Merlene Davis: Help support black history encyclopedia

Sallie Powell and Josh Farrington are leading the research.
Sallie Powell and Josh Farrington are leading the research.

Josh Farrington has found historical information about African-Americans in Kentucky by searching through newspaper microfilm and documents at libraries, and by interviewing folks with first-hand information.

While he was visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., for his doctoral thesis, he happened upon information about the 1964 march on Frankfort.

Farrington and Sallie Powell are University of Kentucky doctoral students in history who are a vital link in the formulation of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, the first of its kind in the nation.

"It is the first encyclopedia on African-Americans in a particular state ever published," Farrington said. "It's a big deal and pretty important."

But, as always with projects that require not just legwork but public funding, there is a wrench that has been thrown into the works.

Without an immediate infusion of $50,000 to keep the work going, the encyclopedia's scheduled publication date of 2013 might be pushed back.

Announced with great fanfare in 2008 with financial support from UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. and office space on campus, the project originally was scheduled for publication in 2011. That date was later pushed back, all because the money is not there to hire more graduate students for the sensitive work.

"Sallie and I are working all we can while still doing our dissertations," Farrington said. "We really need money for additional graduate students."

UK history professor Gerald Smith, one of three editors for the project, said about 500 subjects are completed, with nearly 700 others assigned, and those need research.

"It's not about documenting, but it is about all the other untold stories and an incomplete Kentucky history," Smith said. "It's not a point of telling the story but how much you want to tell. We want to tell as much of the story as we can."

The total financial amount needed is $300,000 — $150,000 for printing and copy editing, typesetting and binding, and $150,000 for the graduate students' work.

Smith said $75,000 will pay for three graduate students for two semesters next year and support during the summer. That would include a $2,000 subscription to, plus copying and other processing costs.

"If I have to let these research students go, it is pretty much over," Smith said of the project.

The faster he can secure more funding, the sooner he can tell Farrington and Powell whether they will remain employed, Smith said.

Farrington's job is to do primary research and then write an entry of no more than 400 words. He said he has worked on the project for two years, taking a break at one point to teach classes and returning last summer.

"The good thing about this is that I'm writing my own dissertation that deals with black politics in Kentucky. There is a lot of overlap," he said.

That is why he found information in Washington about the Allied Organization of Civil Rights, its push for public accommodations, and the 1964 march.

"I was doing research on something totally different, but I found that," he said.

The project, although widely hailed, hasn't received funding from the General Assembly, although Smith has lobbied in Frankfort personally.

If you're interested in learning more about the project or to apply to help write and research for it, go to the encyclopedia's Web site,

To donate toward the book, send a check to Kentucky African American Encyclopedia Project, c/o Thomas D. Clark Foundation, The University Press of Kentucky, 663 South Limestone, Lexington, Ky., 40508-4008.