In the early 1880s, James M. Bond walked from Barbourville to Berea, leading a young steer that he sold to pay for tuition. Bond, who was born into slavery, graduated from Berea and later from Oberlin College with a divinity degree.
After the 1904 Day Law prohibited integrated education at Berea, Bond helped start the Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, was the first director of the first YMCA for blacks, was the first director of the Kentucky Council on Human Relations, and was the grandfather of national civil rights activist Julian Bond, who died last week.
Although important to the commonwealth's history, Bond's accomplishments — along with the thousands of other black Kentuckians — were largely ignored by the white majority.
But after an arduous seven-year journey, that's changing. The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is now in print, and in 551 pages, its editors hope to highlight Bond and many, many others.
"We've been here since Daniel Boone, we've been very productive and we've done a lot for the state, but we're rarely mentioned in Kentucky history books," said Karen Cotton McDaniel, professor emeritus at Kentucky State University, one of the project's three editors. "This encyclopedia will set the record straight."
The new release, which has won the 2015 Thomas D. Clark Medallion, will be celebrated at a panel discussion Wednesday evening presented by the Filson Historical Society and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.
University of Kentucky history professor Gerald Smith and Western Kentucky University professor John Hardin also shepherded the encyclopedia to completion, a task that sometimes seemed daunting. The project was launched in 2008 with financial backing from then-UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. But money to pay the numerous graduate students to work on the project lagged, requiring urgent fundraising appeals at various times.
"It was a labor of love," said Smith, UK's Martin Luther King Jr. scholar-in-residence and Theodore A. Hallam professor, who also uncovered much of the historical record of Lexington's civil rights movement.
The final cost to produce the book was about $400,000 and involved more than 150 researchers and authors, Smith said.
The volume covers people, places and things, ranging from Capt. Jack Hart, who traveled to Kentucky with Daniel Boone's exploration party, to Nikky Finney, the National Book Award poet who taught at UK for many years and founded the Affrilachian Poets group.
A host of educators, artists, inventors and business people make their debut, along with entries for tiny black communities, such as Frankfort's Crawfish Bottom, and large businesses, such as Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Co. The company was founded in Louisville in 1915 to serve blacks who were often denied coverage by white insurance companies.
The compilation was challenging because there was so much to include, Smith said, and many things didn't make the cut. It also was difficult because of constant changes — for example, the book went to the publishers in 2013, and one of its subjects, Danville activist Helen Fisher Frye, died in 2014, requiring a quick edit to her entry.
"The volume is significant because it reaches outside the traditional narrative of Kentucky history and captures those stories that were erased, dismissed and ignored," he said. "As big as a project as it is, it's really a beginning rather than an end. If anything, it's going to serve as a springboard for continued research on the Kentucky African-American experience."