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

Madison County (KY) Colored Chautauqua

(start date: 1915) 

Southern Methodist church worker and philanthropist  Isabelle Harris Bennett, who was not African American, is credited for her work in helping to bring to fruition the Madison County Colored Chautauqua [source: Belle Harris Bennett: her life work, by Mrs. R. W. MacDonell]. The institution was approved in May 1915; the first chautauqua was held in August 1915. Isabelle Bennett, know as Belle, served as president of the colored chautauqua organization for three years.

The chautauqua is only one of the good deeds toward Negroes in Madison County credited to Belle Bennett in the MacDonell biography. Bennett (1852-1922) is probably more known in Kentucky for establishing Sue Bennett Memorial College in London, KY; Sue Bennett was Belle's sister, and the college was established in her memory.

Belle Bennett, a native of Madison County, was at the forefront of many major accomplishments, especially for women in the church and their education, including two women's colleges outside the U.S.

When the idea of a colored chautauqua was brought to her attention, Belle Bennett agreed to help the Negro organizers with the event. Bennett's friends and neighbors disapproved of the chautauqua and her involvement. Nonetheless, Bennett continued working with the committee, and the event became a success. Unlike other chautauquas around the country, the audience at the 1915 chautauqua was not segregated:  there was mixed seating with a few whites in attendance. There had been an attempt to rope-off the seating to keep the races separate, but Belle Bennett protested and the rope was removed.

One of the noted speakers at the 1915 chautauqua was Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, who spoke to an audience of about 1,500 Negroes and about 25 whites. His pro-Negro presentation made some in the audience uncomfortable, as noted in MacDonell's book. Belle Bennett attended the presentation along with Dr. and Mrs. Frost from Berea College. The chautauqua, held at the ball park in Richmond, lasted for five days, August 4-8 [source: "Madison County Colored Chautauqua August 4-8," The Citizen (Berea), 8/5/1915, p.4]. In addition to DuBois, other speakers were James Speed from Louisville; George Washington Carver from Tuskegee; and Bishop B. F. Lee.

The Madison County Colored Chautauqua continued as an annual event in Richmond. In 1919, the Colored Chautauqua was held in conjunction with the Madison County Institute for Colored Teachers, starting on August 4 [source: "Colored Institute August 4," Richmond Daily Register, 7/26/1919, p. 4]. In 1920, the Madison County Colored Chautauqua was held at the Colored High School. Event officers were Mr. E. M. Embry, President; Rev. W. H. Crowdus, 1st Vice President; Mrs. H. A. Gholston, 2nd Vice President; Rev. G. B. Miller, Treasurer; Rev. T. H. Broadus, President Emeritus; and J. W. Cobb, Secretary [source: Richmond Daily Register, 8/5/1920, p. 6].

In 1922, the chautauqua was held August 16-20 under a tent on the Colored High School grounds in Richmond under the management of the organization's officers and the Eugene Francis Post World War Veterans [source: "Big Chautauqua," Richmond Daily Register, 8/10/1922, p. 2; and "Colored Chautauqua a big success," Richmond Daily Register, 8/22/1922, p. 4]. E. M. Embry was president, J. W. Cobb secretary, Miss Anna Turner corresponding secretary, and M. L. Todd Commander of the Eugene Francis Post World War Veterans.

The chautauqua events in Madison County were part of the National Chautauqua Movement that started in the 1870s and ended in the early 1930s. Madison County was one of very few counties in Kentucky to establish an annual chautauqua for African Americans.

For more information see Music in the Chautauqua Movement: from 1874 to the 1930s, by P. Lush; The Chautauqua Movement: an episode in the continuing American revolution, by J. E. Gould; and "Chautauqua Movement," S. Birden within the Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education, by E. F. Provenzo Jr. and A. B. Provenzo [Online Sage Publication].

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Madison County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Laurel County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Richmond, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
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“Madison County (KY) Colored Chautauqua,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-07-11 10:52:21