Covington Black History Tour
COVINGTON BLACK HISTORY TOUR
Covington has always had a large, engaged African American population. This tour highlights their history and accomplishments, many of which have been celebrated in the city’s art and architecture.
This tour was originally developed by the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) as a walking tour. They have graciously allowed it to be adapted for this website.
B.F. Howard Park
Location: 11th & Greenup
This narrow strip of greenspace separates eastbound and westbound traffic on 11th Street in the Eastside neighborhood. The park is named after Covington native Benjamin Franklin Howard, co-founder of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.
Dr. James Randolph Historic Marker
Location: Greenup & Lynn Streets
Dr. Randolph was an African American physician and community leader. He was the first African American physician to be on the staff of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington and the first to be a member of the Campbell-Kenton Medical Society. A large percentage of African American children born in Covington between 1922 and 1958 were delivered by Dr. Randolph. An active member of St. James A.M.E. Church in Covington, he also served as President of the Kentucky A.M.E. Organization of Lay Members. In 1997, he was posthumously inducted into the Northern Kentucky Leadership Hall of Fame.
Church of Our Savior
Location: 246 E. 10th St.
In the summer of 1943, Bishop Howard of the Diocese of Covington began the erection of a church and school on East 10th Street to serve the African American Catholics in Northern Kentucky. Though the school associated with the church no longer exists, the parish is still active and is the only African American parish in the Diocese of Covington.
9th Street Missionary Baptist Church
Location: 231 E. 9th St.
Although the congregation had been gathering together since 1869, they did not move to this location until around 1900. In 1914, the cornerstone for the current building was laid. The construction process was very slow and was not completed until 1921. Unfortunately, the 1937 floodwaters reached well past 9th Street and severely damaged the church, destroying all the historical records that had been stored in the basement. Until the church was repaired, services were held in the auditorium of Lincoln Grant School (also on this tour).
Location: 9th & Prospect Streets
This park was named after Dr. James Randolph (whose historic marker is included on this tour) in 1975. Over the years, it has served as a safe space for Eastside residents to gather. Since 1986, the park has hosted the annual Old Timers Festival, when African Americans come back from across the country to celebrate the rich culture of the Eastside neighborhood. Randolph Park has a swimming pool, basketball courts, a playground and a picnic shelter with a grill.
First Baptist Church
Location: 120 E. 9th Street
The first congregation of this church was organized in 1864 with 22 members. At one point fairly soon thereafter, the congregation split apart. Although it was reunited for a short time, the group of congregants who split off eventually founded the 9th Street Baptist Church (also on this tour). The First Baptist Church congregation moved to its current site after their previous building was destroyed by a tornado in 1915. The church is depicted on the Jacob Price riverfront mural (also on this tour).
Location: 824 Greenup St.
This building originally housed the Lincoln Elementary School and the Grant High School, serving African American students during segregation. Most of the teachers held master’s degrees and taught here because they were not allowed to teach in white schools. Many of their students attended college and had successful careers, thanks to the solid educational foundation they received at Lincoln-Grant. The building is now owned by the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission and houses 45 low-income single parents who are pursuing higher education degrees.
La Salette Garden Apartments
Location: 702 Greenup St.
This building was formerly La Salette Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school. It was one of the first schools in Northern Kentucky to desegregate and enroll African American students.
Governor’s Point Condos
Location: 323 E. 2nd St.
The main building of this condominium community was originally Booth Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1914. It was one of the first major Northern Kentucky hospitals to admit African American patients.
Location: 405 E. 2nd St.
This 1815 mansion is the oldest home still standing in Covington. It was built by developer Thomas Carneal and is considered to be one of the finest Federal-style mansions in Kentucky. It has a stone tunnel that leads from the basement to the Licking River. Although the tunnel probably served as a servant’s entrance, rumors persist that it was used to aid escaped slaves on their way to freedom in Ohio.
James Bradley Statue
James Bradley was selected as the subject of this statue to represent the Underground Railroad Movement. Bradley was a former slave who was brought to America from Africa at the age of 2. He taught himself to read and write and, starting at age 15, began to dream of freedom. He worked almost 10 years to buy himself from his owners, which he did in 1833 for about $700. Wanting to live in a free state, he moved to Cincinnati. He enrolled at Lane Seminary and said he was treated like an equal by his fellow students.
In 1834, Bradley was a featured as a persuasive speaker at the Lane Debates. He passionately argued against the faulty reasoning that led “colonizationists” to believe that freed slaves should be returned to Africa. He caught the attention of the leadership of Oberlin College, who invited him to attend. Another battle began to permit black students to enroll at Oberlin. The battle was won and Oberlin College became the first in the country to have a formal “race-blind” admissions policy. See the Riverside Drive Statue Tour for information about the other statues in this neighborhood.
