Lexington museum pays tribute to black history

February 19, 2012 by  

There was a time when keeping records of the history of Afro-Americans in Kentucky was an abandoned issue – similar to the orphans that once lived in the Robert H, Williams Cultural Center on Georgetown Street which is now the headquarters for local black history.

That 100-year old building was once the Colored Orphan Industrial Home, an out-dated name yet an integral part of black history in Lexington. Catalog printing is the primary way museums keep track of their extensive collections of artifacts.

“Our purpose is to highlight Kentucky African-Americans,” said Yvonne Giles, considered an expert in black history in Lexington and enthusiastic member of the Scott Hathaway museum.

The museum was named in honor of Hathaway, an educated black Kentuckian who lived from 1872 to 1967 and was the first Afro-American to design a U.S. coin. He was an artist and a professor.

Exhibits include a tribute to Henry Tandy and his family. Tandy (1853 – 1918) was a bricklayer who constructed the layer of brick under the stonework of the historic Fayette County Courthouse. Story goes that he was the wealthiest black man in Kentucky in his time. Tandy’s son Vertner was known as the first Afro-American architect in New York.

Records, photographs and a violin belonging jazz musician “Smoke” Robinson belongs to the museum collection, donated by his daughter. Nancy Green, better known as Aunt Jemima, has some items in the museum.

“People are always looking at these things and saying: He was from Lexington? She was from Kentucky? I didn’t know that.” Giles said.