Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Uniforms, books and cape

The dilapidated Nurses Home at Central State Hospital, Lakeland, Kentucky (left) was replaced by a new building (right) in the 1940s (Beulah Smith Collection)

It’s National Nurses Week!  Here’s a blog highlighting one of our most recent acquisitions documenting the making of a Kentucky nurse.  And below are a few more glimpses into our collections that tell of the trials and tribulations of these essential health care professionals.

On her inaugural shift as a nursing student in 1913, Elizabeth (Cherry) McCallum recalled that “I entered, my first day, in pink probationer’s uniform on an empty 25-bed ward which had just been fumigated after an outbreak of diptheria.”  She was shown how to make the beds and scrub all the white iron frames with Bon Ami.  When she was done, her instructor returned “and without saying a word to me, she tore apart all 25 beds I had made.  She showed me again, and this time the lesson sunk in.”

For $5.00 per month plus room, board, laundry and instruction, Elizabeth endured a gruelling and highly unspecialized routine.  On any given day, she might leave her morning classes to prepare trays in the kitchen, feed a premature infant with a medicine dropper and warm her with a hot-water bottle, or delouse the head of a Kentucky mountain child brought in for treatment of a hernia, cleft palate, or intestinal parasites.  Over her long career, however, which included service in France as a Red Cross nurse during World War I, Elizabeth saw many changes, not only in the quality of medical care but in the enhanced collegiality between doctors and nurses—“how much more skillfully they perform their tasks together.”

Some 20 years after Elizabeth, Eleanor Bowles of Lucas, Kentucky and her friend Mollye were trying to decide what to do with their lives after graduating from high school.  Both eyed nursing as a career.  “About the occupation, I’ve been looking around.  I think the City Hospital at Louisville offers the best opportunities of any,” wrote Mollye.  She reported the entry requirements to her friend.  Prospective nursing students had to be 18-35 (preferably on the low end of that scale), in the top third of their high school class, and never married—not even widows or divorcees were eligible.  The successful applicant received “uniforms, books and cape,” as well as room and board in a building connected to the hospital by a tunnel.  And one more thing, advised Mollye: “I forgot to tell you that you have to have your tonsils removed.”  So if they could each scrape together the entrance fee of $50 plus another $30 for tonsillectomies, she calculated, they could be on their way.  “I’ll be waiting for you,” she told Eleanor “so don’t you go & back out.”

Eleanor didn’t heed the warning, but she didn’t exactly back out.  Instead, she got her R.N. at Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore.  (We don’t know if her tonsils made it through or not).

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Strummin’ on the old ban. . . No!

James Weir

A descendant’s recent donation to WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections of the letters and papers of the Weirs, a prominent 19th-century Muhlenberg County, Kentucky family, has provided rich insights into the Civil War history of that county (here and here, for example).  Another wonderful item in this collection is the journal of patriarch James Weir (1777-1845), who emigrated to Muhlenberg County from South Carolina.  En route in 1798, Weir sojourned in Knoxville, Tennessee and taught school for several months.

Shortly after posting our collection finding aid on TopSCHOLAR, we received an inquiry about the Weir journal from Knoxville librarian Steve Cotham.  He had seen excerpts in typescript, but was interested in the original because it was long thought to contain “the first reference to African American banjo music” in that part of Tennessee.  Indeed, James Weir’s journal has been cited several times as the source for this interesting tidbit of musical history.

Having only recently processed the collection, however, we knew something was amiss.  Arriving in Knoxville on County Court day, the pious Weir had written that he found a rollicking town, “Confus[e]d with a promiscuous throng of every denomination some Talked some sung but mostly all did profainly sware – I stood ag[h]ast,” he declared, “my soul shrunk back to hear the horrid oaths and dreadful Indignities offered to the supream Governer of the universe.”  Weir was further mortified to witness “dancing singing & playing of Cards,” and on a Sunday, no less.

It’s a vivid portrait of a frontier community, but nowhere in Weir’s description is there a reference to either African Americans or banjos.  So how did this source become part of the body of scholarship on African American banjo music?

