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

Harper, Nathaniel R.

(born: 1846  -  died: January 27, 1921) 

Nathaniel R. Harper and Isaac E. Black formed the first African American law firm in Kentucky. Their office was in Louisville. Harper and Black were the first two African Americans to practice law in the Louisville courts. Harper was the first African American judge in Kentucky. He established the Harper Law School in his office. Harper was one of the founders of the St. James A. M. E. Church in Louisville where he also played the organ. He was a talented musician.

Kentucky Governor W. O. Bradley appointed Nathaniel Harper a member of the State Industrial Bureau. He was to investigate, organize, and encourage members of his race toward industrial ventures. Harper traveled the state assisting in the establishment of industrial societies. In 1872, Harper was co-founder of the newspaper Louisville Weekly Planet. Harper was owner of the Tallaboo Dramatic Company, and in 1912 the company toured in central Kentucky.

Harper was born in Indiana, the son of Hezekiah and Susan Harper who was born in 1828 in Kentucky. The family lived in Centre Township in Indianapolis, IN, and according to the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, they were free and the family was supported by Hezekiah who was a blacksmith. Nathaniel was married to Maria [or Mariah] Morman Harper, born 1851 in Pennsylvania.

For more see Kentucky Encyclopedia 2000; The Owl: The Newsletter for Employees of the University of Louisville, vol. 17, issue 1 (February 2002), p. 2; "Kentucky's Negro Lawyers," New York Times, 11/28/1871, p. 5; The Commercial history of the Southern States by Lipscomb and Johnston; and see the paragraph "Lawyer N. R. Harper's "Tallaboo"..., within the column "At Kentucky's Capital" in Freeman, 06/01/1912, p.4; Theodore H. H. Harris, "Creating Windows of Opportunity: "Isaac E. Black and the African American Experience in Kentucky, 1848-1914," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, v.98, no.2, Spring 2000, pp.155-177; "Negro lawyer's funeral tomorrow," Courier-Journal, 01/29/1921, p.10.  

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Harper, Nathaniel R.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-06-20 15:09:10