 15 to Oct. 20, 2018.