African American Encyclopedia first of its kind in Kentucky



By Jarrod Thacker

The first state encyclopedia exclusively centered upon the lives of African Americans is being written and is expected to be completed in 2013.

The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will address the information deficiency of African American history.

Co-editors John Hardin, Karen Cotton McDaniel and Gerald Smith began writing the encyclopedia in 2005. The text will cover subjects including important individuals, events and places.

“Kentucky African American history has been limited at best,” said Sallie Powell, a research assistant for the Encyclopedia.

“We’re addressing the issues of new discoveries; not only formerly unknown people but communities, churches, cemeteries, organizations (and) events,” Powell said.  The reference book will include topical essays concerning slavery, education, sports, women and religion.

A project of this magnitude has multiple difficulties.

It can be difficult locating information, said Josh Farrington, a research assistant for the KAAE.

“One of the problems with (researching) African American history is the sources,” Farrington said. “The Lexington Herald-Leader did not talk about civil rights during the Civil Rights Era. So you have to go to African American papers (and) oral histories, and a lot of this is difficult to find, particularly information about slaves.”

Program researchers also combat the issue by using other resources, such as genealogy databases, photographs and U.S. Census data, which have been invaluable in providing historians more insight into the past.

The KAAE encourages students, even undergraduates, to become potential contributors. By following the writing guidelines provided on the KAAE website, students are eligible to select available topics and have their entries published in the encyclopedia.

“It’s a great chance to get published, and a great thing to put on your resume, especially if you’re going into an academic career…there are enough topics there to find something you’re interested in,” Farrington said.

The encyclopedia is published by the University Press of Kentucky.

Those interested in assisting with the history of Kentucky African Americans can contact reasearch assistants via website or visit their offices in the Margaret I. King Library.