Reckoning Inc. researches Kentucky’s forgotten slave history

For Black History Month, the Frazier Museum hosted an event called “Find My People.”
Published: Feb. 12, 2023 at 11:38 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - For Black History Month, the Frazier Museum hosted an event called “Find My People.”

Researchers say 250,000 slaves were in Kentucky. An organization called Reckoning Inc. has been working since 2019 to learn their stories and connect with their descendants.

“Their story hasn’t really been told very well by historians in Kentucky,” Reckoning Inc. Executive Director Dan Gediman said. “It’s only been really in the past few years, that people are starting to dig deeply into primary source documents of slaves in Kentucky.”

Gediman said some people assume there’s little information from the time periods involving slavery.

According to him, that’s false.

The first time the US Census included the first and last names of formerly enslaved people was in 1870.

Reckoning Inc uses old files, like census records, court reports, and church documents. From there, the organization tries to connect descendants of slaves with their ancestors.

Gediman believes that understanding the past helps people understand what’s happening in the present.

“Look at what’s happening on the streets of Louisville today to go back 200 years and see what was happening on the streets of Louisville back then,” Gediman said. “With slave patrols, who were given carte blanche if they ever saw a Black person on the streets to ask them for their papers. If they didn’t have them, they would give them lashes on the street right there on the spot.”

Back then, Gediman said politicians and business leaders controlled many aspects of Louisville’s black community. Their decisions are still seen in the present.

“Why do most Black people live in the west end?” Gediman asked. “That’s not an accident. That’s by design. Why do Black people make less money? Why do Black people have poorer health outcomes? There are different ways to answer those questions over the years. A lot of white people think, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ Well, it isn’t. It’s the way it was intended to be, because of those decision-makers.”

Gediman says that most questions about the Black community in Louisville can be answered by looking at the past.

He hopes his research helps people better understand life today in Louisville, Kentucky, and America.