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

Clayter, Henry

(born: 1875  -  died: 1952) 

Henry Clayter was the son of Lizzie McGee and John Clayter. In 1906, Henry, described as a mulatto with white skin, attempted to elope with 15-year old Ora Gardner, a white hotel waitress. They had been seeing each other secretly at the hotel for two years.

Clayter was about 30 years old and an Army veteran who, according to the U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, had served in the 24th Infantry, 1901-1904. He had just returned from the military when he took up with then 13-year old Gardner. Interracial dating relationships in Kentucky had led to the lynching of African American men. Marriage between Blacks and whites was illegal in Kentucky for all involved, including the licensing clerk and the minister or judge.

Clayter and Gardner attempted to get a marriage license in Illinois in 1906 but were denied because Gardner was underage. They were living together in Chicago at 563 State Street when both were arrested and taken to Louisville, KY. The authorities feared that Clayter would be lynched if returned to Irvington, KY, where he was to stand trial. The news of the couple's return to Kentucky had led to threats of violence between whites and Blacks and fear of a race riot in Irvington.

The whole affair of Clayter and Gardner was described as sensational and extraordinary in the newspapers. With extra security in place, Clayter was tried in Irvington and found guilty of carnal knowledge of a female less than 16 years old. He was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison, but the sentence was later commuted by the governor; Clayter was released from Eddyville Prison in 1911.

Clayter married Mary Miller in Indiana in 1915 and died a widower in 1952 in Louisville, according to Kentucky Death Records. Gardner was placed in a reform school and at the age of 18 was living at her parents' home in Hardinsburg, KY, according to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.

For more see chapter 2, "Race Relations," in A History of Blacks in Kentucky, by M. B. Lucas and G. C. Wright; "Negro lover," The Breckinridge News, 8/1/1906, p. 8; and A. Avins, "Anti-miscegenation laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: the original intent," Virginia Law Review, vol. 52, issue 7 (Nov. 1966), pp. 1224-1255.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Breckinridge County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lyon County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Hardinsburg, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Irvington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Eddyville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: A History of Blacks in Kentucky
NKAA Entry: Wright, George C.
NKAA Source: The Breckenridge news (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Virginia law review (periodical)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Clayter, Henry,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-05-24 17:01:49