Campus News

Kentucky African American Encyclopedia Needs Help


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 28, 2011) − University of Kentucky doctoral student Sallie Powell can recall the story of little-known Kentucky native Brenda Hughes as well as her own.


Hughes was the first and only African American woman of the 20th century to officiate a Kentucky High School Athletic Association Girls Basketball Sweet Sixteen tournament.

"We're finding tons of this kind of information all the time … stories of people, events and locations throughout the state," said Powell. Just recently, she found out about Dils Cemetery in Pikeville, the first integrated cemetery in Eastern Kentucky.

But when you ask this bright UK historian-in-training how long she's been working with UK history professor and editor Gerald Smith on the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (KAAE), she doesn't quite recall. "We've been at this so long, I don't remember," she laughed. "I started working, probably summer of 2008, and I haven't left."

UK student Josh Harrington, who hopes to finish his doctorate in history next year, found his way to the encyclopedia through his work with Smith as well. "Dr. Smith needed qualified people for this type of research," explained Harrington, whose research focuses on black politics of the 1950s and 1960s. "There aren't too many published book sources on African Americans in Kentucky, which is why the encyclopedia is so important."


Most of Harrington and Powell's sources are primary, meaning microfilm, oral histories and newspapers. Many of Harrington's greatest finds have come to him entirely by chance.

"I was doing research on Jackie Robinson at the Library of Congress last year, and I found a lot of information on Allied Organization for Civil Rights, a small community-organized group in Kentucky that lasted about a year," he explained. "I found the original constitution, stock certificates and other information that members had given to Robinson during his visit to Frankfort with Martin Luther King Jr. for a rally in March 1964."

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. and UK Libraries saw the value of the project and have provided support from the KAAE's inception. "The University of Kentucky is proud to take part in the publication of the 'The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia,'" said Todd. "The encyclopedia will capture the rich history and culture of Kentucky's African American population and the powerful impact they have made on the Commonwealth. We could not be more thrilled that Dr. Gerald Smith is working on this wonderful publication."

The support of patrons like Todd and the work of grad students like Powell and Farrington have been vital to the financially struggling volume, which is once again in dire need of a boost in order to survive another year of research, writing and editing.

According to Smith, the encyclopedia needs approximately $300,000 to complete the work.

Half of this amount will go towards printing, copyediting, typesetting and proofreading costs; the rest will be used to cover operational expenses and stipends for graduate students like Powell and Farrington, who have done the majority of the investigation, entries and preliminary editing.

To keep the operation going, the encyclopedia needs $75,000 immediately, or Powell and Farrington lose their jobs, and work comes to a standstill.

"We're in a dire situation for a project that has so much potential," said Smith. "These students have been working really hard, and so many Kentuckians have kept their faith in this."

Smith and his fellow editors, writers and contributors have conducted research and visited sites throughout the Commonwealth in order to acquire primary information for the encyclopedia, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, published by University Press of Kentucky, will provide a comprehensive volume of research on the black experience in the Commonwealth, including entries on the individuals, events, places, organizations, movements and institutions which have shaped the state's history since its origins.

Editing the book with Smith are history professors Karen C. McDaniel of Berea College and John A. Hardin of Western Kentucky University. They and other historians are writing 14 topical essays on issues including civil rights, education, religion and women, which will also be included.

Approximately 500 volume entries have been completed, and another 600 have been assigned.

Powell is humble in her contribution to the encyclopedia, highlighting her appreciation of those that have offered to write and contribute from around the Commonwealth.

Notwithstanding her gratitude, the majority of the writing will still be done in-house, according to Smith.

The volume is tentatively scheduled be completed in October 2012 and published in 2013, but that all depends. "The great challenge remains in funding and securing writers," said Smith.

But no one is giving up hope on a project that contributors, editors and writers know will make Kentuckians proud.

"For Kentuckians, this opens a big door to a history that has been previously ignored or completed invisible," Powell said. "Many African Americans might know their community histories, but this is an opportunity to broaden their knowledge of the state."

"We're giving a voice to people who have essentially been left out of history," said Farrington.

To support the KAAE, e-mail or call (859) 257-2110. 

The video below gives an introduction, some background and a bit of what the KAAE project is about.

To view a transcript of the video, click the attachment below the photo viewer. Video by Amy Jones/UK Public Relations.