- Research on Kentucky Blacks, Revisited
On June 7, 1991, I had the distinct honor of being the speaker at the annual Boone Day celebration of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. This event occurred at a very important time in my professional career. After having been a history professor since 1977, I was moving into the position of vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Texas. Also, my third book on race relations in Kentucky was going through the final editing stage before publication. I used that speech to mention the themes that connected my three books. I also gave an overview of my new research project. And, very importantly, I highlighted areas of research that were fertile grounds for additional research on blacks in the Bluegrass State.1
Even though my professional efforts have been devoted to such issues as accreditation and budgets, I have remained keenly interested in the scholarship on Kentucky blacks. I found time to read the books on President Rufus Atwood of Kentucky State College, Senator Georgia Powers, the first African American state senator, and numerous articles on key events, institutions, and organizations [End Page 283] that cover the entire chronological history of the state. As a result of this range of scholarship, we know a great deal more about race relations and the contributions of black Kentuckians.
I remain very impressed with the scholarship of three very able historians on African American Kentuckians: John Hardin, Blaine Hudson, and Gerald Smith. Hardin and Hudson were engaged in pathbreaking research before I began my work, and I benefited in various ways from their scholarship. Dr. Gerald Smith is one of my former students at the University of Kentucky, though he has clearly surpassed me in his knowledge of Kentucky history. Because of their continued involvement in historical conferences and public-history programs, these scholars have not only shaped the view of the historical profession of the field, but they have also influenced the average citizen's knowledge of the black past in Kentucky. Their collective efforts ensure that many different topics on Kentucky African Americans will continue to be researched and discussed into the future. Appropriately, Hardin, Hudson, and Smith produced articles for this issue of the Register.
Two articles by PhD candidates are also included in the volume. Joshua Farrington's well-documented work discusses the involvement of Louisville blacks in the political process during the 1960s, and unlike their counterparts in other areas of the country, they often voted Republican to remind white Democrats that the black vote could not be taken for granted. Further, Farrington correctly points out that scholars of the civil rights movement have often excluded the crucial events that took place in Kentucky from their studies, and therefore his work makes an important contribution to this topic. Sallie Powell's essay is not only very interesting, but it is path-breaking in its discussion of an African American woman who officiated high school basketball games in the 1970s, something unheard of elsewhere. In a state where basketball borders on being a religion, the career of Brenda Hughes as a referee is very significant. Clearly, the essays of Farrington and Powell make solid contributions to the field of Kentucky African American history. [End Page 284]
I hope that my two ongoing projects will make a contribution as well. I have been conducing research since the 1980s for a biography of Robert Charles O'Hara (R. C. O.) Benjamin. In doing so, I am consciously following the lead of the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, who spent years working on a biography of George Washington Williams, tracing his movements around the world. Benjamin was born on the island of St. Kitts in the 1850s; I have conducted extensive research there and in the nearby island of Antigua. Because these island countries were part of the British Empire, I have conducted research in the Colonial Records Office in London. Next, I traced his movements throughout the northeast United States, to Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee, and then to California for almost a decade. For reasons I have yet to discover, Benjamin then moved back to Kentucky, where...