Merlene Davis: New documentary helps tell the story of Davis Bottom

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 18, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Screening of Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives, a documentary produced by Voyageur Media Group Inc. for the Kentucky Archaeology and Heritage Series.

    When: 7 p.m. Nov. 21.

    Where: Farish Theater in the Lexington Public Library, 140 East Main St.

    Cost: Free.

    Project website: http://bit.ly/1fP7jBF.

    Showings: KET1: 3 a.m. Nov. 26. KET2: 4 p.m. Nov. 24. KET3: 2 p.m. Nov. 24, midnight Nov. 25, 3 a.m. Nov. 26, 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 27, 6 p.m. Nov. 29, and 1 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. Nov. 30.

Kenneth Demus, who has lived in Davis Bottom most of his life, was willing to help tell the story of that tight-knit community when archeologists and filmmakers decided to document the area of downtown Lexington.

So I sought out his opinion of the one-hour documentary, Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives. The film will be screened Nov. 21 in the Farish Theater at the downtown Lexington Public Library.

"I thought he did a good job on it," said Demus, 52. "There was a whole lot of history left out, but all the people who needed to talk about it are gone now."

"He" is Tom Law, a producer of the documentary, who conducted some of the interviews.

Davis Bottom has a history that not many people have taken time to explore. The community was established after Civil War when William Willard Davis, a Republican attorney, civil rights advocate and land speculator, bought 43 lots in a bottom swampy land that was sold to recently freed blacks. A music professor, Rudolph de Roode, bought 25 lots and built at least 12 houses on them to be sold to "colored people."

Robert Elijah Hathaway, father of Isaac Scott Hathaway, a nationally recognized sculptor and professor, built one of the first houses in the area.

Over the years, the community became home to generations of black, European and Appalachian families who came in search of a better life. The diverse group forged a bond that still exists in the working class community just south of Rupp Arena.

Now that the neighborhood has become the focus of the federal- and state-funded Newtown Pike extension, the shotgun houses that lined the streets have been torn down, replaced by trailers as the residents wait for their new homes to be built.

Construction is scheduled to start in early spring, Demus said.

The documentary was produced by Voyageur Media Group Inc. and is part of the Kentucky Archaeology and Heritage Series. It was a joint effort by historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and residents to preserve the history of a unique community that spans 150 years.

The history-preservation project started in 2003. The extension project, however, was first proposed more than 40 years ago. In 2000, planning began in earnest to extend the road and direct traffic onto South Limestone and the University of Kentucky campus from Newtown Pike.

Oliver Lewis Way, which opened in 2010, is the most recently completed part of the project. The current phase, directly affects the Davis Bottom community.

Of the documentary, Demus said he had hoped that more emphasis would have been placed on the successes that have come out of Davis Bottom.

"The only thing that bothered me was that the documentary showed the poverty, but it didn't show what good come out of there," he said. "All of us were raised up down here, but some graduated high school and college."

The film highlights Hathaway's fame, but Demus said ordinary residents have successful family members who could have been recognized. Poverty didn't stop them.

"Everything that came out of here was not dumb, stupid and uneducated," he said.

The preservation project features not only the documentary but an oral history DVD featuring residents who were interviewed, a companion website with images and educational materials, and a digital media archive where the materials used are preserved.

The premiere at the Farish Theater will start at 7 p.m. It's free. It also will be shown on Kentucky Educational Television several times in the next week.


IF YOU GO

What: Screening of Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives, a documentary produced by Voyageur Media Group Inc. for the Kentucky Archaeology and Heritage Series.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 21.

Where: Farish Theater in the Lexington Public Library, 140 East Main St.

Cost: Free.

Project website: http://bit.ly/1fP7jBF.

Showings: KET1: 3 a.m. Nov. 26. KET2: 4 p.m. Nov. 24. KET3: 2 p.m. Nov. 24, midnight Nov. 25, 3 a.m. Nov. 26, 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 27, 6 p.m. Nov. 29, and 1 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. Nov. 30.


Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service