STAMPING GROUND, Ky. (AP) – Instead of allowing them to fade into obscurity, Shirl Marks is recording African-American stories which she says can help people discover their family history.
The Kentucky Oral History Commission has awarded 10 grants for oral history projects across the commonwealth, and Marks is working to ensure history is recorded, in some cases before it is too late.
She has been interviewing people so they may connect the pieces of Scott County’s African-American history, heritage and culture and to preserve the life experiences and stories passed down through generations of families and friends, Chelsea Compton of the Kentucky Historical Society said.
The grant is a non-cash award, and it is for the use of professional recording equipment, training and guidance, Compton said.
Accounts will include experiences attending a Rosenwald School; descendants of the Great Migration to Nicodemus, Kan.; the social life of African-American hamlets and spiritual life in the hamlet churches, Compton said.
“We thought it would be great to interview them; to see what their typical school day was like, just the experience of being in a Rosenwald school,” Marks said.
The Rosenwald schools, founded by philanthropist and Sears, Roebuck & Co. partner Julius Rosenwald, were located throughout the South in the early portion of the 1900s, and Scott County had six of them. One is in the northeastern portion of Scott County in Sadieville, Marks said.
“Most were one-room schools. Some had gyms. There may have been a rear coat room,” Marks said.
The Stamping Ground resident said she is interested in eventually going to Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. to search for more history of the Rosenwald schools and any information about Scott County.
Several people who attended Rosenwald schools went on to live extraordinary lives, and even the ordinary events are vital to record, Marks said.
“I want to know what happened to those who attended Rosenwald schools, what great things they achieved,” she said.
Marks is president of Stonetown Haven Inc., and she and others have worked to renovate and preserve the old Marks family home in Stamping Ground so it can be used for educational purposes.
On Sept. 9, a Kentucky Historical Society highway marker was placed at Stonetown, an African-American hamlet where the Stonetown Haven house is located. Marks said the Stonetown Hamlet is in better shape than some other hamlets in Kentucky.
Sharon Mitchell of Mercer County is working on a similar project, Marks said, and the women seek not to learn only about those who are still living, but to complete research to gain more insight, Marks said.
When Marks read the obituary of her great, great grandmother, she said she was brought to tears.
“That was the missing link. That is information that connects people to their past. That helps us put together history,” she said.
There are instances where the descendants of slave owners in Scott County have information regarding the slaves and their families, but they hesitate to share it. Marks said doing so can be extremely important to African Americans.
“It stings and that hurts,” she said about the feelings the descendants of slave owners might feel. “We need it to piece together, who we are and where we come from. My goals are to know more about my family,” she said. “It’s not in any ill way. It’s to connect you to your heritage, your ancestors.”