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Local and Family History

African-American History in Paducah


History of the 8th of August Celebration

What is the significance of Paducah's Emancipation Celebration Date? / J. T. Crawford, Paducah Life

The Eighth of August / K.E.T.

8th of August / Tim Talbott, Kentucky Historical Society


The library's Local and Family History Department also houses a Vertical File of research related to the celebration as well as a number of bound copies of past programs from the celebration.


The Watkins Funeral Home Records Collection

The library has digitized the ledgers from the A. W. Watkins funeral home. They are available in our Digital Collections.


Famous African-American Paducahans and Landmarks

Harold T. Alston, Sr.

First black realtor and broker. First to open and successfully maintain his own real estate office. Alston Sr. was a World War II veteran and a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

Dr. Dennis H. Anderson

Dr. Dennis H. Anderson, founder of the West Kentucky Industrial College for blacks, started ground breaking on December 9, 1909. His objective was to improve education for Negroes in Kentucky. The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1911 but did not become state-supported until 1918. By 1938 it had become the third-largest Negro junior college in the United States.

Oscar Cross

Mr. Cross, a probation officer, who saw a need to aid in a positive development for youth. He founded the Junior Legion Club organization for boys, which in 1953 became the Boys Club of Paducah and in 1990 became the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah. In 2004, in recognition of his contributions to the community, a portion of Jackson Street was renamed Oscar Cross Ave.

Reverend George W. (Pappy) Dupee

In 1858, the first black minister called to pastor at Washington Street Missionary Baptist Church was Reverend George W. Dupee. His training and teaching in the ethics of worship earned him the name "Pappy" Dupee. He was founder and moderator of the General Association of Colored Baptists, and he organized the First District Baptist Association in 1867. Reverend Dupee gave 39 years of service to Washington Street and died in 1897.

Dr. S. H. George

Dr. S. H. George, a native of Paducah, was considered a wealthy physician, politician, and business man. According to the 1930 U. S. Federal Census, Dr. George was involved in several businesses, including: a medical practice, Rollaway (a skating rink located at 10th and Broadway), a theater known as Hiawatha Theater located at 432 S. 7th Street, and was co-owner of the newly incorporated Home Drug Company at 505 S. 7th Street in Paducah. He died in June of 1936.

A. Z. Hamock

After the death of Mr. Watkins, his widow married A. Z. Hamock, a licensed embalmer and funeral director. The A. W. Watkins Undertaking Parlor was changed to A. Z. Hamock Funeral Home. Mr. Hamock was called the Dean of Kentucky in his profession. He is known nationally and internationally through one of his embalmed subjects, Henry "Speedy" Atkins, whose body was injected with an experimental solution Mr. Hamock discovered himself, hoping to preserve the body longer. The embalming was so successful that Atkins' body was used as an example for 66 years before being buried in 1994. The preserved Atkins appeared on "That's Incredible" (October 1980), "Ripley's Believe It or Not" (1980, with Jack Palance), "CNN" (June 1989), "A Current Affair: Extra" (May 1991), and "Would You Believe It?" (2003). Mr. Hamock passed away in December of 1949.

Robert Harriford, Sr.

Harriford Sr. was the first black elected to the Paducah Board of Education, and served 19 years, including two years as the Board Chair. He was also the first black to serve on the Kentucky State Board of Education, holding his post for seven years.

Reverend W. G. Harvey

Harvey was the first Black to become City Commissioner in Paducah, as well as the first black American to be elected to public office in all of Western Kentucky.

Lincoln High School

Prior to 1895, Lincoln School was an elementary school. Realizing a need for higher education for Negro children in Paducah, a few interested patrons petitioned the Board of Education for higher education classes. The board reviewed the needs and added additional classes in algebra, botany, English, and several others. Professor Edward Walton Benton became the first principal of the new Lincoln High School, serving until 1906. Another first at Lincoln High School was Mrs. Myrtle R. Phillips, the only woman principal, serving from 1924 through 1927. She later became a professor at Harvard University.

Loraine Mathis

Mathis served as a member of the Project Area Committee and played a major role in determining the need for a community center and park on the Southside of Paducah. She served on the W. C. Young Community Center Board of Directors and served many years as the 8th of August Memorial Program Chairperson.

William Stuart Nelson / Stuart Nelson Park

Stuart Nelson Park, a local park for blacks, was dedicated in the 1940's in honor of William Stuart Nelson. Nelson was an African-American, a native of Paducah, and the son of Dr. and Mrs. William H. Nelson. His profession was in the field of education.

Andy W. Watkins

Andy W. Watkins was born in Alabama in 1853. He lived in Paducah for forty or more years. He was known as polite, reliable, and a leader among the colored community. Seeing a need for a colored funeral home, in August 1894 he established A. W. Watkins Undertaking Parlor on the corner of Washington and 7th Street. He prospered in the business and built up a good patronage. His nephew, G. P. Rucker, worked cooperatively with him and managed the business for nine years. Mr. Watkins died in June of 1915.

W. C. Young

A national labor and civil rights leader of Paducah. Young spend 46 years in the labor movement, leading to Paducah's W. C. Young award being named for him. He retired in 1987 as Region 10 director of AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education. He worked on issues of poverty and injustice with honesty, understanding, and non-violent actions. He started a community center in 1976, The Paducah Community Center, to help the people of Paducah to overcome poverty and obtain decent housing. In 1996 the center was renamed W. C. Young Community Center in his honor.



Information above was compiled from resources available in the Local and Family History collection, including numerous programs from past 8th of August Celebrations.

The Digital Collection

Feaures of the Digital Collection:

The Mary Wheeler Collection, Paducah postcards, Oral histories, Images from Paducah's past, and more...

Click here to access The Digital Collection.


The Local and Family History Blog

Read curious stories from the interesting history of Paducah and the Jackson Purchase.

Read it here.