Archive for September, 2019

Elizabeth Young (Smith) Murrell

Elizabeth Young (Smith) Murrell (1875-1960) was the former principal of the 29th Street School (James M. Bond School), and a former teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Colored School and the Mary B. Talbert School, which were all schools for black children. Murrell was active at Quinn Chapel AME Church for 30 years: president of the E.Y.S. Murrell Sewing Circle; a Sunday school teacher; and a class leader. Murrell lived at 1550 Prentice Street with her sisters, nieces, and nephews until her death. Her husband Samuel Murrell died within a year of marriage around 1918. Image is from a “Courier-Journal” article from June 13, 1918.


Fannie R. (Hicks) Givens

Fannie Rosalind (Hicks) Givens (circa 1864-1947) was born near Chicago, IL, but we could not find more information. Her death certificate and passport application say she was born in 1876, but her headstone says 1864. Fannie Hicks attended Simmons College where she was also the head of the art department. She was a renowned artist. On June 26, 1895, she married James Edward Givens, a graduate of Howard University and Harvard College. He was a professor at State University, teacher at Central Colored School, and president of Kentucky State University. James’s brother and wife, William and Jessie (Harris) Givens, died young leaving their four children orphaned. Three of the children (Margaret, James, and Jessie) lived with the couple and one child, Fannie, they adopted. James Givens died in 1910 from typhoid. Fannie remained a widow at 507 E. Finzer Street in the Smoketown Neighborhood. In 1927, Fannie became a policewoman in Louisville. Her friend Bertha Whedbee, the first African American policewoman in Louisville, helped her get the job. However, Fannie and the other policewomen were fired in 1938 when a new democratic administration deemed them unnecessary.
Fannie was politically and civically active. She was president of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Convention as well as vice president of the East End Nursery. According to Carol Mattingly of the University of Louisville, “Her roles as representative of such groups as the National Association of Colored Women, the Baptist World’s Alliance, and America’s World Union of Women for International Concord and Peace allowed her to travel widely; she made at least five international trips.” Fannie died on August 4, 1947 from breast cancer and is buried with her husband. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority placed a plaque at her grave to honor her as a former national president. Many thanks to Carol Mattingly for her research on African American suffragettes. Photo of young Fannie is from “Golden Jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky.” Photo of older Fannie is from “The Sphinx” 1930.

The Nugent Sisters: Georgia Anne Nugent and Alice Emma Nugent

Georgia Anne Nugent (1864-1940) was the co-founder of the Woman’s Improvement Club (renamed the Georgia A. Nugent Improvement Club) and the first president of the Kentucky Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. She served as an officer in the National Association of Colored Women. She was a teacher for the Louisville Colored Schools. Her sister Alice Emma Nugent (1890-1971) was a teacher for the Louisville Colored Schools. She was active in many of the same organizations as her sister Georgia but in less visible roles.

Mamie E. (Lee) Steward

Mamie E. (Lee) Steward (1858-1930) was born free to Isaac Lee and Caroline Allen in Lexington. She attended private schools, where she excelled in music. On April 25, 1878 she married William H. Steward, also featured this month. Together they had four children: Lucy, Jeannette, William Jr., and Carolyn. An accomplished musician, Mamie taught and head the music department at Simmons College of Kentucky. She was employed there for 40 years. She also served as organist at Fifth Street Baptist Church. Mamie was a part of the women’s club movement on the local, state, and national level. Mamie wrote articles for Baptist publications on racial elevation, child upbringing, and community improvements. In 1883, she was one of the founders of the Baptist Women’s Education Convention. Mamie was also a founding member or officer for the following clubs: Louisville’s Woman’s Improvement Club, Kentucky Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Ladies Sewing Circle, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and Louisville’s West-End Republican League of Colored Women. She also served on the Board of Directors for the Colored Orphans’ Home. In 1930, the Mamie E. Steward Friendly Group was established in her honor. Mamie died on March 21, 1930 after a two year illness. At her funeral, National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs member Lindsay Davis said, “Beautiful in person, beautiful in life, beautiful in character, always congenial, always lovable, always amiable, always affable, always patient, always happy, she had an unlimited circle of friends at home and abroad who knew her worth, who commended and approved her work and called her blessed.” First photo is from University of Louisville Photographic Archives of Simmons College faculty and staff. Mamie is seated in front row. Her husband is standing in right upper corner. Photo of Mamie is from the “Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.”

