Over the past several months, Louisville, Kentucky has emerged as what the Washington Post called “the epicenter of the national movement for racial justice.” The killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police set off months of nightly protests that put the city, and the state of Kentucky, into the spotlight worldwide.
In a four-hour series for public radio, The Reckoning traces the history and lasting impact of slavery and Jim Crow oppression in Kentucky. This history is the genesis of the issues that have exploded into public consciousness throughout the country in 2020. Kentucky stayed in the Union during the Civil War, seemingly on the right side of the battle over slavery, but the truth is more far more complex. Many Kentuckians fought to hang onto slavery and the wealth their slaves provided. In the years that followed, white citizens campaigned to downplay slavery’s role in the state’s economy and culture while working to deny black citizens a seat at the table.
As part of this story, we will meet members of two families who were deeply affected by the institution of slavery. One is a prominent white family descended from both a major slave trader and one of Kentucky’s largest slave owners, the other an African American family who descend from two of the people enslaved by the white family. These two families reflect how slavery touched nearly every person, place and institution in America, and how the country still needs to reconcile this painful past with the present — to recognize and reconcile the impact slavery has had on the health, wealth and safety of African Americans.
Episode One: Invisible History The history of slavery is often taught as a bitter chapter of America’s past that has been rectified. But in Kentucky that history has been rarely acknowledged, and is poorly documented. This has made it particularly difficult for African American families to learn anything about their enslaved ancestors. We’ll meet one Black family just beginning to learn about their family’s connections to a plantation in Louisville.
The producer and host of the series is Dan Gediman, who has been producing award-winning audio programming for over 35 years, including the NPR series This I Believe, the Audible documentary series The Home Front: Life in America During World War II, and 50 Years After 14 August, which won the duPont-Columbia award.
Loretta Williams is a Peabody award-winning reporter, producer, and editor who works on stories that delve into America’s cultural divides. She is the editor for The Reckoning and brings the perspective of a descendent of those who (most likely) were enslaved.
More information about the series can be found at reckoningradio.org. This special will air on Friday February 5th at 10 AM and 8 PM here on 88.3 FM KCPW.