Jimtown, Bracktown, Willa Lane. These are just some of Fayette County's rural hamlets, formed by freed Black people when Lexington was far from welcoming
A campaign to highlight Fayette County’s rural Black hamlets and their unique history is getting underway ahead of the Juneteenth holiday. WUKY’s Josh James traveled out to Jimtown to get a first-hand look at the process.
Small groups are clustered in the corners of the Jimtown Baptist Church sanctuary, each discussing what they can bring to the table – whether it be artifacts, historical knowledge, or simply ideas about the project. It’s part of an initiative called A Sense of Place.
"What we're trying to do is have them live history, and that's so exciting for me... to live history," says JoJuana Greene, a co-chair of the Black Hamlet Project.
For the purposes of this particular initiative, a hamlet is defined as a small settlement organized by Black people between 1826 and 1924. At least 20 such communities have been identified in Fayette County, four of which were developed before Emancipation and the rest after, when Blacks were able to buy land.
Some of the names: Bracktown, Cadentown, Little Georgetown, and Willa Lane.
See a map below.
If you’re a Lexington native and don’t recognize any of those, one of the reasons has to do with the nature of the settlements themselves.
"This community, where we are right now," Greene explains. "This was the only place we needed to be. We didn't need to go into town because, you know, the town was not all that friendly back in the 1800ss, so we created everything we needed in these little hamlets."
Most consisted of a school, churches, a store, and a physician.
The goal of the new project is bring that history to light and preserve and restore buildings and structures that still exist from that time period. One theme stressed by organizers, the project isn’t about big city reaching out into the countryside, but instead, residents who live and breathe these regions doing what they’re doing right now – coming together to rekindle the past and celebrate their own story.
Tuesday's meeting in Jimtown is only the first a series of gatherings planned to collect input ahead of the official launch. A fundraising campaign will begin in earnest on June 19.