Located where the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains slope downward to meet the central plains of Kentucky's bluegrass, Berea College was originally founded in 1855 by an abolitionist, Reverend John G. Fee, with initial assistance from the American Missionary Association and a local antislavery politician and well-to-do Madison County landowner, Cassius M. Clay.
Fee accepted Clay's offer of a ten-acre homestead to move from northern Kentucky (Bracken County) to southern Madison County to establish an antislavery church, the Glades Church (1853).
Berea's school and church were dedicated to Christian principles of anti-rum, anti-caste prejudice, and anti-sectariansim but armed proslavery opposition forced the Berea workers out of the state in the winter of 1859. As the Civil War started, several exiled Bereans slipped back into Kentucky.
Among those returning was John G. Fee who preached to and taught thousands of slave men volunteering for the Union Army at Camp Nelson (Jessamine County), Kentucky. After the war ended in 1865, Fee returned to his home in Berea and resumed his work of building an interracial college and a new church, Union, based on anti-caste principles of impartial love and Christian brotherhood. He invited some of the African American families from Camp Nelson to come to Berea to make a new life and get an education. By 1870, several dozen families had arrived to help build the interracial town, churches and Berea College. An estimated 200 black families settled in the glades and valleys surrounding Berea.
Black Freedmen who migrated to Berea after the Civil War were not concentrated into one area. In fact, like white settlers, the freedmen lived on campus, as students, and in all four directions. By following one or more of the tour routes described, the visitor, or resident, will discover the rich legacy of African-Americans in the Berea area.
In Fee's first interracial church on the Berea Ridge, many members were African Americans and served as deacons and on committees. Rev. Anderson Drawford, a black minister, assisted Fee and also performed marriages among the freedmen.
The Congregational Church (Parrish House) was an early site on the Berea ridge for Fee's Union Church, whose members included the abolitionist faction who left the Glades Church, while the proslavery faction remained.
Early Ladies Hall was a wood-frame building that provided lodging; during the late 1860s. Most students, black and white, boarded in town with families. Fairchild Hall used to be called "Ladies Hall" and was modeled after a residence hall for women at Oberlin College (Ohio).
Attending Berea College's 1885 Commencement, Roswell Smith, founder of the Century Magazine, donated money for a new "Recitation Hall" which would be named in honor of Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln Hall). It had 18 rooms for library, classrooms, offices, laboratories, museums and society rooms.
Phelps Stokes Chapel (1904-1906) replaced Gothic Chapel which burned in 1902. Gothic Chapel had replaced the rough framed chapel that burned on New Year's Eve in 1878. The College taught brickmaking classes and developed an apprentice program that provided student employment for several years.
Berea College's faculty was interracial. Black alum James S. Hathaway (Cx 1884, A.M. 1891) taught Latin and mathematics for ten years before being denied a promotion whereupon he resigned and accepted a professorship (and later a presidency) at the Kentucky State Institute for Negroes in Frankfort (now Kentucky State University). After Hathaway left, black alum John H. Jackson (Cx 1874, A.M. 1883) held a professorship of pedagogics for one year, becoming the College's last black faculty hired before the 1904 segregation.
Berea's oldest student literary society, Phi Delta, for men (1868) held weekly programs and was typical of the student groups where Blacks and Whites shared activities.
Berea City-West "God Ain't Making No Mo' Land": Land Ownership Plan for Freedmen Rev. John G. Fee and wife Matilda Hamilton Fee helped to organize a plan to buy up large tracts of land in order to resell housing lots to Berea's newcomers based on a racially interspersed design, such that blacks and whites would have each other as neighbors. While this plan was most prevalent in neighborhoods adjacent to the College Campus, numerous freedmen were able to buy land from the Fees and a few supportive white landowners throughout the countryside.
By 1874, Berea had 74 white families and 40 black families as landowners largely due to Fee's emphasis on providing black settlers with land of their own.
Henry and Elzira McWilliams Ballard settled in Berea at Fee's invitation as the Civil War ended. Helping to clear the College's land and farming, Henry and Elzira were able to buy property on Broadway North in 1882. Born into slavery, some members of the Ballard family traveled to Camp Nelson in 1865 for Freedom Papers since the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery had not yet been ratified and slavery was still legal in Kentucky because the 1861 Emancipation Proclamation had applied only to slave states that seceded from the Union.
Black men, women and older children not only worked as day laborers, servants, laundresses and cooks but some also were skilled craftspeople, such as carpenters, brick masons, printers, road contractors, trade merchants and farmers who either owned or rented land. Sometimes the more prosperous black farmer or business owner would hire whites as well as blacks.
Initially called Church of Christ (Second), First Christian Church was organized in the home of Father Fee in October 1895. Fee donated the site where the original building, remodeled and enlarged many times, continues as home for the church. In the belfry is the Freedmen's Bell which Fee brought from Camp Nelson where the Bell had been used to summon Freedmen to classes and to religious services.