Betsy (Fry) Hopkins

Betsy (Fry) Hopkins (circa 1796-1911) was born in Danville, KY on the Springhouse Plantation. She was the slave of Thomas Walker Fry, the brother of Lucy Fry and brother-in-law of Judge John Speed who owned Farmington Plantation in Louisville. When Thomas Walker Fry’s daughter Mary Ann married Elias Lawrence in Middletown, Fry gave them Betsy and six other slaves. Elias died three years later, and two thirds of his slaves went to his son, Joshua Fry Lawrence. Betsy’s husband Jesse Hopkins was a slave of James Hopkins who owned a nearby farm. Betsy and Jesse had 18 children. Betsy was president of the Sisters of the Mysterious Ten for 50 years.

George Taylor

George Taylor (1810-1892) was a Grand Eminent Commander of the Colored Knights Templar of Kentucky. He also served as Grand Recorder for the First Independent Grant Commandery of the Knights Templar and as Grand Secretary of the Most Excellent Grant Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons. All of these organizations were statewide for African American men. Taylor, who lived at 526 S. 10th Street (formerly 732 S. 10th), worked as a carver in Anna M. Thurston’s restaurant at 303 W. Main Street. Image is from “History of the United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of the Mysterious Ten.”

Rev. Henry Wise Jones

Rev. Henry Wise Jones (1873-1954) was born in Knoxville, TN and arrived in Louisville by the time he was seven. Wise went to school at Knoxville College and State University (Simmons College of Kentucky). His occupation was a marble polisher, his passion was Baptist ministry. In his lifetime, he ministered in Owenton, KY; Shelbyville, KY; Shelbyville, IN ; Lexington, KY; and Louisville, KY at Green Street Baptist Church. He was chairman of the Joint Commission representing the Interdenominational Alliance and the Baptist Ministers and Deacons. He also served as the Chairman of the Simmons’s Board of Trustees. Image from Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.

Jesse Meriwether

Jesse Meriwether (1812-1892) was a slave who was emancipated in 1847 on the condition that he go to Liberia. Meriwether lived in Liberia until 1849 when he returned to Louisville. He was a carpenter by trade and was active in the African American community. In 1850, helped organized the first black Masonic Lodge in secret at his house on Walnut Street between 9th and 10th Streets. After the Civil War, Meriwether was appointed to several boards in the city: School Board’s Board of Visitors, Freedmen’s Savings Bank, and Louisville Cemetery Association. In 1889, Republicans in Louisville’s 6th Legislative District nominated Meriwether for Representative. The motives are unclear; however, when other white Republicans asked him to step down Meriwether refused. He did not win the election. Image from “The Evening Bulletin” July 18, 1889.

Washington Spradling, Sr.

Washington Spradling, Sr. (1802-1868) was born into slavery in Kentucky. He was the son of an overseer, William Spradling, and Maria Dennis, a slave on the Isaac Miller farm in Nelson County, KY. Washington’s father died in 1814 when Washington was twelve. His father made provisions in his will for the freedom of Washington, his three younger siblings, and mother.
In 1828, Spradling married Lucy Ann Jackson and together they had five children: three girls (Ellen, Martha, and Julia) and two boys (Washington Jr. and William). According to records, he had a third son, William Wallace “Willie,” with a woman named Henrietta. Willie was born two years before Spradling’s death and is listed in his will as Spradling’s natural son along with his other five children. A barber by trade, Spradling often catered to a wealthy, clientele. He also bought and sold real estate helping establish an African American presence in what is now known as the Russell Neighborhood.
Spradling’s family allied with another important family of free African Americans when Shelton Morris married Spradling’s younger sister Evalina in 1828. This helped Spradling’s business in the African American community as well as his assistance to that community. By 1860, Spradling’s real estate was worth over $100,000, which made him one of the richest men in the city.
Spradling used his wealth to help others. For example, Spradling loaned enslaved African Americans funds to purchase their freedom. Typically, he purchased them and then freed them himself. In 1863, Spradling was interviewed by the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission. He stated that he alone had bought and freed 33 enslaved African Americans. He was owed $3,337.50. Some had repaid him and some had not. Dr. Blaine Hudson, a scholar of the Underground Railroad, asserts that Spradling and other free African Americans in Louisville were deeply involved in the Underground Railroad.
At the time of his death in 1868, Washington Spradling was 66 years old. The Chicago Tribune ran an article on Spradling. The headline read, “Death of a Colored Millionaire in Louisville.”

Rev. Dr. John H. Frank, Sr.