Here’s what probably happened:

In 1913, Greenville, Kentucky’s Otto Rothert gained access to the journal when he wrote about the Weir family in his book A History of Muhlenberg County.  He quoted accurately from its pages, with only minor edits for spelling and punctuation.  But then along came Robert M. Coates with his 1930 book The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace.  Writing of the notorious Harpe brothers and their criminal exploits in Knoxville, Coates used James Weir as a source for his portrait of the city.  In what looked deceptively like a paraphrase of a passage from the journal, Coates declared that Weir saw “men jostling, singing, swearing; women yelling from the doorways; half-naked n—–s playing on their ‘banjies’ while the crowd whooped and danced around them.” Mixing quotation and invention, Coates continued: “The town was confused with a promiscuous throng of every denomination”—blanket-clad Indians, leather-shirted woodsmen, gamblers, hard-eyed and vigilant — “My soul shrank back.”  

This embellished version of Weir’s journal, including the sudden appearance of “banjies,” took on a life of its own.  The reference was picked up in 1939 by the Federal Writers’ Project in Tennessee: A Guide to the State (where the racial epithet was changed to “Negroes”).  It appeared again in Cecelia Conway’s African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (1995) and in George R. Gibson’s 2001 article “Gourd Banjos: From Africa to the Appalachians.”  With the original Weir journal in private hands until only recently, it was perhaps impossible for scholars to locate and check the original; in any event, the colorful prose of Coates, who spent most of his career as a novelist and art critic, must have been too good to overlook.  The story of the banjies-that-never-were is a lesson for all historical researchers: whenever possible, go straight to the source.  And with James Weir’s journal in our collection, now they can.

Lines from James Weir’s Journal – alas, no “banjies”

Click here for a finding aid to the Weir Family Collection.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Paradoxically in Death:” The Poetry of Jim Wayne Miller

The only sounds: pages turning softly.
This is the quietness
of bottomland where you can hear only the young corn
growing, where a little breeze stirs the blades
and then breathes in again.

I mark my place. 
I listen like a farmer in the rows.

“A House of Readers” from The Mountains Have Come Closer (1980)

Raised on a 70-acre farm in Buncombe County, North Carolina, Jim Wayne Miller was no stranger to the secrets of the Appalachian foothills. Miller’s poetry, inspired by the works of writers such as Annette von Droste-Hulshoff, Donald Davidson, Randall Stewart, and Emil Lerperger, ultimately reflects his intimate connection to the cultural landscape of the South.

In the spring of 1982, WKU folk studies student Mary Kate Brennan interviewed Miller about “what he considers to be the central theme of his poetry, the development of his poetic art…the death of Appalachian culture, and the urgent need for the people of Appalachia to regain, or retain, pride in their cultural heritage.” Brennan’s interview, less than an hour long, is ambitious in its scope and grapples with the complex intersections between folklore, identity, language, art, and politics. In this interview, Miller also reveals his inspiration for the creation of three recurring figures throughout his poetry—the Brier, the Intellectual, and the Redneck—and how each character represents various aspects of the southern experience. In doing so, Miller addresses his turn towards “culturally aware” poetry, when he suggests that

people [in the Appalachian region] have been badgered into feeling that their society and their traditional life was in many ways inadequate, and oftentimes they’ve been only too glad to abandon traditional ways of life because they’ve been shamed out of them in various ways. But there’s a wonderful steadiness and independent mindedness that’s reasserting itself in the region.

At the time of Brennan’s interview, Miller had already been working as a full time faculty member in the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies at WKU for more than a decade, and his reputation as a distinguished professor and poet earned him several notable awards. His collaborative partnerships with the Poet in the Schools Program in Virginia, Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky, and Appalachian Studies programs in universities across the central Appalachian region served as a testament to his commitment both to public folklore endeavors and engagement within the academy.

Photograph of Jim Wayne Miller courtesy of poet’s personal website

Up until his death in 1996, Miller continued to write and publish collections of poetry, along with novels, essays, anthologies, and articles in which an undercurrent of folklore flowed freely. Speaking to the necessity of creative vernacular expression, Miller tells Brennan that “folklore is always such an integral part of peoples’ lives. You don’t go and find people sitting on the porch breaking beans and spouting one piece of proverbial wisdom after another! It’s all mixed up in life.”

