Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Gerald L. Smith


This study examines what Black Kentuckians did on their own behalf to educate themselves in the early twentieth century. I argue that Black Kentuckians’ agency and activism formed the bedrock of the Rosenwald movement in Kentucky. From 1917 to 1932, they built 158 Rosenwald Schools across the Bluegrass by welding together multiple strategies of resistance. Such agitation included voluntarily taxing themselves, waging legal battles, deploying military-style fundraising campaigns, and building institutions to support their schools. Seeking first-class citizenship, they also volunteered labor, donated land, and bought supplies to uplift themselves and their community through education. This work took place against a backdrop of White superiority, Jim Crow laws, systemic discrimination, and the threat of violence. Yet Black Kentuckians persevered making use of philanthropies such as the Rosenwald Rural School Building Program (Rrsbp), which produced Rosenwald Schools, to foment their own educational goals.

In the early twentieth century, the Rrsbp was one of many Northern agencies working to shape Southern Black Education. It differed, however, in important ways that afforded Black Kentuckians historical agency and aided them in building architecturally advanced schools, expanding school terms, and increasing teacher pay. While most narratives of the Rrsbp center the work of Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and his benevolence, my work specifically explores the work of Booker T. Washington, who created the program and administered it along with his cohorts at Tuskegee. It positions him as the social architect of the program and demonstrates how Washington empowered Black Kentuckians at the state and local levels by creating specific leadership roles in the program for Black men and women. They, in turn, used those roles not only to build up their communities, but to promote their own professional goals. Ultimately, they became some of the first Black men and women to work in state government post-Reconstruction.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Bryan Dissertation Fellowship, University of Kentucky, 2017

Leslie K. Gilbert and Daniel E. Crowe Fellowship, University of Kentucky, 2015-2016

Charles P. Rowland Fellowship, University of Kentucky, 2014-2015

Southern Regional Educational Board Doctoral Scholar Fellowship, 2011-2014

Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship, University of Kentucky, 2009-2011