African American History in Clark County

Looking for opportunities to celebrate Clark County’s African American history? Look no further than the Bluegrass Heritage Museum. The Winchester-Clark County Unity Committee and the Bluegrass Heritage Museum are honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the museum through February 19th. Special Exhibits highlight local African Americans who have shaped our community.  

Peter Bruner

One of the most important exhibits on display at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum pays homage to Peter Bruner. Born into slavery, Peter ran away numerous times before reaching Camp Nelson, where he enlisted in July 1864. He served with the 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery and was only one of over 600 colored troops to have fought in the Civil War. Bruner went on to retire from Miami University in Ohio, and penned his autobiography A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom”. His story was adapted into a play and performed at Winchester’s Leeds Theater several years ago.

The Military History Room houses an exhibit that honors WWII Veteran Thomas Miller. Miller, drafted just three months after marrying his wife Ann, was stationed in Alabama.  He trained as part of the ground crew for the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the country’s first black military pilots. Miller received the Congressional Gold Medal of Service with the Tuskegee Airmen and became a successful businessman in Winchester.

One of the Bluegrass Heritage Museum’s newest acquisitions is a banner for the Union Benevolent Society from 1883. The organization, formed in 1843 by free African Americans in Lexington, was founded to care for the sick, support widows and orphans, and bury the dead.

Another important attraction honoring Clark County’s African American population is The African American Heritage Trail. The trail meanders through downtown and the historic African American neighborhood of Poynterville, or Bucktown as it’s known to the locals. Every Labor Day weekend people come from near and far to assemble in Bucktown for great music, food and festivities. The weekend ends with the iconic Labor Day Parade, now in its 117th year, is the oldest parade in Kentucky.

Some other important stops along the trail include:

Moses Robinson (1792-1861), born into slavery, was a free man by 1840 and became a successful shoemaker. By the time of his death in 1861 he was able to purchase the freedom of his daughter and two grandchildren and left his heirs an estate of more than $5,000. His wealth enabled his children to purchase farms, which eventually became the African American community of Dry Ridge.

Jennie Bibbs Didlick (1908-2004), “Winchester’s Rosa Parks”, successfully won a lawsuit against the Transit Authority for being asked to sit in the back of the bus. This happened a decade before Rosa Park’s lawsuit. Didlick was a graduate of Howard College, became a teacher in Winchester, and later became principal at Booker T. Washington School in Lexington.