Early African American Education in Shelby County Kentucky

Model School at Lincoln Ridge, Simpsonville KY
Model School at Lincoln Ridge, Simpsonville KY










This article was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Shelby County KY Historical Society in relation to Black History Month and the celebration of African American heritage.

Education of African Americans in Shelby County, Kentucky — A New Perspective

By Diane Perrine Coon

The January-February 2013 display in the Shelbyville Public Library highlights the long struggle to gain education for African American children in Shelby County, Kentucky. It features 1) Elijah Preston Marrs, a slave that became one of the earliest educators in Kentucky; 2) Lincoln Institute at Simpsonville, a boarding school providing African American children in the region a competent high school education during the segregated Kentucky decades; and 3) photos of the segregated schools at Bradshaw Street Graded School in Shelbyville, the Christiansburg Rosenwald School, and the faculty at High Street School in Martinsville, representative of the hundreds of dedicated teachers who struggled to teach against large class sizes, hand-me-down textbooks and scarce classroom resources.

In preparing the first countywide celebration of African American heritage in Shelby County, a number of important elements of African American education in this county were uncovered:

  1. A complete list of the Freedmen Bureau (1866-1870) schools and teachers in Shelby County — Simpsonville; Shelbyville (3 schools); Consolation (Stringtown); Christiansburg (Hinesville)
  2. A complete list of the Rosenwald Schools (1919-1924) in Shelby County and a petition for National Register designation for the Bucks Creek Rosenwald School —-     Bucks Creek, Christiansburg (Hinesville); Scotts Station; Chestnut Grove;  Clarks Station
  3. Identification of distinguished teachers and principals – a major element of African-American heritage in Shelby County, Kentucky. This work will continue.
  4. Brenda Jackson and Roland Dale have begun compilation of the Negro School Registers from the early 20th This work includes the complete list per school of the children, parents, teachers and teacher salaries during this period.

Reconstruction and Freedmen Bureau Schools (1866-1870):

Sources: Autobiography of Elijah Preston Marrs, Freedmen Bureau records, Kentucky State Library and Archives.

  1. Elijah Preston Marrs – taught at Simpsonville, Shelbyville, LaGrange, New Castle and Louisville; was a delegate to the 1868 Education Conference in Louisville that drew 1,000 supporters of education for African American citizens and training for Kentucky’s African-American teachers.
  2. Henry Marrs – taught at Lexington, Frankfort, LaGrange and Louisville
  3. Alfred E. Hughes – taught at Simpsonville’s Freedmen Bureau school
  4. William H. Russell, Joseph D. Mumford, Thomas S. Baxter, E. E. Hansborough – taught at Shelbyville’s three Freedmen Bureau schools
  5. Laura Stevens – taught at Christiansburg’s Freedmen Bureau School
  6. Charles Smith and Mrs. R. E. Harris – taught at Consolation’s Freedmen Bureau School

 Early Common School Era (1875-1920):

Sources: Notable Kentucky African Americans, University of Kentucky database; 1880 Federal Manuscript Census for Shelby County, Kentucky, 1882 Atlas of Henry and Shelby County, Kentucky; New History of Shelby County, Shelby County Historical Society; Local history files, Shelbyville Public Library.

  1.  Identification of Lewis Lawson, age 23, Sarah Clark, age 26, Lucy Gwinm, age 23, African American teachers in Shelby County’s few segregated common schools (from the 1880 federal manuscript census).
  2. 1881 Bartlett Taylor, born 1840 a slave in Henderson, Kentucky, gained wealth through meat packing and land speculation in Louisville, built several A.M.E. churches the largest in Bowling Green, came as pastor in 1881 to Bethel A.M.E. in Shelbyville, petitioned to build a school for African-American children that became the Graded School on Bradshaw. Rev. Taylor paid for the school building and its teachers. (From Notable Kentucky African Americans)
  3. 1898 African American School Districts – Uncovered the location of 15 of the 20 “colored” common schools, 6 in churches, 2 log, 7 frame, 1 brick, 1 condemned, (From the 1882 Atlas.)
  4. 1912 – first class at Lincoln Institute, early contracts between Shelbyville, Shelby County, Eminence, Henry County, for high school education; George T. Corderey the superintendent of woodwork, and Seaton Baldwin, superintendent of power, heat, etc., the first African Americans on the Lincoln Institute staff. (From the Public Library local history collections.)
  5. 1911-1915 – first consolidations of historic black schools, Clay Village and Rockbridge, Harrisonville and Waddy, Scotts Station and Todds Point, Evansville and Simpsonville (Model School) (From New History of Shelby County, Kentucky).

