The African-American Community

Danville Boyle County
African American Historical Society
108 North Second Street, Danville, KY  40422
PO Box 597, Danville, KY  40423

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African American Communities

In Boyle County, KY

Churches Organizations
Atoka Clifton Meauxtown Mitchellsburg
Danville - So Second Street Danville - Duncan Hill area Danville - West Danville Danville - Other areas
(Little) Needmore Persimmon Knob Shelby City Sleettown
Stony Point Wilsonville Worldstown  

African-American Community Development in Boyle County, Kentucky After the Civil War 
from the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, for Clifton,1998

After the war, many freed men and families moved to cities and towns, while others sought work and homes in rural areas. In "Negro Hamlets and Agricultural Estates in Kentucky's Inner Bluegrass" (Smith and Raitz, 1974), the Negro hamlet is identified as a rural phenomenon of the post-bellum era. The majority of Negro hamlets studied were created when large estate owners, in need of labor forces, deeded or sold groups of lots to former slaves who then established communities. Less commonly, white entrepreneurs purchased rural land, divided it into lots, and sold the lots exclusively to blacks. The origin of still other hamlets remains unknown. 

Along with large estate owners, the Freedmen's Bureau also aided freed men and women in obtaining land, starting schools and building churches following the Civil War. Established in March, 1865, the Bureau sought to "protect and care for ex-slaves and others set adrift by the war in the former slave states (Kleber, 1992: 356)." One of the most significant efforts put forth by the Bureau involved the establishment of educational facilities for African Americans in southern states. In Kentucky, the Education Division of the Freedmen's Bureau was established in 1866. The Bureau felt it was crucial for ex-slaves to obtain an education in order to move forward as most had been denied formal schooling. Using money allocated from taxes paid by African Americans, the Bureau was able to establish 219 schools throughout Kentucky for 10,422 students by 1870 (ibid: 357). After the disintegration of the Bureau in 1874, Kentucky's African Americans were not assured accessibility to public funding for education until 1882 when the Kentucky legislature allotted monies for both African-American and white schools from the same financial sources (ibid).

As schools gained stature as important institutions within newly developed African-American communities of the late nineteenth century, so too did religious facilities assume prominent positions within the hamlets. Since the eighteenth century, African-American religion was influenced by the integration of traditions and beliefs belonging to both Protestant and African-American religious doctrines. Prior to Emancipation, slaves, freedmen and whites regularly attended racially integrated church services, the whites believing it was important that slaves learn to practice religion and good morals (Brown, 1993: NP). Although services were integrated, seating remained segregated with African Americans generally occupying balcony seats or rear aisles. Church social activities likewise remained segregated as African Americans were seldom allowed to take part in church decisions or social affairs, except in the role of servant or cook (Ibid).

In Kentucky, some African-Americans organized their own churches prior to Emancipation. In Boyle County, for example, the first segregated African-American church formed in 1846 in Danville, called the Green Street Church. Members of the church met in various homes but were only allowed to congregate occasionally as many whites felt the meetings allowed for the planning of revolts. As a result of this distrust, African-Americans deeply desired a freedom to control their own religious organizations. The opportunity occurred at the end of the Civil War (Ibid).

Writing about the history of African-American religion, Marion Brunson Lucas maintains that the church, almost single-handedly, shaped rural African-American communities formed after 1865. Within such communities, churches were segregated from white institutions, allowing the creation of a non-white-influenced African-American religion (Lucas, 1988: 210). Baptists led the way in the rapid establishment of African-American churches in Kentucky following the Civil War, with the help of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky, formed in 1865. The organization, through the creation of a constitution and numerous committees, faced issues plaguing African-American communities such as education, missions and memberships within the church. Convention leaders focused on the church as the sole institution that could reach and educate the majority of African Americans, most of whom could not read nor write even their names.

As a result of the decisions and actions taken by the Convention's leaders, the Baptist doctrine soon became that most widely followed by African-American worshipers in Kentucky. Several reasons account for the popularity of the Baptist religion at that time. First, the Baptist philosophy was simple to understand. Second, the drama of outdoor baptisms held a large appeal for converts. And finally, rural, African-American communities in Kentucky were uniquely well-suited to independent congregations where all took part in all aspects of church services (Brown, 4993: NP; and Lucas: 211). The success of the Baptists in establishing Kentucky church congregations was followed by the Methodists, led by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and by the Christian Church.

In Boyle County, at least five African-American communities were established during the post Civil War era, including Clifton, Stoney Point, Wilsonville, Needmore and Little Needmore (Brown, 1993: NP). The hamlets developed on land donated or sold by farmers and laid into small lots for residences and various other buildings. A large percentage of male residents farmed as sharecroppers while others worked as blacksmiths, carpenters, and in other trades. As seen in Figure 3, most hamlets were created along well-traveled, secondary roads with few having any commercial businesses or post offices. 

Of those Boyle County hamlets established in the late nineteenth century, only Clifton and Wilsonville retain physical evidence of historic community structures. The Wilsonville community developed in the south-central portion of Boyle County, along the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad. Residents of the community were likely employed by the railroad, helping with the construction and maintenance of the line. Although the vitality of this African-American hamlet has declined, two important features remain, the Wilsonville A.M.E. Church and the Wilsonville School. The church, having undergone extensive alterations in the twentieth century, remains in operation with weekly services performed by visiting pastors. The school building has been vacant for a number of years and faces deterioration from neglect. The Wilsonville complex is not eligible to the National Register of Historic Places due to loss of physical integrity. 


Brown, Richard C. "Keepers of The Faith: Black Churches in Boyle County," as published in the "Kentucky Advocate", Danville, Kentucky, February, 1993.

Kleber, John E., ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Lucas, Marion Brunson. A History of Blacks in Kentucky. Volume One. Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992.

Smith, Peter Craig and Karl Raitz. "Negro Hamlets and Agricultural Estates in Kentucky's Inner Bluegrass" in Geographical Review, April, 1974.

Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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