Connie Taylor works to preserve black history

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

Connie Taylor got interested in preserving Grant County’s history when she was living in Arizona.


Taylor, a native of Grant County, was working on genealogical research when she discovered her friend’s family were descendents of slaves. That got her to wondering about her own ancestry and the history of slaves in Grant County.

When it became too cumbersome to try and do research for Grant County in Arizona, she moved home and got involved with preservation efforts of the Dry Ridge Consolidated Colored School, now located inside Grant County Park in Crittenden.

“Grant County has a lot of black history and I think people should know about it,” Taylor said.

The school was built in 1923 with funds from the Rosenwald Foundation, which piloted a rural school building program for black students.

The one-room schoolhouse used to sit on Assembly Church Road in Dry Ridge before it was moved to the park.

It has now, thanks to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Lowe’s, been restored and contains desks, a blackboard and photos from Grant County families.

An antique display case inside the building also contains artifacts, which belonged to Della Jones, a black woman from Williamstown who lived to be 105 years old.

Taylor was fortunate to meet Jones before her death in 2009. When Jones’ family distributed her belongings, they gave many photos and items to Taylor for use in the schoolhouse.

Taylor said at one time Grant County had 790 families and she’s been busy contacting descendents of black families who lived in Grant County.

“Anything that happened in the south, before 1954, to start the civil rights movement, also happened in Grant County,” Taylor said.

She recalled a story that Miss Della told her about getting kicked off a bus because she refused to sit in the back of the bus on a trip back home from teacher’s college.

There were several colored schools in Grant County through the years, but eventually they consolidated.

There was no bus service and no kitchen in the black schools and many families could not afford to send their children to school.

“Grant County had what I call ‘polite’ racism,” Taylor said. “White families had black employees that they cared for and ate together, but at night they went to separate parts of town.”

She said other examples of prejudice existed such as local merchants would sell clothing to black customers, but they weren’t allowed to try them on in the store and restaurants would require black patrons to sit in a different room on downstairs.

“There’s no such thing as separate but equal,” Taylor said. “If you are separate, then you aren’t equal.”

Taylor hasn’t always been interested in history, but after spending 12 years on a Navajo Indian Reservation got hooked.

“Genealogy really has become my first love,” she said.

However, doing genealogical research on black families is difficult as some were given the names of their owners and others changed their name after they were freed.

Taylor has been able to track some black families through old deeds at the courthouse. She’s also not above walking up to black people and asking if they’re from Grant County in hopes she can identify one more photo that is one display at the museum.

Her hope in preserving the history of black families in Grant County is to education the young people of today and not just telling the story annually during Black History Month in February.

“The best part of the project is being able to tell people where they are from and I’ve made some wonderful finds,” she said. “It’s just an important part of who we were as a county.”

Grant County Park has closed for winter, but Taylor is hoping that when it opens in the spring that local schools will take advantage of the preservation efforts and come for programs at the school and the colored church that has also been restored and sits next to the school.

She plans to use this winter to finish writing her book on black history in Grant County.

She’d also like to see a board of directors appointed to apply for grants to keep the museum going.

“I’d love to have it so the displays are interactive and they people could tell their own stories in their own words.

She plans to donate her time to anyone willing to listen.

“Even though the building isn’t open every day, people can call me and I’ll be glad to share with them what I’ve learned and give tours by appointment,” she said.

She’s also hoping families will contact her if they come across old family photos or pieces of black history.

“I just find it all fascinating and it definitely has become my passion,” she said. “And I just want to share it with others.

Connie Taylor can be reached at 859-903-2253