The Flight of the Garner Family Mural
Location: Floodwall murals at Covington Plaza, 1 Madison Ave., Covington, KY
This mural is part of the Floodwall Mural Series. For more information on the other murals here, please see the Riverfront Floodwall Mural Tour. It is the fourth mural from the east and depicts the flight of the Garner Family. Margaret Garner (called Peggy) was a slave on a farm in Boone County, KY. Peggy married a fellow slave, Robert Garner, in 1849 and their son was born in 1850. Peggy had three other children after that, although they were likely to have been fathered by the plantation owner.
The winter of 1856 was the coldest in 60 years and the Ohio River had frozen. As you can see in the mural, a river doesn’t freeze into a smooth surface like that of a pond. It provides rough and treacherous footing. Robert, Peggy, their children and several other slave families took the opportunity to escape from Kentucky to Ohio, which
was a free state. The group separated after crossing to avoid capture.
Robert and Peggy’s family hid out at the home of a former slave. The rest of their party eventually escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Slave catchers and US Marshalls found the Garners, however, and stormed the house. Peggy was so intent that her children not be returned to slavery that she tried to kill them all, along with herself. She was able to kill her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife and wound her other children before she was subdued and arrested.
Peggy’s trial was unusually long and complicated. The central issue was whether the Garners would be tried as persons and charged with murdering their daughter or tried as property under the Fugitive Slave Law. The Garner’s attorney argued that Ohio law and its right to protect its citizens should take precedence, but the slave catchers and owner argued that federal law should supersede state law.
The defense attorney wanted her charged with murder so the case would be tried in the free state of Ohio, knowing the governor would later pardon her. The trial attracted over 1,000 people to watch the proceedings each day, with 500 men deputized to maintain order.
The judge ruled that federal law had precedence and Peggy, Robert and their infant daughter were returned to their owner in Kentucky. Ohio did get an extradition warrant for Peggy to try her for murder, but her owner kept moving her around and the Ohio authorities couldn’t locate her. They learned that she had been sent by boat to a plantation in Arkansas. While being transported, their boat collided with another boat and began to sink. Peggy and her baby were thrown overboard and the baby drowned. Peggy was reportedly happy the baby had died and tried to drown herself, as well. However, she was rescued and eventually sent with Robert to be household servants in New Orleans. Peggy contracted typhoid fever and died in 1858.
The story of the Garners was the inspiration for Frances Harper’s 1859 poem “Slave Mother: A Tale of Ohio” and Tomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1867 painting “The Modern Medea”, which can be seen at the Freedom Center, located across the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati. The book and movie “Beloved” were also inspired by Peggy’s life.
Jacob Price Mural
Location: Floodwall murals at Covington Plaza, 1 Madison Ave., Covington, KY
This mural is part of the Floodwall Mural Series. For more information on the other murals here, please see the Riverfront Floodwall Mural Tour. It is the sixth mural from the east and depicts Jacob Price, a Baptist minister and African American community leader. He was born in Woodford County, KY in 1839 and moved to Covington when he was 20. He is listed in the 1860 census as a “free man of color”.
At 24, Jacob became pastor of the Black Baptist Church, which later split to form the First Baptist Church, depicted at the bottom left of the mural, and the 9th Street Baptist Church (both of which are also on this tour). Two years
later, he helped to establish a school for African American which is shown on the right side of the mural.
He later worked to establish William Grant High School (also on this tour) for African American students in Covington. Jacob’s daughter, Ann, was in the first graduating class.
In 1881, Jacob established a lumber business. Within ten years, sales had increased to $15,000 per year and he employed two delivery teams and two yardmen. The lumberyard is pictured to the left of Jacob on the mural and one of his building projects is pictured behind him. It was located at 426 Madison Avenue, a site that is now a parking lot for adjacent businesses. His lumber business was in operation until around 1914, when Jacob was 75. Jacob died at the age of 83.
The buildings shown at the bottom right of the mural are the government-funded affordable housing project, named after Jacob Price. These were built in 1939 and have since been demolished.
Henry Wenzel Building
Location: 422 Madison Ave.
Although its address is on Madison Avenue, this building is actually located behind the Chops, Cheese & Chives store and can be accessed via Tobacco Alley, just to the north of the store. In its 150 years, the building has been used for many purposes, but the significant historical one is that its third floor housed the African American Odd Fellows Hall. The Odd Fellows is a social organization whose historic purpose is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” Today, it is a very diverse international organization whose members take active roles in helping improve their communities.
Currently, the building, called the Pickle Factory because at one time it was used for that purpose, offers eight themed short-term rental units on the upper floors (with 2 pickle-themed suites) and a bourbon experience (Wenzel Whiskey) on the first floor.
African American Business District
Location: Scott Blvd. from 5th St. to 11th St.
From the early 1900’s through the 1960’s, Covington’s African American Business District was the epicenter of commerce for African Americans throughout the region. Stores and services were located along these blocks, including dentists, barbers, beauticians and doctor’s offices, all serving the African American community.
The Carnegie Arts Center
Location: 1028 Scott Blvd.
Originally built as a library, the Carnegie was one of the only libraries in the country never to be segregated. It is now dedicated to the arts and houses a theater, galleries and classrooms.
Learn more about the organization here.