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

The McDonald and Elvira Porter Family [Moving North]

At the end of World War I when the United States was experiencing economic tension because of inflation and the many union strikes taking place throughout the country, the Porter Family moved from Kentucky to the "Magic City," Gary, IN. Like many African Americans, they were in search of better economic opportunities.

The family had been tenant farmers, but after moving to Gary the men of the family were employed in steel mills and industrial plants. Employment opportunities had been created for African Americans from the South when restrictions were put into place during World War I, ending the mass employment of immigrants from eastern and southern European countries. For the Porter Family, the availability of employment led them to pull up their deep roots in Kentucky and move north.

The head of the family was McDonald Porter, who had been born into slavery in October 1858 in Butler County, KY. His father Reason Porter (1831-1864) and mother Ellen or Julia Borah had also been enslaved. Reason, born in Ohio County, KY, served during the Civil War with the Colored Troops 115th Infantry Regiment, Company B. The Borah sisters were from Butler County. Ellen Borah had been dead for 20 years when McDonald Porter married Elvira Bracken from Ohio County in 1879; her family had been enslaved by the Bracken family that migrated to Kentucky from Sumner County, TN in the early 1840s.

Elvira and McDonald were the parents of five children, all born in Butler County. The family later moved to the Lowertown District in Daviess County, KY, where McDonald was again a tenant farmer. When the children were grown and had their own families, they too became tenant farming families.

Elvira and two of her daughters-in-law owned farmland in Daviess County. The agricultural history of African American women [single and married] as farm owners in Kentucky has not been researched, but it is thought there were very few. The land owned by Elvira and her daughters-in-law was sold prior to the family moving to Gary. The entire family moved: McDonald, Elvira, and all of their children, arriving in Gary in early 1919.

All of the information about the Porter Family was provided by Denyce Peyton and Renetta DuBose.

For more about African Americans in Gary, see A History of the Growth of the Negro Population of Gary, Indiana, by J. F. Potts; and Yesterday in Gary, by D. H. Millender.

For more information on women farm owners, see Effland, Rogers, and Grim, "Women as agricultural landowners: what do we know about them?" Agricultural History, vol. 67, issue 2, pp. 235-261. See also the NKAA entry for William E. Porter, grandson of McDonald and Elvira Porter.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Butler County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Ohio County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Daviess County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“The McDonald and Elvira Porter Family [Moving North],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed March 1, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-09-01 17:09:22