A Kentucky Planter, Part Five

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The Zion Baptist Church in Louisville has historic ties with the Taylor Family

These past few columns have focused on family of John and Mary Taylor who owned between 1840s through the Civil War, a palatial mansion, “Mauvilla”, at Westport, Ky. on 600 acres and a large frame home, “Hollywood”, on an 11,000 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. The Taylors had ten children and reported over 200 slaves on tax records between their two estates in Kentucky and Arkansas. They travelled extensively between their two homes by steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

This Taylor story includes an association of connections between family Taylor members, their slaves and the descendants of all, cast within the web of this family’s enterprise. From this exploitation emerge the stories of two individuals, Robin Loucke, a great granddaughter and direct descendant of the Taylors, and Rev. W. H. Craighead, a man whose parents were enslaved by the Taylors at Westport. The following is a continuation of Craighead’s story from last week.

The Rev. W. H. Craighead and the Zion Baptist Church

Born in 1861, W. H. Craighead’s mother and father were enslaved laborers of John Martin and Mary Taylor at Mauvilla outside of Westport. Craighead learned to read and write at a “rural school” and developed a “consuming” desire to further his education. It is probable his education was from Elijah Marrs and his brother, H. C. Marrs who offered classes for children through the local colored First Baptist Church in LaGrange. From his narratives, Elijah stated they had 150 children that attended. Elijah Marrs, a former slave who recruited blacks to fight for the Union during the Civil War, was a leader for social justice and education. He risked his life many times to reach out to African Americans in rural communities against the threat of KKK activities.

Marrs was a faithful member of the association of The State Convention of Colored Baptist Churches which had been organized in 1865. This Association, initially comprised of 12 colored Baptist churches from across Kentucky, came together to support public and religious education initiatives and by 1869 there were over 12,260 members representing over 27 churches.

At the first meeting of the Convention, in 1865, Rev. Henry Adams, proposed a college be established for former enslaved people. The efforts for the college languished until 1879 when the Trustees of the Convention of the Colored Baptist Churches of Kentucky bought four acres in Louisville to serve as the campus. The first President of the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute was Rev. Elijah Marrs. Marrs was replaced in 1980 by William Simmons who expanded the Institute that received state university status and was renamed the State University for Negroes (now Simmons University). These critical events were a beacon of opportunity for people like W. H. Craighead.

At the age of 25, W. H. Craighead moved to Louisville and found work at the home of Professor Hast who was a well-known music teacher. Craighead worked various odd jobs and enrolled in classes in the newly formed college. On May 24, 1895 a Courier-Journal column highlights commencement services for “four young colored men, G. T. Britt, W. H. Craighead, William Boren and I. S. Lair” of the State University’s College Department. The commencement, held at the Masonic Temple on 4th and Jefferson, was attended by 1500 people. G. T. Britt delivered the salutatory address followed by W. H. Craighead, “who discussed in a very instructive manner, ‘The Influence of Christianity Upon the World.’ Mr. Craighead was applauded often.”

At the time of this commencement Craighead had become the Rev. W. H. Craighead at the Zion Baptist Church. He had been preaching at a small church when the minister at Zion died unexpectedly and Craighead filled in. From there Craighead’s tenure lasted through the next 45 years. During those years Craighead helped grow the membership to 1200. He served on state and national boards for the Baptist Conventions. He was very proud that his church had the “the first Negro boy scout troop in Louisville” and that in the 1933 annual parade of the Jefferson County Sunday School Association, Zion Baptist Church had 300 children in the parade, receiving first honors. He also administered to those in need through his ministry. When orphaned children needed homes, he helped secure them; when the first man was electrocuted for murder, Craighead was with him and gave him requested Baptism and prayer before his execution.

Undeterred by the history of his past, Craighead offered the following: “There was a time when the Negroes and the whites were a bit uncertain about their attitude toward one another. That has passed and today, the colored people realize and appreciate the help and encouragement they receive from the white people.” On August 26, 1942 Craighead died at 80 years of age. His legacy was passed on at Zion Baptist Church which in later years became the site of many civil rights activities under the leadership of pastors such as A. D. Williams King who was Martin Luther King’s brother.
Note: These series of columns are written as a tribute to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture which recently opened.

You can contact Nancy: nancystheiss@gmail.com