Rosenwald Schools (1917-1924) – One Teacher Architecture:

“Rosenwald Schools of Kentucky,” Alicestyne Turley-Brown, 1997, Kentucky African American Heritage Commission, Frankfort, Kentucky

  1.  Buck Creek (next to Allen Chapel south of Finchville)
  2. Christiansburg (at Hinesville near Mount Pleasant Baptist Church)
  3. Chestnut Grove (northwest of Shelbyville)
  4. Olive Branch (between Finchville and Southville, on Zaring Mill Road)
  5. Clarks Station (north of the Fisherville Road on Clarks Station Road near tracks)
  6. Scotts Station (on Antioch Road at junction with Scotts Station Road across from Shiloh Baptist Church)

Segregated School System (1924-1956:

  1. 1930 – J. W. Roberts named superintendent of colored schools in Shelbyville; Hellen Johnson, age 19, Rachel Davis, age 18, and Kerk Smith, age 64, listed as teachers at Lincoln Institute. (From the 1930 federal manuscript census.)
  2. 1935-1936 – replaced the 1918 contract between Shelbyville Independent School District and Lincoln Institute to reflect addition of the management of the Model School serving Simpsonville children, reorganization of the 1-8 and High School; addition of the John Ethington broom factory, contracts let for transportation from Eminence, Shelbyville, Henry County and Shelby County. (From New History of Shelby County, Kentucky.)
  3. 1936 – painted the school at Bagdad, rebuilt the Clarks Station and Todds Point schools, put an addition on the Scotts Station school, designated Harrisonville as an emergency school location. (From New History of Shelby County, Kentucky).; Lucy Jane Payne, teacher at Scotts Station School. (From interview with Maureen Bullitt Ashby.)
  4. 1940 – Robert L. Dowery Sr. born in Shelbyville in 1893, served in 1940s as teacher and principal at Shelbyville’s Graded School, in the 1920s and 1930s he taught in schools in Franklin County, Taylor County, Campbellsville and Elizabethtown. President and organizer of District #4 Teachers Association, Served in U.S. Army in WW1, died 1952 and buried at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.(From Notable Kentucky African Americans)
  5. 1940 – Shelbyville Colored Graded School (Bradshaw) upgraded using Public Works Administration funds and 90 cent general school tax, (From New History); Mr. R. D. Roman was principal at the Junior High School in Shelbyville and Mrs. Jewell J. Rabb was teacher there (from Shelbyville Sentinnel photo in the Shelbyviile Public Library local history collection); Ada Hedland, Curtis Greenfield and his wife Mary, Lamont Lawson, Joseph and Kathleen Carroll and Whitney Young all listed as teachers at Lincoln Institute; Will Allen, age 28, and Beatrice Boyd, age 34, listed as teachers in Rural District #7. (From 1940 federal manuscript census); Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Turner, teachers at the Model School at Lincoln Ridge and then transferred to the Montclair School. (From interview with Maureen Bullitt Ashby.)
  6. 1945 – Graded School on Bradshaw in Shelbyville burned; 1946-1948 – High Street School built in Martinsville on lots at Eleventh and High Street. 1949 – only three black elementary schools left in Shelby County. (From New History). Faculty included: Mrs. Ruth Ratcliffe, principal, Mrs. W. Mathis, music, Mrs. E. Byrd, Mrs. D. Dale, Mrs. J. Dale, Mrs. V. Purdy, Mrs. H. Taylor, Mr. M. Mooreman, Mrs. M. Brown, Mrs. F. Stone, Mrs. H. Thomas. (From Shelbyville Sentinnel photo in Shelby Public Library local history collection.)
  7. 1954 – Brown vs Board of Education strikes down segregated schools. 1956 first integration of Simpsonville Elementary; 1957 limited number of students integrate Southside Elementary in Shelbyville; 1964 Civil Rights Act; Shelby County dragged its heels toward integration of Junior and Senior High Schools, finally propelled to action by 1966 Kentucky Legislature closing both Lincoln Institute and High Street School. Brenda Jackson and Roland Dale, among first students to integrate Shelby County High School. Students still being bused to Lincoln Institute as late as 1969.
  8. 1980 – NAACP attacks school board’s affirmative action plan to hire and retain African American teachers as insufficient.