Berea Memorial Park, at the corner of Broadway St. N. and Jefferson St., is situated amongst the former home sites of black settlers, such as the Edward and Elsie Hagen Moran family, who named one of their sons "John G. Fee" Moran due to their high regard for Rev. Fee.
Center Street was originally settled under Fee's plan for racial interspersion in housing where blacks and whites would have each other as neighbors. Among other black families on Center Street were Rev. Anderson and Caroline Crawford and their 15 children; Robert H. (Cx 1881-88) and Charity Peyton (Cx 1870-87) Royston who were teachers at the Berea Colored School at Pasco and Fee Streets.
Robert B. Doe came from Barnwell, SC to become a student at Berea 1889, paying his way by being a barber. He married and settled in Berea, building a small house on the corner of Center and Forest Streets. Doe was a deacon of Union Church while his wife Ella LaForte Estill Doe was a member at Fee's second interracial church, First Christian. They reared eight children, none of whom could attend Berea College due to the 1904 Day Law so several moved away to attend colleges in Frankfort (KY), Ohio and West Virginia.
Several black families lived in the Glades and, like William and Naomi Rash, were farmers and literate. Two silent monuments to these black pioneers can be seen today. Rash Rd., named after William and Naomi Rash, connects Ellipse St. to Glades Rd. and runs parallel to U.S. Hwy 25 and Walnut Meadow Pike (Hwy 595). The White Family Cemetery, located in front of Berea's post office on Glades Rd., is a rediscovered black cemetery where an estimated 400 bodies are buried.
Off Chestnut St., Boone St. rolls downhill to cross Brushy Fork Creek and becomes Slate Lick Rd. Black pioneers Stephen and Sylvia Hagan (Hagins) arrived at night, looking for "Feetown", and missed the settlement on the Ridge so they camped at the foot of the hill near the creek. In 1868, they were able to buy five acres of that land from Joel and Nancy Todd, Sr.. Among the black families who moved nearby were the Caleb and Nancy Bernaugh family, and the Horace and Rebecca Ballew Yates family. Horace was a Civil War veteran of the Union Army stationed at Camp Nelson; a member of Union Church and a literate farmer and landowner.
Off Chestnut, on South Broadway lived the Miles and Zerida (Sarilda) Hagins Dudley family; Mile's father, Oliver Dudley had bought three acres of land on Brushy Fork Creek before he was killed by the Ku Klux Klan sometime before April 17, 1872. Other families in the Broadway and Boone St. area were Robert and Sarah Ballard and their church, "The Church of God of All Nations" (no longer in existence).
Another past church was Allen Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal church once located on Phillips St. near the corner of Boone St. Members were baptized in the Brushy Fork Creek that ran in front of the church.
Blacks were able to buy land in three nearby communities, partially due to Fee's influence: Middletown, Farristown and Bobtown. All of these areas were founded before the Civil War, but it was after the War ended that freed families could own land, get married legally and keep the profits from their own labor.
First Baptist Church, Middletown, was organized in 1894 by black settlers who used to walk barefoot to New Liberty Baptist in Bobtown for Sunday services and other activities. Before going into the building, they would dust their feet and put on their shoes.
In Middletown, Charles H. Blythe (Cx 1874-84) and his brothers owned various businesses including a grocery store, rock quarry and road construction business. The Blythes were so prominent that Middletown once was known as "Blythe Town"; today, a short graveled street named Blythe Court remains largely settled by descendants.
The founding of Farristown dates back to 1835 and seems to have been named for the three sets of Farris families who lived in the area: Charlie, Arthur (Berea student in 1903) and Henry (Joe). Middletown is a few years younger and acquired its name because of its location between Farristown and Berea. Both areas are part of the historic "Black Valley" described in 1866 by AMA minister and Berea teacher, John A. R. Rogers because hundreds of freedmen, walking or in rickety carts, saw Berea as their "land of promise."
Some other families in Farristown were Freddie D. Ballard (a son of Henry and Elzira Ballard from Berea), Anderson White (Union soldier, sergeant in Co. K. 13th Colored Artillery, RAG), Baxter, Bennett, Broaddus, Chenault, Jenkins, Martin and Mundy.
Bobtown, the oldest of the three towns, was named "Joe Lick" around 1769. There was an Inn (1806) and a Post Office, which moved to Kingston in 1846. By 1872, the settlement was named Bobtown in honor of a long-time African-American resident, "Uncle Bob" Fitch.
The New Liberty Baptist Church (1866) is the most visible African American landmark; both First Baptist Church of Berea (Middletown) and Farristown Baptist Church honor New liberty as their "mother church". New Liberty Baptist was started by Rev. Madison Campbell (1823-1896), a slave who was freed in 1863 and served as pastor to First Baptist Church in Richmond and helped to start several small African American churches in the county.
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