Collections of Jim Wayne Miller’s poetry are available in the Helm-Cravens library stacks and in the non-circulating Special Collections stacks located in the Kentucky Building.

For more information on Jim Wayne Miller, the Appalachian region, poetry, and folklore, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs, and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Hotel Register Provides Material for Classroom Assignment

Dr. Walker Rutledge, WKU Professor of English, annually brings his English 300 class to the Kentucky Building for an introduction to manuscript collections held by Library Special Collections. Afterwards, the students select a collection to read and then write a summary related to it. The following is Cameron Fontes’ paper. He chose to write about the Mansard Hotel register from the collection (SC 1236). To see the finding aid for this collection click here.

Bowling Green’s Mansard Hotel. This postcard is from the Kentucky Library Research Collection, Library Special Collections, WKU.

Unlike the many impersonal, chain-owned hotels of today, the Mansard Hotel in Bowling Green, KY, encapsulated all the best parts of its community. It was a locally-owned, well-kept institution where local leaders and travelers alike commingled amidst luxurious, yet affordable, furnishings and convenient eateries. When guests arrived at The Mansard, either for just a meal or for an overnight stay, they recorded the details of their visit on the tall, lined pages of the hotel register in grand, gorgeous script. Although it is now yellowed and musty with age, he Mansard Hotel register kept from 16 August 1907 to 7 October 1907, provides an intimate and detailed portrait of the bustling environment of a small-town hotel in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The Mansard Hotel ledger (SC 1236), Manuscripts, Library Special Collections, WKU.

Located behind what was then the local opera house, the Mansard stood near the corner of Main and Center Streets in downtown Bowling Green. At check-in, one of the register columns guests were required to fill out if they were staying overnight was the “Room” column, in which they were to write their room number as well as the number of pieces of luggage they brought with them. Although the number of pieces each guest brought with them is nothing especially noteworthy, one interesting observation that can be made upon reading the record of each guest’s luggage is that for the most part, guests only used trunks rather than suitcases, which are probably the most common type of luggage in use today. On 7 September 1907, a guest who signed as “E. Jenkins” from Buffalo, New York, brought with them one trunk and stayed in room seven.

Buffalo was only one of a plethora of places from which guests at the Mansard traveled. Each guest wrote their place of origin in the register column marked “Residence,” their responses ranging from various towns within Kentucky, such as Golden Pond and Louisville, to St. Louis, Missouri, Evansville, Indiana, and many cities besides. If a guest were visiting simply to take in a meal at the hotel restaurant, they wrote “City” to indicate that they were a resident of Bowling Green. One especially fascinating entry in this column on 24 September 1907, is that of Ed H. Foster, who signed that he was from “Coffeetown,” a small town in Pennsylvania located, funnily enough, about five miles from the town of Hershey.

It is evident which guests in the register were only visiting for a meal by whether or not they write a room number in the “Room” column next to their response in the “Time” column. Obviously, if there was a room number in this column, that was the room in which the guest who signed on that line stayed. If there was no room number, however, one has only to look at the guest’s response in the “Time” column to see for which meal they made a trip to the Mansard. Each guest signed either a “B,” “D,” “S,” or “R”. Most likely, the first three letters indicated the meal at which each guest dined or the closest meal to which each guest checked in for their stay, “B” being for “Breakfast,” “D” for “Dinner,” and “S” for “Supper.” “R” would likely have stood for “Resident,” seeing as how the demographic of permanent residents of hotels was much more common in 1907 than today.

One very famous Bowling Green resident who visited the Mansard for breakfast om 2 September 1907, was none other than Henry Hardin Cherry.  Western Kentucky University’s first president, Cherry signed his name in big, beautiful cursive along with the name of his beloved hometown, making sure to proudly write out “Bowling Green, KY,” instead of simply “City,” as so many others had done.  That he would have been well-respected and well-known at the time is likely. Having just become the president of what was then “Western Kentucky State Normal School” the year before, he would have already been considered a bastion of higher education in the community.

