From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Kohler, Maximilian Philip "Maxie"

(born: 1883  -  died: 1951) 

Around 1917, Maxie Kohler was living in Paris, Kentucky when his race was questioned in newspaper articles printed around the country. As it was retold in the newspapers, his story started when Maxie and his sister were placed in an orphan home in Cincinnati, OH. At the age of eight, Maxie and his sister were said to be adopted by landowner Nat C. Rogers of Bourbon County, KY. Nat Rogers supposedly died, and the children went to live with his son, Roseberry Rogers. After Roseberry Rogers' death, his family members told Maxie Kohler that he was a Negro and should live with other Negroes on the farm, which he did. During the years of transition, Kohler lost track of his sister. He moved to Paris, KY, and owned a successful bricklaying business. He married and had two children, they were all recognized as Negroes in the Paris community. This was said to be the life of Maxie Kohler, until his long lost sister placed an ad in a Cincinnati newspaper seeking the whereabouts of her brother. Kohler is said to have answered the ad and he and his sister started corresponding by mail. His sister lived in Oklahoma and was unaware that Maxie had been told that he was a Negro. She sent her brother pictures of their parents and had other relatives send letters to Maxie to help convince him that he was white. Though, when Maxie Kohler's sister and other family members learned that he was married to a Negro woman and they had children, and that Maxie intended to stay with his wife and children, all correspondence ended. In 1917, Kentucky law forbid the marriage of Negroes and whites, and according to Maxie Kohler's story in the newspapers, he was in a bit of a quandary. - - [Sources: "Racial tragedy victim," The Milwaukee Journal, 07/01/1917, p.2; "Marries Negress; learns he's white," Arizona Republican, 07/25/1917, p.5; R. Montgomery, "Shall I defy law or break up my home?," The Day Book, v.6, no.237, 07/06/1917, p.14; and "Twenty-eight years Negro discovers he is white," Negro Year Book 1918-1919, 5th edition, pp.113-114].

The Maxie Kohler story was not the first of an interracial marriage in Kentucky, nor would it be the last. Kohler's story, as told in the newspapers, has a bit of untruth. His notoriety, whether intended or unintended, was short-lived. There is no mention as to how the story came to be published in the newspapers. There are no sources given in the newspaper articles; no quotes from Kohler, or his sister or other family members, or from anyone in the Rogers family. It should be noted that Nat C. Rogers (1841-1920) was still very much alive when Maxie Kohler, his wife Mary B. Embry Kohler, and their first two children were living in Paris, KY in 1917 [source: Nat C. Rogers' death certificate, File No.13002, Registered No.89]. Maxie Kohler and his sister could very well have been placed in an orphanage in Cincinnati, OH, by their parents, and were later adopted (in some sense of the word) by Nat C. Rogers and lived with the Rogers family in Bourbon County, KY, where Maxie was told that he was Negro. All of which would have made for a more challenging life for a young man trying to find his place in the world, though his life was far from a tragedy and there didn't seem to be a question of what to do.

Based on government documents, the following is known about Maximilian Philip Kohler:  He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio,on June 4, 1883, the son of Max and Eva Kohler [source: Kentucky Death Certificate State File No.11000, Registrar's No.81]. By 1900, he was listed as "white" in the census record, that particular year he was living with the Leu family in Ruddles Mills [Bourbon County], KY, and was employed as a servant [source: U.S. Federal Census, name misspelled as "Max Cohen"]. He is listed as "mulatto" in the 1910 census, and he had been married to a Black woman for 3 years; their names are misspelled as "Macks Cola" and "Malinda Cola" [source: U.S. Federal Census]. The couple lived on Higgins Avenue in Paris. Other information on the census record was that Max Kohler (Sr.) was born in Germany and Eva Kohler was born in Ohio. Several years later, Maximilian Philip Kohler is listed as "white" on his WWI Draft Registration Card signed September 7, 1918. He was still married to Mary Kohler and had a bricklaying business, and the couple live on Paton Street in Paris, KY. In 1940, Max and Mary Kohler were still married and they had had five children [source: U.S. Federal Census; and the Kentucky Death Certificate for Johnson Kohler, File No.10533-22, Registered No.62]. The Kohlers owned their home on West Street [now Horton Drive] in Paris, and Max was employed on a farm. Their daughter Elizabeth was employed as a student worker via the NYA. Everyone in the family is listed in the census as "Negro." Max and Mary Kohler were married until the end. According to his Kentucky Death Certificate, State File No.11000, Registrar's No.81, Max Kohler died as a "colored" man on June 18, 1951. His funeral arrangements were handled by the Negro funeral home, Hitch & Cunningham, and Max Kohler is buried in the "Negro" cemetery, Cedar Heights.

Members of both the Max and Mary Kohler family, and the Nat C. Rogers family, still live in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Bourbon County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Paris, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Ruddles Mills, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: National Youth Administration (Kentucky)
NKAA Source: The Milwaukee journal (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Arizona republican (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Day book (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Negro year book: an annual encyclopedia of the Negro (annual)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Kohler, Maximilian Philip "Maxie",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed September 22, 2017, http://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/3130.

Last modified: 2017-08-21 20:34:35