Talking about the Black experience in Kentucky with Dr. George Wright | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Talking about the Black experience in Kentucky with Dr. George Wright

On Saturday, March 30, Dr. George Wright, noted author and incoming Visiting Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, sat down for an online conversation with Sharyn Mitchell, Research Services Specialist at Berea College Library, Dr. Kathryn Engle, sociologist & sister KFTCer, and myself.

The interactive webinar was partially funded by ARTWORKS, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, and hosted by the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center & Appalachian Studies Program with support from Berea College Special Collections & Archives. The conversation explored Black history and the Black experience in Kentucky. 

Dr. Wright pointed out that race relations across Kentucky and across our country are constantly evolving. In Kentucky, there have been both positive changes – like the increased number of Black college professors in recent decades – and work still to do in areas ranging from homeownership to representation on juries.

Sharyn Mitchell agreed that it is a mixed record, and worried that Black History in Kentucky is being lost.  After public school integration, Black teachers were not hired to teach in the mostly-white schools. Now teachers aren’t often taught Black History, so many students of all backgrounds never have the opportunity to learn it. And there are very few Black librarians and archivists in our state.

Dr. Wright agreed that it is important for all Kentuckians to learn about Black History, including the painful parts. He discussed how communities all over the state are grappling with that history, specifically the legacy of Confederate statues or sites of lynchings. Mitchell noted lynchings that occurred in Russellville, Frankfort, and Nicholasville.

Dr. Wright noted that it is difficult for communities to talk about these things, and that learning and discussing Black History in our state is absolutely needed to move forward. When asked about the main barriers to having these discussions, he pointed out that some media narratives paint white and Black people as completely different from each other, making it hard to start a conversation. Social media exchanges can sometimes make it even more difficult to recognize our common concerns as Kentuckians.

Dr. Wright believes it’s important to enter these conversations with good intentions to both hear and be heard. He also suggested that we not wait for moments of heightened division when it is difficult to build trust, but rather incorporate Black culture and history into community events and daily life. This can put us in a better position to have meaningful conversations when difficult issues come up.

Mitchell added that it’s important for everyone in the community to have a voice in these discussions.

Dr. Wright reminded participants that it’s important to connect the past and the present, look at challenging information and the complexity of history, and to think about what you can learn and bring to the discussion.

You can watch the webinar recording here.

Many KFTC members are leaning into these conversations, and I’d like to encourage every reader to make a plan to learn more about Black History in your own community and create an intentional conversation about race in your neighborhood or town. There is a great resource to get you started at, and you can reach out to your local organizer if you have ideas or questions.

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