Other notable guests at the Mansard during this time included C.W. McElroy, a state representative for Bowling Green, on 21 August 1907, for supper, along with a couple of other individuals with prominent Bowling Green names including R.B. Potter from Woodburn, Kentucky, on 9 September 1907, and N.J.M McCormick from Indianapolis, Indiana, on 10 September 1907, who may have both been in town visiting family.

Sadly, the Mansard Hotel burned down on 5 July 1969.  To stay in a hotel as charming as the Mansard may seem impossible today, but by perusing its old register one can start to gain a sense of its local charm and grandeur. cked

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“Get me some whisky”

“Do they miss me at home?” asked student Sarah Boyd

Students,

Exams and end-of-year assignments looming?  Roommates getting on your nerves?  Out of money?  Ready for a change of scenery?

Then pity Sarah Boyd, attending boarding school in Flemingsburg, Kentucky.  For Sarah, it was a matter of hanging on until the Christmas holiday, when she could escape home to Bath County.  Without telephones, Facebook, FaceTime and all the modern tools we have to bridge distance, Sarah was at her wit’s end, despite receiving some unusual care packages from home.  Here are some excerpts from her letters to her mother in the fall of 1865:

I am very mutch heart (hurt) to think that no one at home cares any thing about me I am hear and can not hear from home I (have) writen t(w)o leters this is thre(e) and have received no answer.

The first thing in the morning I have my bible class next my arithmetic and then recess and then Ph(y)siology and (w)riting then we have noon and then the first thing is Gramer (grammar) and then . . . science and then young ladies reader.

I am not dissatisfied with Mr. Turner (the schoolmaster) for him and Mrs. Turner is as good to me as they can be but there is some hateful girls at this Boardinghouse.

Mary Bats and Em Franklin quarled at me they are the hateful girls . . . (Em) has been trying to run over me ever since I have been here and I have took as much of her as I am a going to . . . Ma I wish you would make me some bit(t)ers and send me.  (G)et me some whisky and put some sasparela (sarsaparilla) in it. . . . Mrs. Turner is very kind to me but we do not have very good victiles (victuals).

Dear Ma I received your leter and was glad to hear from you . . . I am so glad you sent me that whisky for I kneed it.

I wish you would send me some money as I kneed some very bad to get stamps and I want to have my photographs taken to bring home . . . Ma that whisky has done me a great deal of good and there is not any of the girls knows I have it.

 Ma I want you to have something good to eat for me . . . I am growing impatient about going home.

Poor Sarah.  We can only hope that this lonesome and stressed 13-year-old (that’s right, 13) found her way back to the bosom of her family. 

A finding aid for Sarah’s letters can be accessed by clicking here.  For more collections housed in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections about Kentucky schools and their students through the generations, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“If you will send me a Pardon”

Delia Webster asks for a pardon, 1845

As we know, there’s a lot more to the pardon process than simple justice.  We’ve previously blogged about two Civil War-era pardon requests from Bowling Green and Burkesville, but here’s another 19th-century Kentucky pardon story, plus a new detail about its history found in a letter in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Born in Vermont in 1817, Delia Ann Webster moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 1843 to establish a school for young women.  Educated herself in the abolitionist atmosphere of Oberlin College, she become a thorn in the side of local slaveholders, who rightly suspected her of participation in the Underground Railroad.  Arrested after helping a family of African Americans escape to freedom in Ohio, Webster was tried and convicted of the crime of assisting fugitive slaves.  In December, 1844 she received a two-year prison sentence, the first woman to receive such punishment. 

Nevertheless, the trial jury petitioned Governor William Owsley to pardon Webster because of her sex.  At first, Webster would not accept clemency and demanded a new trial.  By the time she warmed to a pardon, public opinion had turned against her and she was carted off to prison in January, 1845. 

But on February 24, Webster was suddenly released, the beneficiary of a “Free and Full” pardon.  During the negotiations, which had continued after she entered prison, one of the stipulations was that Webster leave Kentucky forever.  But in her later account of her ordeal, she attributed her release to little more than “a friendly feeling” on the part of Governor Owsley and insisted that she had refused to accept the condition of permanent exile from the state.  “I could not think of pledging myself never to return,” she wrote.