Help Needed to Complete African American School Locations:

  • We are trying to determine the specific location of the following schools:
  1. Olive Branch Rosenwald School
  2. “Colored” Common School location for Southville District, for Rockbridge District, for Harrisonville District, for Logans Station District, for Todds Station District, for Clay Village District.
  • Verify the use of the following African American churches as early school locations:
  1. Olive Branch Colored M.E. Church on Zaring Mill Road between Locust Grove Road and current Olive Branch M.E. Church.
  2. Pleasant View Colored Baptist Church at Stringtown on Route 1005
  3. “Colored Church” on Bardstown Trail between Grafensburg (Hardinsburg) and Route 395, Bagdad-Harrisonville Pike.
  4. Back Creek Road Baptist Church on Route 636 north of Mt. Eden; later had a school
  5. Zion Baptist Church at Clay Village and Benson
  6. Shelbyville – use of which church for Freedmen Schools; FB built one large brick school, contributed toward one smaller frame school and used one African American church as a school. Was this Clay Street or Bethel A.M.E.?

If anyone has information about these locations or photos of the schools/churches, please contact Diane Perrine Coon, de2perrine@aol.com or Kerry Magan at kcmcpc@bellsouth.net



Martinsville, African American hamlet in Shelbyville, KY

St. John's United Methodist Church

                         Martinsville Timeline

1803         –    The land where Martinsville developed was included in the Western Addition to Shelbyville in 1803.

1867         –    H. H. Martin sold land in City Lot 114 of the original city to three speculators named Kinkle, Frazier and Rothchild. They in turn subdivided the land into standard city lots of 100’ by 25’ and in 1871 the three also purchased six additional parcels within Lot 114.

1867-1882    According to life-long resident Mrs. Eunice Marie Payne Reed, many of the original houses in Martinsville (in Phase I) were built by white employers for their black servants and former slaves. Homes and land were given to the residents and were then passed down to their descendents.

22Apr1877 – Andy Wilson sold Elijah Marrs a tract of land in Martinsville on the street back of College Street at the SW corner of Charles Clark’s 60 foot east lot, north 121’6”, thence 121’6” south thence 60’ to the beginning, lot known as 24 and 25 on Platt                  signed by Andy and Margaret Wilson recorded 02Aug1878.         On 06Aug1878 this same lot was deed to Martha E. Gordon to satisfy a bastardy claim instituted against Elijah P. Marrs by Mattie E. Gordon.

1882  –           By 1882 when the Henry and Shelby County Atlas was compiled by D. J. Lake & Company, Martinsville was a distinct subdivision with many houses located between Ninth and Eleventh and Union and High Streets.

1896-1897 –   St. John’s Methodist Church obtained land for $125.00 on College Street in Martinsville from David H. Wayne by trustees L. Coleman, Charles Davis, Alfred Buss, Peter Gordon, Davis Riggs, F. Mason, Lazarus Howard, Henry Wilson Jr., and M. Stewart. The building was completed at a cost of $3,000.00 in 1896. It had                   30 stained glass windows, double entrance doors and a tall steeple with one of the largest bells in Shelbyville.

1920         –   Residents of Drewsville, located just off the Louisville-Shelbyville Pike, began to sell their properties to whites and move into Martinsville.

1928     –      Alice Edwards, her sister Helen Wheatley, and son Otis Ellis, owned and operated a  grocery at Tenth and High Streets in Martinsville. Otis drove an ice truck taking block ice to residents before the days of electric refrigerators. They also had a radio                    that would attract large crowds during the 1940s listening to the Joe Louis fights.

1946-1948     –   High Street School constructed at Eleventh and High Streets in Martinsville after the Bradshaw Street Graded Elementary School burned. The High Street school was built on an old city garbage dump, and served as the elementary and middle school              for African-American children in Shelbyville.

1940s-1960s – A substantial number of locally owned African-American businesses served the Martinsville area including the Kinser, Ellis, Lanter, and Duncan groceries, the Rendevous Club, Henry Robert’s Contractor business, and residents were employed    at the Creamery, Logan’s Laundry, and a local coal yard.

1966 –         The Kentucky State Legislature closed both Lincoln Institute and High Street Middle School to force full integration in the Shelbyville school system.

1981 –        Shelby Community Center Gym founded in 1981.

1984  –       Congregational Methodist Church moves into the old Saffell Memorial Hospital/Retirement Home building on Tenth Street.

1989   –      First application for federal and state housing and renewal grants for Martinsville.

