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Black History Museum Opens in Ashland
April 12, 2022
Darrell Smith and his aunt, Bernice Henry, have spent the last year piecing together the stories of Ashland, K.Y.’s strong, resilient Black community to start the city’s first Black history museum that will reside within the community center.
Mrs. Henry acts as the President of the C.B. Nuckolls Community Center and Black History Museum. Henry said that while the name is quite long, it holds much significance to her and her community.
“The reason being so is because Professor C.B. Nuckolls was the Black principal of the only Black school here in Ashland, so we are keeping that as a reference back to him,” said Henry.
Although the school no longer stands, its memory and its impact are rich in the community, which boasts many alumni of the Booker T. Washington School.
Henry said she went to the school for 9 years, and when asked if she knew C.B. Nuckolls, she let out a reminiscent laugh and replied, “Quite well!”
Henry said the idea to start the C.B. Nuckolls Community Center and Black History Museum stemmed from an idea her nephew, Darrell, had.
“He has put out a Black History page, and that has gone on for a little over a year,” Henry said.
The page received immense support and feedback from alumni of Booker T. Washington School and former residents of Ashland submitting photos and sharing their stories.
“Darrell always said he wanted a museum,” Henry said. “I thought, ‘What a great, great tribute to our town and what a great legacy for the community!’”
“When I started the Black history page on Facebook, it just kind of grew,” Smith said. “Crazy, it has almost been two years now, but there are over 3,000 articles and pictures. They keep adding and adding and adding.”
Smith said he is expecting five albums full of old photos of Ashland’s Black community from a friend’s mother who has grown too ill to remember the names to be contributed to the museum in the coming weeks.
“I’ll take them all!” Smith said. “And I don’t care if we know them or not because we can find out.”
Smith shared his plan to archive all materials donated to the museum as a resource for academics and scholars as well as a tool to research genealogy.
Preparing to Open
“The housing authority actually owns this facility, but it had not been in use for many years,” Henry said. “I just asked the director, ‘Is there any possibility that we could use this building – I think it would make a great museum?’”
The housing board then took a unanimous vote in support of renovating the vacant space into Ashland’s first Black history museum.
“We have gotten tremendous reception from the board and from everyone, especially our director, Mike Miller, who has just been phenomenal,” Henry said. “So, they leased this building to us on a 3-year lease for $1 a year.”
“Of course, we will have to paint and do a lot of things to make it the way we want it, but it was in much better shape than I actually thought it would be,” Henry said. “It needs a new roof, which they already had on their agenda to do, so [the housing authority] are doing all of the heavy work so we just have to do a lot of the superficial things to get the museum ready.”
Darrell Smith serves as the vice president of the C.B. Nuckolls Community Center and Black History Museum.
“The pictures that you see laying out here are from Mr. Bill Blake – he passed away some years ago, but he went to the [Booker T. Washington School] himself and he played ball,” Smith said.”
Smith shuffled through the stacks of photos, newspaper clippings and letters, “These were all friends of his when they were going to school together,” he said. “There are photos of the pool as well.”
Smith said the pool was culturally significant and a staple of Ashland’s Black community.
“It sat right behind the school, which burned down, but the pool is still there,” Smith said. “It used to be a Black pool for years – throughout the 1980’s and the 90’s, then the city took it over and turned it into Ashland Pool instead of Dawson.”
Smith shared his vision for the museum to have 40 different exhibits able to show highlighting Ashland’s Black history.
“I’m trying to find every little thing I can: the social clubs, military, C.B. Nuckolls himself and the school itself which has intricate pieces to it as well as the marching band, sports and socializing,” Smith said.
He motioned his arms to an empty corner near long, floor-to-ceiling windows.
“Over in this corner, there will be three-foot by four-foot sections where every Black family in Ashland that I can think of and that we can find will find their album,” Smith said. “Anyone can come to look at it and they can put around 40 pictures on it. I am trying to personalize the museum to our community.”
How to Support
“We are a nonprofit organization, so operate completely on contributions or whatever grants that we can garner up,” Henry said. “Or anyone can come in and volunteer once the museum starts. We want everyone to support, or to be a participant in, the museum more than anything.”
“We have got some surprises for them,” Henry said. “You know when you find something new and exciting, and it makes you feel really inspired to find more? That is what we hope for people to feel when they visit our museum – inspired, encouraged, regenerated, unified, and all those wonderful terms that cause us to be closer together.”
Once the museum is operating and accepting visitors, Henry said she hopes it becomes an active part of the community and a destination. The museum is set to open February 2023.
“We are doing Black history educational programs for children and adults, and for children it will be absolutely free,” Henry said.
The plan for the museum to open is February 2023.