Kentucky public figures reflect on Black History Month


Travis Fannon

Lexington mayor Linda Gorton, left, and Kentucky governor Andy Beshear march in the MLK Freedom March on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Nate Lucas, Reporter

February is nationally recognized as Black History Month. Public officials across Kentucky have issued statements, highlighting notable members of the Black community and introducing new initiatives for the month. 

On Feb. 1, Gov. Andy Beshear posted a video on Twitter recognizing Black History Month. He highlighted historical Black figures Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Kentucky’s own Muhammad Ali.

However, the main focus of Beshear’s video is Brig. Gen. Charles Young. In the video, Beshear goes on to tell the story of Young’s life. 

Young was born to enslaved parents in 1864, in May’s Lick, Kentucky. After his parents escaped slavery, Young’s father enlisted in the military. The family moved to Ripley, Ohio, where the beginning of abolitionism was taking place. 

Young was raised in Ripley, where he graduated from high school with academic honors. He went on to apply to West Point, where he earned the second highest marks but was not accepted until the candidate in front of him dropped out, according to the National Park Service website.

In 1889, Young became the third African American graduate of West Point. 

In combat, Young earned praise from fellow soldiers and became the highest ranking African American in the military once he was promoted to lieutenant general. 

“(Young’s) bravery, sacrifice, and service deserved a higher promotion,” Beshear said. “So in 2020, I posthumously promoted him to the honorary rank of brigadier general in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I also asked the president to do the same on the national level, which he did last year.” 

Beshear used the end of his video to express sentiments about the equality of all people, especially Kentckians.

“From creating a more equitable education system starting with universal pre-K, to restoring voting rights and working to ensure every single Kentuckian has access to quality and affordable healthcare,” Beshear said. 

Lexington’s Mayor Linda Gorton also took to Twitter to recognize Black History Month. Her post on Feb. 1 highlighted the following events to be held by Lexington’s parks commemorating Black History Month:

  • Feb 15: Dunbar Centennial Celebration at Dunbar Community Center 
  • Feb 18: Black History Month Symposium at Artworks at the Carver School  
  • Feb 22: Black History Movie Night at Kenwick Community Center
  • Feb 24: “Knowledge of the Neighborhood” – East End Matters at William Wells Brown Community Center
  • All Month: Black History Virtual Field Trips at Tates Creek Community Center 

UK president Eli Capilouto has yet to make a press release recognizing Black History Month as of Feb. 8, but he is expected to and commonly does it later in the month.  

In his 2022 Black History Month commemoration, Capilouto spoke about notable Black graduates throughout UK’s history. These graduates included:

  • Mary Ann Henderson, the first Black student to earn their degree studying at UK in 1950. 
  • Sarah Clark Newby, a UK graduate who became the first Black teacher to integrate in Fayette County Schools in 1966.
  • Wilbur Hackett, the first Black varsity athlete to start at UK, who would go on to be the first African American SEC team captain in 1969. 
  • Ruth Coleman, the first Black female to graduate from the UK College of Engineering in 1977. 
  • Dr. John T. Smith, the first Black student to get a Ph.D. from UK in 1961. 

“We have an incredible story to tell through the biographies of those who have blazed a trail at UK,” Capilouto said last year. “It is also a story that informs us and challenges us about what is left to do to create a community of concern and inclusion for everyone.”