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Maps chart black history in the county

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Group hopes to continue to add to its contents

By Todd Martin

Hundreds flocked to a Black History event Feb. 10 at Stratton Center, but as far as bringing that history out for people to study, there is still much work to be done.

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“There is a lot of black history that we need to dig deeper on,” said Charles Long, a member of the Shelby County Historical Society. “For instance, the origins of Martinsville and how it was established. I think the land was originally owned by a man named Martin, but we don’t know for sure. And the names of the streets in that area – like Union and Berea – those are very interesting. Berea College took in black students before the Day Law made it illegal.”

Although the Community Tapestry, “A Celebration of Local Black History,” was a good start, it is just that – the beginning of an effort to record African-American history in Shelby County.

Kerry Magan, who helped chair the event, also has been part of a group that put together maps of the county, Shelbyville and Simpsonville with spots of historical significance to the Black community.

“It’s still a work in progress, like a biography, it’s constantly being edited,” he said.

The maps currently mark schools, churches and communities.

“Basically, it started last summer when we were trying to put together this event and a committee for it,” he said. “We wanted to identify the black communities, churches and schools of old, at least the ones we know of.”

The event on the Feb. 10, Magan said, also was aimed at being a starting point for adding to the map. Although he said he’s not sure if anything has been added, he knows he wants to continue the process.

“There is so much more we can do with the maps,” he said. “Our intent was for people to be able to make additions to it. Hoping that they would see the map, and it would cause them to reflect on their own memories.”

Much of the information, Magan said, came from Diane Coon.

“She’s done a lot of research on the communities and schools and churches. She’s a tremendous resource,” he said.

Coon, he said, has been able to note some of the locations of Rosenwald Schools, which was the name informally applied to schools, shops and homes that were built for the education of African-American children. The name comes from Julius Rosenwald, who provided funds for the construction of several schools in rural Alabama, were overseen by Tuskegee Institute, for which Rosenwald served on the board of directors.

There are several Rosenwald Schools on the county map, including Clark Station, Buck Creek and Olive Branch.

The next step, Magan said, is reviewing a 1919 soil map done by the federal government and Agricultural Experiment Station.

“We’re working on getting it photographed now,” he said. “It lists the schools on it, and we want to compare it to the map we have.”

But as the map continues to evolve. There is still much work to be done.

“We just have very little information on black history,” Long said. “A lot of what we know came out of research for the book [The New History of Shelby County, Kentucky, published in 2003], but there just isn’t much written down locally. A lot of that history is oral, and we need to get it down before it’s lost.”