Wheelwright, KY - Colored SectionThe Wheelwright Company Housing Project included housing for African Americans known as the Colored Section. African Americans had first come to the town to work on the railroad at the close of World War I. The railroad was being constructed by the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, one of the oldest railroads in the United States; it was later purchased by the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railway.
When the railroad was completed, the African American men were kept on to work in the mines. Some of the men lived at the boarding house owned by Hilton Garrett (1895-1991), an African American from Birmingham, AL. Garrett had come to Kentucky on his own, and after saving enough money he was able to bring his wife, brother, and another man to Wheelwright.
The town of Wheelwright, established in 1916 by the Elkhorn Coal Company, was named after the president of the Consolidated Coal Company, Jere H. Wheelwright. The miners there were of all races and nationalities. The African Americans were recruited from the North and the South. In the mines the men were integrated but segregated outside the mines. A black deputy was hired for the Colored section of town known as Hall Hollow.
Wheelwright was not listed as a separate town in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. In the 1930 census, of the 226 African Americans listed as living in Wheelwright, more than 100 were men from Alabama. Wives and children were also listed in the census.
Segregation was the norm between African Americans and Whites. Among the African Americans who lived in the Colored section, there were distinctions and confrontations between those from the North and South.
There was no school building for African American children, so grade school was held in the Colored church. A high school, Dunbar High, was built in 1936. Mrs. Mannie N. Wilson was a high school teacher before the building was completed, and in 1935 she was listed in the Kentucky Negro Educational Association Journal.
When Inland Steel owned the city of Wheelwright, the homes were upgraded, the streets were paved, and recreation facilities were built--all segregated. Library services were provided for African Americans around 1943 via the library for Whites.
Photographs, such as a 1946 photo, show the street in the Colored section of the housing project. There is also a photo of the shift change at a mine. Both images are part of Russell Lee: Wheelwright, KY Photographic Collection, 1946. These and other photo images are available in ExploreUK at the University of Kentucky.
For more see also the Wheelwright Collection and other collections at the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center; Black Coal Miners in America, by R. L. Lewis; the Kentucky Coal Education website, Wheelwright Kentucky, Floyd County; and Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky, by R. F. Jones. Also contact the Floyd County Public Library.