Or could she?  In the papers of Governor Owsley’s grandson Robert Rodes, a Bowling Green, Kentucky lawyer and state legislator, we find a handful of his correspondence.  Included is a letter dated February 19, 1845, five days before Webster’s release from prison.  Engrossed with the colorized countenance of Henry Clay, it reads:

Gov. of the State of Ky.
His Excellency William Owsley

I am sorry if I gave you an impression that I was not exceedingly anxious for a pardon.  It is entirely erroneous.  And if you will send me a Pardon or Respite, I will pledge you my word to leave your State never to return.

Delia A. Webster

In any event, Webster did not honor her pledge.  After a few years at home in Vermont, she bought a farm in Trimble County, Kentucky and resumed her activities with the Underground Railroad until driven off by angry locals.

There’s way more to the story of Delia Webster—for example, the scandalous letters sent to her by the lovesick warden of the prison where she had resided in her own private cottage.  “They are quite amorous,” wrote Robert Rodes to his wife after they were published in the newspaper.  “You must criticise them and give me some strictures in my communications to my love.”  But Delia Webster’s contrite letter to Governor Owsley, part of the Rodes Collection in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, shows that there may be more to her notorious pardon than previously understood.

Search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more about our collections.

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Shaker Letter Finds New Home in Special Collections

Shaker Eldress Nancy Moore’s letter to her brother is written in a clean, cursive hand.

Sarah Moore, Scottsville, Kentucky, recently donated a letter written by Nancy Elam Moore, a distant relative and a leader at the Shaker village at South Union, Kentucky.   A photocopy of the letter has been housed in the Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections for many years.  The letter, written to Nancy’s brother James Moore on 4th August 1837, discusses her father Jesse’s estate, particularly a piece of property located in Warren County, Ohio, the site of Union Village, another Shaker community.  She advised her brother to proceed with caution and to not do anything until he had “fully investigated the case.”  Seems that a John Wallace, signing himself as the Power of Attorney for Jesse W. Moore, had sold a 112-acre farm belonging to Moore to a Mr. John St. John for $440.  This was undisputed.  However, no documentation existed proving that that said John Wallace had been empowered as Moore’s agent.  Nancy advises her brother to go to Russellville, where he could “examine our Father’s will.  It might shed some light on the subject.”  James’ will is indeed recorded in Logan County, and it gives 5/8ths of the estate to the Shaker community at South Union (Will Book A, p. 588-589).  Although the letter’s subject matter is only tangentially related to the Shakers, it does provide insight into communications maintained between Shaker members and their families “in the world.”

The photocopy, which was retained, has an added note from Harold Moore dated 28 November 1983 in which he explains how he received the copy while attending the funeral of William Simpson Moore.  Seems Harold shared Jesse’s will and other biographical information with William’s oldest son, William Benjamin Moore, at the funeral.  At that time, William provided Harold with a copy of the 1837 letter to keep with his records.  Harold’s note unscrambles the genealogy:  “This ‘gem’ is a letter from Eldress Nancy Moore of Shakertown fame to her brother, James, who was my paternal great grandfather.  Bennie’s [William Benjamin] great grandfather and my grandfather were brothers.” Their father was the James to whom this letter [was] written.”  Sarah Moore, the donor of the letter, was William Benjamin Moore’s daughter, and she notes that he went by Benjamin or Ben and only family members ever referred to him as “Bennie.”

Eldress Nancy Elam Moore was born on 1 September 1807 in Warren County, Kentucky, and was brought to the Shaker village at South Union in Logan County when she was four years old.  She served in numerous ministerial roles, including being appointed as an assistant to Eldress Betsy Smith in 1849.  She made several visits to colonies in Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts.  Nancy was appointed an Eldress of the Church in 1864.  Eldress Nancy died at South Union on 5 December 1889.  One of the treasures of the Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections is Moore’s journal which describes life in the South Union Shaker village during the Civil War, 1861-1863.  It outlines visits and exploitation suffered by the Shaker community from both Confederate and Union forces. (MSS 405)

Blue oval box personalized with Nancy Moore’s name.
Courtesy of Kentucky Museum, WKU.

