Explore Lexington’s history on the 11 stops along the African American Heritage Trail; Doug explores downtown Glasgow, and the final part of our profile of Ulysses S. Grant picks up with his presidency and enduring significance to Kentucky and the nation.
Lexington’s African American History Trail
“The beauty of this project is that it not only gives you a broader aspect of Lexington’s history, particularly African-American history, but also introduces you to individuals and situations that may not ever have crossed anyone’s purview,” says historian Yvonne Giles, referring to the new African American History Trail in downtown Lexington.
The trail is made up of 11 stops, primarily in Lexington’s urban core. Each stop has a marker describing a specific person or event that is significant to the area’s history. Many of these individuals and events are little known to people today, having been overlooked or obscured by traditional histories.
“As a child I never learned what I have learned in my 20 years of research,” says Giles. “And from that I found that there were former enslaved individuals who moved into a period of enlightenment, growth, and progression, and to read about how they achieved that is just, it’s just amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Giles relates the stories of some of the individuals who stood out most to her, including Charlotte DuPuis, a woman who, along with her husband and children, was enslaved to Henry Clay. DuPuis sued Clay for her freedom after spending four years with the Clays in Maryland, a free state, during Henry Clay’s time as Secretary of State. She ultimately lost the lawsuit and went back to the Clays at their Ashland estate until after the Civil War.
Another individual on the trail is Mary Britton, who was a doctor and social justice activist for women and children in Lexington. The house on North Limestone where she practiced medicine in the early 1900s is still standing, and is now a stop on the trail.
The History Trail came about after a series of sometimes difficult conversations about Lexington’s history and the way it has been presented.
“Together Lexington was formed with the goal of trying to bring a sense of community pride and spirit to Lexington to talk about what we’re proud of about Lexington and also to fund a series of projects that would benefit the community and hopefully have a lasting impact,” says Carla Blanton, Project Manager with Together Lexington. “We held community conversations – we called them Courageous Conversations – to talk about issues that need to be talked about but maybe aren’t always so comfortable to talk about. One of the things that came out from our conversations on race were just issues that the community has, from the Confederate statues that at the time were in a place of prominence to really a lack of being able to tell the full story of Lexington.
“We wanted to make sure that we told the good and the bad of Lexington’s history so that we could understand what happened in Lexington and how that still impacts us today, and moving forward how we can come together as a community by learning from the past,” Blanton adds.
Located approximately 30 miles east of Bowling Green, the town of Glasgow, Kentucky, is a gem in the southern part of the Commonwealth. Kentucky Life visited this Barren County town to get to know some of the businesses operating there.
One of the newest attractions in downtown Glasgow is Yancey’s Gastropub & Brewery.
“We opened in July. it’s the first brewery in our region and we’re quite proud of that,” says owner Jeffery Jobe. “We took a chance, worked some bugs out, and now we’re going pretty strong and people are saying nice things.”
Jobe says the community embraced Yancey’s before it even opened, with locals providing some of the tables and chairs for the pub’s courtyard.
Yancey’s adds something new to the center of Glasgow.
“We’ve got a nice bistro that’s here and The Plaza theater and some other established businesses that have been here a long time,” says Jobe. “But the gastropub and a brewery is totally new. We’ve got something totally unique going here in Glasgow.”
Yancey’s offers beers brewed right on site along with what Jobe describes as a “funky menu” in the gastropub. And it provides a place the community can be proud of.
“We’re sharing life together. We’re just doing it our own way,” Jobe says when asked what makes Glasgow a good place to open a business. “We’re enjoying ourselves and I think that’s contagious. I think that if people see us doing that might say, hey what’s happening over there, let’s go try it.”
Down the street from the new attraction is a business that deals in much older goods. Eddie Bruner runs Glasgow Coin & Jewelry where he buys and sells rare coins and currency. For Bruner, downtown is the place to be.
“Our square has not become a ghost town. It’s an active downtown,” he says. “Glasgow cares about the way it looks down here. We have good retail, good services, food, everything going on downtown. We have new businesses coming in which is nice for a small community. We have a beautiful courthouse right in the middle of the square. To me, business is done downtown. This is where you do it. I kind of like that.”
Glasgow’s history is preserved downtown in the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center, a museum that contains artifacts significant to Barren County and the surrounding area.
“We are the keeper of the community memory,” says Executive Director Sherry Wesley. “We start with early settlement downstairs and we go chronologically upstairs, from the military, back to the ‘60s.
“We have volunteers that put all this together,” she adds. “It’s a very meaningful place.”
Ulysses S. Grant Part 3
In the third and final part of the series on Ulysses S. Grant and his Kentucky connections, Kentucky Life spoke to historians about Grant’s time as president and his life after the presidency.
“After Appomattox, Grant retained his position as general in chief and his headquarters were in Washington D.C.,” says historian Charles W. Calhoun. “It must be said that he didn’t find peace there because what the country was witnessing was a great wrangle between President Andrew Johnson and the Republicans in Congress over the question of Reconstruction.”
“Grant was very concerned during the presidency of Andrew Johnson that Reconstruction was not protecting the rights of African Americans,” says James A. Ramage, Regents Professor Emeritus. “He felt that he had to run for president to preserve the freedoms won for African Americans in the South.”
In 1870, Grant and Congress created the Department of Justice and the new office of Solicitor General. Kentuckian Benjamin Bristow was the first person named to that office. Bristow was known as a “blue jay,” a term for a union sympathizer living in a more Confederate-leaning region.
“In that position he was the government’s chief litigator and he was a very good lawyer,” says Calhoun. “He helped fight against the Ku Klux Klan.”
After his presidency ended, Grant took two years to travel around the world, spending time in Europe and Asia. When he returned, he had to find a way to earn a living. Grant’s son and his business partner convinced the elder Grant to invest in a financial operation that turned out to be what is now known as a Ponzi scheme. It left Grant and his wife, Julia, nearly penniless.
Around the same time, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer. His doctors advised him to move out of the city and up to the Adirondacks for the cooler, cleaner air.
“By early 1885, Grant can no longer speak,” says historian Ronald C. White. “He now is writing notes to his doctor. One of them is so poignant. Grant writes to the doctor and says, ‘I realize with every sentence I write, I’m driving another nail into my coffin.’ Grant finishes his memoirs three days before he dies. His doctor said he only lived so he could complete the memoirs.”
Grant’s funeral procession in New York drew 1.5 million people who came to pay their respects. Grant was ultimately interred in Manhattan in the monument known as Grant’s Tomb.