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Berea's History
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Map Introduction

Welcome to a Tour of Berea, a small city whose black and white pioneers established an interracial community with a nonsectarian church (1855) and a coeducational school for Blacks and Whites (1866) that existed for nearly four decades until the State of Kentucky passed a law in 1904 requiring Berea College to segregate. While Berea's history as told by many white pioneers has already been published, the history of and by many black pioneers has not. Today, a few descendants of these black settlers still live in, and nearby, Berea and they retain the oral history of their ancestors. This map's purpose is to educate the public about the contributions, achievements and heritage of African Americans in this brave interracial community in a former slave state.

Contributions of early Black Bereans included helping to clear the land and build buildings, both for the school and the town. In practice, housing lots were sold so each black family would have a white family as neighbors. Along with their white neighbors, the freed black people also provided a continuous supply of students for all grade levels of Berea College.

Long denied an education under slavery, the freed African Americans had a heartfelt desire to achieve schooling. Julia Amanda M. Britton, a student in the class (cx) of 1873 and Berea's first black teacher, taught instrumental music. By 1876, Julia had married and settled in Memphis (TN) where she founded the Hooks School of Music and the Orphans and Old Folks. Her musical legacy included teaching the "Father of the Blues", W.C. Handy; her civil rights legacy included her grandson Benjamin Hooks, former national director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Julia's sister, Mary E. Britton (cx 1874) became a physician in Lexington, KY.

Famous historian, author and founder of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson attended Berea College (cx 1903; Ph.D. Harvard 1912). A sample list of other black Berea achievers includes: Union Army veteran Angus A. Burleigh (cx 1875), a teacher and minister, served as Chaplain of the Illinois State Senate. Fannie Belle Miller (cx 1888) and Frank L. Williams (cx 1889) met at Berea College and later married before settling in St Louis (MO). As teachers, business owners and civic leaders, they helped raise money to build a YMCA for black people in St. Louis and provided new homes by building a 21-unit apartment building. In Louisville (KY), nurse Mary Eliza Merritt ( cx 1902)became superintendent of Red Cross Hospital for 34 years before turning it over to the city in 1945.

In all four directions of Kentucky, Berea -educated Blacks served as teachers and principals in the state's public schools for African Americans (the Colored) : to the south in Middlesboro, George W. (cx 1892) and Elgetha Brand Bell (cx 1885-91) were civic leaders; George also was a preacher and school principal. In the central region, John W. Bate (cx 1881) was Principal of Colored Schools in Danville; Ellen Reynolds (cx 1891-99) taught in Buckeye (near Lancaster). To the north in Maysville (KY), William B. Humphrey (cx 1903; Harvard 1903) served as principal. To the west in Hopkinsville, Fannie Bronston Postell (cx 1890) was principal. To the east in Hazard, Andrew J. Olinger (cx 1892-97) started a school in the mountains. This rich African American heritage of education, religious service and economic improvement is still present and our map is one effort to provide more recognition.

Berea was the only racially integrated college in Kentucky and in the South for nearly forty years, until the State forced a segregation of the races in 1904. Berea College became an all-white institution but contested the state law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court who upheld the State (1908). Meanwhile, Berea College President William G. Frost and black trustee James Bond (Cx 1892, 1895) raised money to build the Lincoln Institute (twenty-some miles from Louisville) for black students (1910-196 ). Kentucky amended its Day Law in 1950, legally ending racial segregation in schools. During the 46 years of legal segregation, local black Bereans who desired a high school and college education had moved away, rarely to return. As older family members died, Berea's black population decreased from an estimated 25% (1900) to less than 8% (1990).

Angus A. Burleigh  ( Left ) was one of the first black students to enroll in 1866; he was a Union veteran, a sergeant with Co. G 12th U.S.C.T. (Heavy Artillery). To pay his expenses, he worked in the College's brickyard, hualing mud to make bricks for Ladies Hall.



Dr. Jackie Burnside
CPO 1706
Berea, KY 40404
(859) 985-3811

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Berea College

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