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Sunshine in Shadow

Sunshine “Sunny” Nahm, 1872-1937

Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight, the trees regular, the sun shaded; . . . she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head.  But on the other side all is confusion.  Nothing follows a regular course.  – Virginia Woolf

How can one not wonder about the history of a woman named Sunshine?  And yet the conventions of 19th-century femininity made it hard to know women, even one with a name like that.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky to Bavarian immigrants, Sunshine Friedman was the baby of her family.  In 1878, when Sunshine was six, the Friedmans moved to Paducah, where her older brother Joseph had convinced his father to join him in his vinegar manufacturing business. 

As she grew up, Sunshine filled her high school autograph book with the scribbles of affectionate friends and relatives, including this one:

Sunshine Friedman is your name
Single is your station
Happy will be the man who
makes the alteration.

And by any standard, “Sunny” made a good marriage.  In 1892, she wed Max B. Nahm of Bowling Green, a Princeton law graduate and clothier who would become a wealthy bank executive and a leader in the movement to establish Mammoth Cave as a national park. 

From the commodious Nahm home on College Street, Sunshine reigned.  By one account, she was “an active volunteer in numerous community organizations, a whiz of a bridge player, and the epitome of a dignified, Victorian lady.”  But those Victorian values were painfully tested by Sunshine’s only child, Emanie, born in 1893. 

For better or worse, it was Emanie (far more open about her personal history than her mother’s generation) who tells us most of what we know about Sunshine.  Clever, tomboyish in her youth, unconventional, and given to creative pursuits like writing and art, Emanie complained that her mother tried to suffocate her aspirations, warning her that men don’t like that sort of thing.  Her parents took her to the New York theater every year, she remembered, but no other visual arts were on the agenda.  The Nahm house was filled with books, but again, no pictures of any consequence.  Her mother “wanted to tell me what to do,” Emanie groused, in stream-of-consciousness notes left in her papers.  Though intimidated by this maternal presence, Emanie apparently reproduced it in her relationship with her own daughter. 

And yet the women seem to have remained on good terms.  Emanie left for New York, married, divorced, and enjoyed success as a writer and artist.  Sunny traveled and took cruises with Emanie and her granddaughter, but by the 1930s heart disease was threatening to cut her life short.  When Sunny died at 63, her friend Martha Potter watched rather uncomfortably as Emanie distributed her mother’s possessions.  Martha received “her purple, velvet-jacket evening gown and a black coat suit with fox fur shoulders.”  Seven months later, after lunching with Max (who outlived Sunshine by 20 years), Martha could only say, “We do miss Sunny very much.”

For more about the Nahm family in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, click on the links or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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8th of August Emancipation Celebration

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln placed pen to paper and wrote the following executive order,

The first page of the Emancipation Proclamation. Handwritten document.
The Emancipation Proclamation
(Courtesy of the National Archives)

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

As an authoritative wartime measure, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans who remained under control by the Confederate government in ten southern states—not including the “border states” and those already under Union occupation.

While the proclamation, which was contingent upon a Union victory, may have ignited a firestorm of criticism from white southern sympathizers and praise from anti-abolitionists, its implementation was slow to take root, especially in Texas.

Seceding from the United States on February 1, 1861, Texas became the fourth state admitted into the Confederacy. Throughout the course of the Civil War, slaveholders from eastern states, notably Arkansas and Louisiana, routinely brought slaves to Texas in order to avoid emancipation, which significantly increased the number of slaves across the state. When the Emancipation Proclamation was made official in 1863, however, it took nearly two and a half years before the order was enforced. While theories abound in order to explain this severe lag—ranging from murder to deliberate miscommunication—history itself is quite clear.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger and his troops landed on the beaches of Galveston Island and declared Texas under federal occupation. Granger read Lincoln’s executive order, thereby liberating the nearly 250,000 slaves living in Texas. “Juneteenth,” then, has come to be recognized as the “traditional end of slavery in Texas.” The day has become established as a state-recognized holiday, while other states may observe Juneteenth in other forms of ceremonial remembrance. The underpinnings of Juneteenth rest on the celebration of Black pride, solidarity, and cultural heritage.

