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Davis: Lexington black history guide good for walking tours

William and Sallie Dailey used to live at 160 North Mill Street, in a house that was built as early as 1796. He was a free man and a stagecoach driver.

Houses at 217 and 219 North Upper Street were owned by John Taylor, free black man, in 1854. One of the homes, 219, was later owned by William H. Fouse and his wife Elizabeth from 1912 to 1952. He was the first principal of Dunbar High School.

And Alma's Variety Shop, 128 Deweese Street, was once the home of the Rev. Alpheus Merchant, a Disciples of Christ minister, and his wife, Elizabeth. She filed the deed in 1910.

Those little nuggets of history are noted, along with several other historical facts, in the African American Heritage Guide, which was painstakingly researched by members of the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum's education committee.

Funded in part by the Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau, the 48-page booklet is a condensed version of what the group discovered. The group hopes that residents and visitors will carry it as a guide to the history of black people in early Lexington and Fayette County.

"It was going to be a book," said Yvonne Giles, the committee's chairwoman. "But we couldn't make it as thick as it was supposed to be because no one would carry the book around with them on walking tours."

And that would defeat the purpose of getting people to recognize the rich contributions African-Americans made to this area, and of getting them to understand just how important black people were to building Lexington into the city it is now.

Research and compiling of the guide began in Jan. 2008, Giles said.

"We looked at other guides that had been done and saw a lot had been left out," she said. "A lot of our African-American history, for whatever reason, was not printed."

More research had to be done to correct misinformation and resources had to be found to print the results.

"If you can't document it, you can't say it," Giles said.

The committee decided to go with a first printing of 500 copies so that corrections can be made before a larger printing.

The booklet contains a map of historic sites. There is information about the number of free blacks who owned property in Lexington and what of that property still stands. The locations of schools and churches are noted as well as buildings that once housed dental offices and pharmacies. The booklet includes directions to various hamlets around Fayette County that were the homes of horse-farm workers. Dates of multi-cultural festivals are also noted.

It is a nice handful of history that could be invaluable to our visitors from out of town this spring and summer, and for international visitors this fall during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The booklets are free and available at the Hathaway Museum, in the Lexington History Center, 215 West Main Street, noon to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays.

In all the checking and re-checking of resources such as old local newspapers and records, Giles, a historian, said she made discoveries. But it is hard for her to pick a favorite item.

"There was so much," she said. "I guess my most exciting discovery was the homes of the free blacks because so many buildings relating to African-American history are gone."

The free men joined with the newly-freed slaves to produce a united and influential force in Fayette County that "moved the African-American race and Lexington forward," she said.

"Kentucky would not have been Kentucky if it had not been for us," she said.

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