Rev. Dr. John H. Frank, Sr. (1859-1941) was baptized at the 5th Street Baptist Church where he eventually became minister for over fifty years and served as minister emeritus until his death. He was a Doctor of Medicine, graduating from the Louisville School of Medicine, and studied medicine in Germany. He was very active civically and helped form the Cave Dwellers Life Association, a life insurance company. Rev. Dr. Frank and his wife Clara had four children, one of which was John H. Frank, Jr. (circa 1895-1941). He was the first black man to serve Jefferson County as the Probate Commissioner, appointed by a Southern Democratic judge. John H. Frank, Jr. was an attorney for Brown and Frank and practiced law for eleven years. He preceded his father in death by six days. Image is of the Reverend and is from “The Golden Jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky.”

Rev. Andrew Heath

Rev. Andrew Heath (1832-1887) was born into slavery in Henderson, Kentucky. In 1843, Heath was sold to Knott, Wicks & Co. and he bought his freedom in 1858. He was a pastor at Fifth Street Baptist Church from 1866 until his death in 1887. He and his wife Lucy Hamilton, a former slave of Mrs. George Ormsby, had eleven children. Heath was a distinguished pastor in the community, and his funeral celebrated his life and achievements. Twelve African American pastors (including Dr. Simmons, J.H. Frank, and D.A. Gaddie) assisted with the funeral as well as six white ministers with members of his Masonic Lodge. Image from the “Golden Jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky.”



Thomas Fountain Blue

Thomas Fountain Blue (1866-1935) was born in Farmville, VA. He graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and then earned a degree in divinity from Richmond Theological Seminary. He excelled as both a theologian and a librarian. In 1908, he became part of the Western Branch Library of Louisville, which was the first Carnegie Library for African Americans in America. Blue was its first librarian. He went on to be the first African American to head a department with the Louisville Free Public Library. Image of Blue and staff in front of the Western Branch is from “The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.” If you know the women in the photo, please tell us☺️

The Kean Brothers: Henry Arthur Kean, Sr. and William Lee “Bill” Kean

The Kean Brothers: Henry Arthur Kean, Sr. (1894-1955) graduated from Fisk University with a degree in physical education and later earned Master of Arts degree in physical education. He taught math and coached football at Central High School for 10 years. He was hired as the Athletic Director of Kentucky State College and became a key player in the development of the Kentucky High School Athletic League. He continued his career at Tennessee State University until his death. Henry’s brother Bill was also passionate about athletics. William Lee “Bill” Kean (1899-1958) was born in Louisville and attended Central High School, where he excelled in athletics. Although he was not large in size (5’7”, 140lbs), he was the captain of the baseball, basketball, and football teams. He attended Howard University and earned four letters. He later earned a master’s degree from Indiana University. He returned to Louisville in 1923 and coached football, basketball, baseball, track, and tennis. His teams won 5 state championships in the Kentucky High School Athletic League and 4 National Negro High School titles. Posthumously, he was named to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame (1988), the National High School Sports Hall of Fame (1993), and the Afro-American Hall of Fame (1995).

Charles W. Anderson, Jr.

Charles W. Anderson, Jr. (1907-1960) was the son of Dr. Charles W. and Tabetha (Murphy) Anderson. He attended Kentucky State College and Wilberforce University. In 1931, Anderson received his JD from Howard University and in 1933, he passed the bar. Anderson was the first African American elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, the first African American legislator in the South since Reconstruction, and the first African American Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for Jefferson County. This was the highest judicial position held by an African American in the South at the time. Anderson is credited with a number of early Civil Rights measures, including the Anderson-Mayer State Aid Act, which provided out of state tuition funding for African American students because Kentucky enforced higher education segregation laws. Anderson, a longtime president of the Louisville National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was awarded the Lincoln Institute Key in 1940 for his service to the African American community. He also served as president of the National Negro Bar Association chapter in Kentucky. In 1959, President Eisenhower also selected him as the alternate delegate to the United Nations. Anderson and his second wife Victoria McCall had two children: Charles III and Victoria. Anderson died in a train car accident in Shelbyville in 1960. Image from Kentucky Historical Society.

Rev. Dr. Marshall Bell Lanier

Rev. Dr. Marshall Bell Lanier (1869-1961) was a dean, president, and president-emeritus of Simmons University (Simmons College of Kentucky) for 51 years. Born in Mocksville, NC, Lanier was a graduate of Maryland Seminary, Lincoln University, and Western Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1895 with his first pastorate at Grace Church in Pittsburgh, PA. Lanier married Maudellen Brice and together they moved to Kentucky where he preached at the First Baptist Church of Irvington and the Corinthian Baptist Church of Frankfort before joining the staff of Simmons. Lanier was active in the community as a member of the Masons and trustee of the Home for Colored Boys. Image from “The National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race.”