Akin to Juneteenth festivities, the 8th of August is another emancipation-related holiday observed by African American communities in both western Kentucky and Tennessee. While the reasons for celebrating August 8th remain unclear, the lasting impact it has had on the region is decidedly obvious. Every year, the city of Paducah, Kentucky hosts its 8th of August Homecoming Emancipation Celebration. The Homecoming seeks to honor exceptional members of the African American community, both past and present, through memorial services, picnics, music performances, and church assemblies.

Program booklet for the 2008 8th of August Emancipation celebration
Program booklet for the 2008 8th of August Emancipation Celebration

WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives contains a collection (FA 635) of materials gathered together from Paducah’s 2008 8th of August Homecoming Emancipation Celebration titled “A Journey by Faith.” In his program introduction, Robert Coleman, President of the W.C. Young Community Center Board of Directors, writes,

“America’s struggle, rise, and triumph from slavery to equal rights for all is a living testament to the power of deep, personal faith for Americans of all colors. That deep well of faith from the darkest days of slavery sets the African American experience of religion apart.”

The program itself includes articles describing the accomplishments of distinguished members of the Black community, advertisements for local businesses and churches, and a schedule of the weekend’s events. The collection also contains photographs of the celebration, vendor information, business cards, and two interviews with James Dawson, a member of the First Liberty Missionary Baptist Church, that were recorded on digital videocassette tapes.

For more information on African American folklore, material culture, foodways, and achievements throughout the state of Kentucky and beyond, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs, and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections! Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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African-American Heroes of San Juan Hill

"Bill," an African-American soldier photographed by Bowling Green native Frank M. Thomas, then serving as chaplain for the 3rd Kentucky Infantry during the Spanish-American War
“Bill,” an African-American soldier photographed by Bowling Green native Frank M. Thomas, then serving as chaplain for the 3rd Kentucky Infantry during the Spanish-American War

Although he had retired in 1892, Civil War veteran and Warren County, Kentucky native Captain Richard Vance took great interest in all aspects of his country’s prosecution of the Spanish-American War.  Among the topics covered in his personal scrapbooks, letters and essays was the plight of American soldiers who had volunteered for the war only to be met with disease, poor camp conditions, and substandard food and medical treatment. 

For African-American soldiers, Vance realized that the conditions were far worse.  He noted that, in spite of their outstanding gallantry, African-American troops could not escape the racism of their white counterparts; in particular they “continued to be despised objects in the estimation of southern volunteers.”  Vance cited an example in which “certain Virginia gentlemen (volunteers) refused to receive their pay because it was offered to them by a Negro paymaster.”  He had heard stories of “disorders” in some African-American regiments, but dismissed them as no worse than those in other volunteer organizations.  His own long military experience had taught him “that the ‘white-washing’ process is invariably used in such cases.”

Vance included clippings in his scrapbook to illustrate his points.  During the fierce battle around Santiago, Cuba, read one report, African-American soldiers not only “fought like devils” but came to the aid of the wounded, and when wounded themselves showed “more nerve” under the surgeon’s knife “than many of their fellow soldiers of lighter hue.”  When the men returned home, Louisville, Kentucky offered cheers for the 10th Cavalry—“The Colored Heroes of San Juan Hill”—but as the troop trains passed through Richmond, Texas and Meridian, Mississippi, they were targeted with gunfire.  When Charles Mason Mitchell, a veteran of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, attempted to pay tribute to the bravery of his African-American comrades during a lecture in Richmond, Virginia, he was booed off the stage.  “Is there a remedy for these evils?” asked Vance.  “Yes.  Unquestionably.  Will it ever be applied?  That remains to be seen.”

Click here for a finding aid to the Richard Vance Collection, and here for a gallery of primary resources in the Department of Library Special Collections relating to the Spanish-American War.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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