Academics seek funds to finish black encyclopedia

By Leticia Janes

Poet Frank X. Walker is one of many supporters trying to raise funding for the Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia to recognize African-Americans’ significant role in the state. Yesterday, Walker addressed UK on the encyclopedia’s importance.

“I want UK to understand this important project of preserving and documenting African-American history and beyond,” said Walker, a writer in residence at Northern Kentucky University.

Walker joined other writers, professors, campus leaders and encyclopedia contributors and editors at yesterday’s commencement ceremony at the M.I. King Library to help raise money for the project.

More than 200 people attended the commencement that served to elevate interest to promote preservation, collection and teaching, said Gerald Smith, one of the encyclopedia’s general editors.

“This project is worth investing in not only for now, but it will be something to look back at,” said Smith, an associate professor of African-American studies at UK. “But by no means is this a one man show, it is a collaborative project and I’m honored to have many scholars working on the project.”

Chris Chance is one of many student researchers working on the encyclopedia and he encouraged students to contribute.

“I feel it is important to be working on such an innovative project,” said Chance, an agricultural biotechnology sophomore. “I do anything from researching articles, mailing things, and doing what needs to be done around campus.”

UK President Lee Todd attended the commencement and encouraged individuals, institutions and companies to provide additional funding and support for the project.

“It is at times like this when people have to have funding to help with academic careers or have a passion for the state of Kentucky, a pride for the commonwealth,” Todd said. “That is how Kentucky moves forward, doing things people don’t expect us to do.”

Encyclopedias on black history and culture exist, but there is not one focusing on a specific state. The Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia, which is scheduled for publication in 2011, is believed to be the first in the nation, Smith said.

The project began in 2006 and currently has three general editors, 12 topical editors, 16 members of the editorial advisory board and undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

There is still research to be done and funds to be raised before the encyclopedia’s completion, Smith said. The project is still in need of $737,000 for supplies, staff support, indexing and research assistance. Volunteer writers for the print and electronic editions are needed as well.

Those interested in contributing can get more information at the encyclopedia’s Web site ( Donations can be mailed to the Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia Project c/o The Thomas Clark Foundation, The University Press of Kentucky, 663 S. Limestone St., Lexington, KY 10508-4008.