Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State​​​: Revisiting My Old Kentucky Home​​​

Book cover of slavery and freedom

University of Kentucky Press

Release Date

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" has been designated as the official state song and performed at the Kentucky Derby for decades. In light of the ongoing social justice movement to end racial inequality, many have questioned whether the song should be played at public events, given its inaccurate depiction of slavery in the state.

In Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State, editor Gerald L. Smith presents a collection of powerful essays that uncover the long-forgotten stories of pain, protest, and perseverance of African Americans in Kentucky. Using the song and the museum site of My Old Kentucky Home as a central motif, the chapters move beyond historical myths to bring into sharper focus the many nuances of Black life.

Chronologically arranged, they present fresh insights on topics such as the domestic slave trade, Black Shakers, rebellion and racial violence prior to the Civil War, Reconstruction, the fortitude of Black women as they pressed for political and educational equality, the intersection of race and sports, and the controversy over a historic monument.

Taken as a whole, this groundbreaking collection introduces readers to the strategies African Americans cultivated to negotiate race and place within the context of a border state. Ultimately, the book gives voice to the thoughts, desires, and sacrifices of generations of African Americans whose stories have been buried in the past.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


About the Author

Gerald L. Smith is professor of history at the University of Kentucky and pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Lexington. He has written extensively on the Black experience in Kentucky and is the author, editor, or coeditor of five books, including the award-winning Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.

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