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

Logging and Lumber, African Americans in Kentucky - Doing the Research

There are very few African Americans in the lumber and logging business in Kentucky, and to date there has not been any stand-alone research on this specific topic. Without a doubt, there were slaves who worked in the lumber and logging businesses in the state.

A starting point to find evidence of their involvement is to examine the business records of slave owners who also owned lumber, logging, and wood-related businesses. More readily available data will be found embedded within the overall research about African Americans and the logging, lumber, and wood industries.

Sources such as Way Up North in Louisville, by L. Adams, contains secondary data about the number of employees: p .200, Table 7. Black Employment in Louisville, Selected Industries, 1968 lists Kister Lumber Company employing 110 African Americans.

There are also articles such as Heather Owens, "Public schools' desegregation in Williamsburg, Kentucky, 1955: some preliminary observations,"The Upsilonian, vol. 14, Summer 2003 [online]. "During this period in Williamsburg, African-American males found employment at the Kentucky Lumber Company or the nearby Jones Lumber Company. Large amounts of lumber were cut from nearby forests and floated down the Cumberland River using African-American labor. The extra scraps of lumber, often nicknamed sideboards, given or sold cheaply to the African-Americans, helped them construct homes and sidewalks in their segregated neighborhoods around Briar Creek. Many African-Americans settled in a community which soon acquired the nickname 'Slabtown.' Slabtown got its name from the use of the sideboards obtained from the Kentucky Lumber Company."

Other sources include the rare mention of individuals by name, such as Thomas K. Robb [NKAA entry], who was Yard Master at Burnside, Williamstown, and Louisville, all Kentucky communities. In 1896 Robb was elected Lumber Inspector for the Frankfort Penitentiary by the State Board of Sinking Fund Commissioners.

Even earlier, at the end of the Civil War, George Stevens [NKAA entry] from Georgetown, KY, settled in Springfield, IL, where he worked in a lumberyard. Further evidence of African American involvement is provided in "Invisible people: the legacy of the African-American on the Upper Cumberland Plateau," National Park Service, 2001(?), p. 3 [online .pdf]. "The
Stearns Coal and Lumber Company in McCreary County, Kentucky, also employed a diverse workforce which was unusual in the Upper South of the early Twentieth Century. One of the Stearns Company’s physicians went to Knoxville, Tennessee, expressly to recruit black laborers for construction projects in 1902-04. ...many men worked for the Stearns Company in its logging, mining, and railroad operations."

Another useful source is the U.S. Federal Census; in 1940, there were at least 52 Negroes listed as being employed in some aspect of the lumber business in Lancaster, Springfield, Louisville, Gutherie, Elizabethtown and West Point (Hardin Co.), Eminence and Henry County, Paducah, Wickliffe (Ballard Co.), Wayne County, Christian County, Knox County, Hickman (Fulton Co.), Taylor County, Carlisle County, Lebanon, and Owensboro. Most were employed in Louisville. There were at least two African Americans in the logging business, one in Hopkinsville and one in Green County. In the 1880 Census, there are at least 15 Blacks and Mulattoes listed in some aspect of the lumber business for the following locations: Frankfort, Allen County, Powell County, Shelbyville, Sartain (Barren Co.), Louisville, and Lexington; and one in the logging business in Hickman (Fulton Co.).

Other government publications provide additional information, such as the annual Job Patterns for Minorities and Women in Private Industry, published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [later issues available online]. Use of the data from the commission is also included in publication tables, such as the data from the 1966 Report No. 1, Part II, found  in The Negro in the Lumber Industry, by J. C. Howard, Report No. 19 of the series The Racial Policies of American Industry. Data for Kentucky can be found on p. 87, Table B-6, Lumber and Wood Products Industry and All Industries, Employment by Race for States, South Region, 1966. The table shows that of the 2,755 employees in Kentucky, there were 390 Negroes. The number of Negroes employed in Kentucky was the second lowest number in the table, West Virginia having the lowest number. The Negro employment figures for both Kentucky and West Virginia were far below all other states in the South Region, and both states had the lowest number of employees overall.

For more see The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American lumber workers in the Jim Crow South, by W. P. Jones; and Negro Employment in Southern Industry: a study of racial policies in five industries, by H. R. Northrup and R. L. Rowan.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Whitley County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Pulaski County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Grant County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Pendleton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Franklin County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Scott County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about McCreary County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Williamsburg, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Slabtown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Burnside, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Williamstown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Frankfort, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Georgetown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Logging and Lumber, African Americans inKentucky - Doing the Research,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 21, 2024,

Last modified: 2021-11-12 18:17:22