1990  —      First of the rehab projects completed, Clara Lee Wilson’s house one of five homes upgraded, sidewalks improved and some new homes built.

1991 –        Phase II survey done of 31 properties in the Martinsville Gardens which by this time reached all of City lots 112, 113, 114, 115, 120 and 121. However, the survey does not indicate which properties were rented out or owner resident.

1992-1993  –   $1,255,000 in grants from federal and state agencies for major urban renewal of Martinsville. Martinsville Appreciation Day in September brings out a large crowd of local residents.

1996       –  St. John United Methodist builds a new church building and fellowship hall on Tenth Street.

Martinsville Appreciation Day 23Sep1992 Sentinel News1992 Martinsville Appreciation Day, Sentinel News

Notable Citizens of Martinsville

Reverend George Smith (1894-1895) led the effort to construct St. John’s Methodist Church on College Street in Martinsville. Services were held at the Lodge Hall by Reverend John Russell until the new church was completed in 1896.

Reverend H. H. Greene  (1926) a legend within the Methodist Church, Reverend Greene preached first at St. John’s in Martinsville in 1926 and was ordained in 1929 in the Lexington Conference; he was the grandson of a previous pastor, Rev. W. H. Bloomer (1906-1909), Rev. Greene returned to St. John’s in 1969 after a division of membership created the Congregational Methodist Church, leaving St. John’s in turmoil. Rev. Greene is credited with providing healing and renewal.

Dr. John W. Robinson, born in Shelbyville KY, ordained into Lexington Conference and served as District Superintendent, then served in the pulpit of St. Mark in Chicago and St. Mark in NYC.

Mrs. Zora Clark ,  aunt of Reverend Greene, was the first African American woman in Shelby County to receive a nursing degree.

William Baxter, restaurant owner, church pianist, and member of a traveling band.

Mrs. Verna Chinn, first person to establish a kindergarten for African American children.  She also served as Sunday School Superintendent. She also tutored children from the neighborhood after school.

Mrs. Rebecca Smock Tilley – wife of Civil War veteran Joseph Tilley, was Church School Superintendent of the St. John’s Sunday School.

Beulah Roland, church organist for many years and succeeded by her sister Dollie Roland Miller who moved to Chicago.

Ethel Dirks, president of the Choir for many years and a trustee of St. Johns.

Lula Rucker Thomas, taught elementary school at Finchville for many years and opened a catering business and a restaurant at Martinsville.

William H. Payne, Chairman of the Administration Board for 35 years, member of the Board of Trustees and the Choir, Chairman of the Board of Education for the Colored Schools prior to integration.

Ollie Murphy,Secretary of the Finance Commission, trustee, and church treasurer.

Julia P. Wilson and Mary White,  Served as Communion Stewards, active in Finance Committee, building fund, Choir president, trustee.

Etta Roland, President of the Choir for many years, active in the Church School, put on a Christmas pageant for many years.

Bessie Fleming, Recognized as Mother of the Year, seven children, 25 grandchildren and 14 great grand children.

Willie C. Fleming, First black attorney graduated from the University of Louisville.

Arthur Ashby Jr. ,First black electrician in Shelby County.

Henry Roberts,  Owned and operated a contracting business on Tenth Street.

Nettie Hawkins, President of the Choir and chairperson of the Finance Committee.

Rev. George Cottrell Sr.  Served as assistant pastor.

Rev. Robert Marshall Sr.  Served as pastor when the congregation was deciding to rebuild and relocate.

Alice Edwards, Helen Wheatley, Otis Ellis, operated a grocery at Tenth and High Streets. Otis drove the ice truck bringing block ice to residents of Martinsville. And large crowds would come to their store to listen to the Joe Louis fights on their radio during the 1940s.

 Mack, Lee Nor (1914-1985) Lee Nor Mack was a contractor who in 1965 was the first African American councilman to be elected in Shelbyville, KY since 1904. He served as a councilman from 1967-1985. He was a veteran of WWII. Lee Nor Mack Street is named in his honor. Lee Nor Mack died in Jefferson County, December 7, 1985.

Moses Dale  (November 1971) land donated by the L&N Railroad on Union Street was developed into a mini-park and named for Moses Dale, long time resident of Martinsville  associated with youth programs.

Sources:  Griot Mattie Bray, longtime resident of Martinsville, and newspaper articles from the Shelbyville Sentinel and a short history of St. John Methodist Church.

Martinsville community Gym
Martinsville community Gym