In honor of February being Black History Month (and for purely personal reasons), Capital Living will do its best to uncover African American History throughout Frankfort and Franklin County over the next several weeks.
From as early as 1882, Frankfort would offer more opportunities for African Americans within the community for an education than their counterparts in the rural communities. It does not go unnoticed that Kentucky State University, a predominately and historically African American educational institution, is located in Kentucky’s capital city and dates back as far as 1887. Being educated as a young Black person in the late 1800’s meant that you were becoming someone of importance and a leader.
But early education in Frankfort for the African American population in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, meant that, if you didn’t attend a school in which was also your church on Sundays, you attended school at either Clinton Street School (1884-1928), Rosenwald School (1917-1977), or Mayo-Underwood School (1929-1964). What is now Kentucky State University actually was founded in 1887 as Kentucky State Normal School for Colored Persons. These early education schools were to unify the Black population of the community and helped them deal with vital issues of their time together. And although the school buildings may no longer be there, the founding principal remains the same – community. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. That saying is rooted in African culture. And it holds as true today as it did over one hundred years ago.
Schools and churches were the heart of the African American community. Much of the time, they went hand in hand with prayer inside of school, and focus on education during church. Schools provided a focal point for much of the extracurricular activities that were vital to raising young community leaders. These schools were instrumental in developing talented individuals in the arts and humanities. Passionate as well as talented teachers, along with the PTA were instrumental in promoting community involvement by encouraging and fostering music, theater, and dance. Those were culminated into elaborate productions in which the entire community was invited to attend. This showcased a plethora of talent in Kentucky’s capital city’s African American community, which in turn gave the world such notable talents as George C. Wolfe, Mark Warren, and Leonard Brown, to name just a few. The emphasis on nurturing the arts at such a young age, was to encourage those students to pursue a secondary education. Those respectable institutions at the time required a knowledge of music and the arts as part of the qualifications to become a teacher, for instance.
Kentucky State University became embedded in the Frankfort community, turning out some of the finest leaders to go on and serve leadership roles within the community and beyond. Additionally, KSU’s presence in the community during segregation offered faculty and student participation in churches & non-profit organizations, community centered activities being held on campus, and homecoming festivities involving all of Frankfort. This constant presence in the community by the university prompted many high school students to transition seamlessly and to seek a higher education at KSU. University students and alumni stayed engaged in local society, much as they do today, through volunteer opportunities throughout the community.