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