Photographing Freetowns: African American Kentucky Through the Lens of Helen Balfour Morrison, 1935-1946

Allie B. Clay

It was most likely Allie B. Clay who opened the door for Morrison's camera exploration of the African American world of Lexington-area horse farms and freetowns. Clay had numerous connections: she worked at Silver Pool Farm; her husband worked at Idle Hour Farm; she lived in Zion Hill; and she may have also known Sugar Hill residents whom she had at one point lived nearby, on Payne’s Mill Pike.

Born around 1882, Allie (or Allia) B. Clay was the daughter of Fred Lucas, who had been born in Virginia. She married Sam Carter, a farm laborer, and by 1910 they lived on Payne’s Mill Pike. They had a son, Lucas, born in 1904, and another child who did not survive. Sometime before 1920, Allie married again to “racehorse farm” worker Henry Clay. He worked at the famous Idle Hour Farm, established just west of Lexington in 1906 by Colonel Edward L. Bradley. Devoted to the breeding and training of thoroughbred horses, Idle Hour produced winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes races.

In 1920, Henry and Allie Clay did not own property. They lived in the Andrew J. Harris household on Big Sink Pike in Woodford County, along with Lucas Carter, Allie’s son by her first husband, Sam Carter. Henry Clay's earnings at Idle Hour, together with Allie's cook's wages, permitted them to save and buy their Zion Hill property, worth $500 according to the 1940 Census.

Allie’s son, Lucas Carter, married a woman named Anna, whose surname remains unknown. By 1930, Lucas Carter also worked as a farm laborer, and he and his wife lived in Zion Hill with two young daughters, aged 7 and 4. The young woman Morrison photographed assisting Allie B. Clay was her granddaughter Alice, the Carters’ second daughter.

Like the majority of African American women of her time and place, Allie B. Clay was a domestic worker. Laura Estill Williams employed her as a cook at the Silver Pool Farm on Williams Lane and Pisgah Pike. Clay cooked in a large farm kitchen equipped with a milk separator and other labor-saving devices, had younger assistants to perform some daily tasks, and had the opportunity to influence her employer's food choices and apply her own touches to the resulting dishes. Nonetheless, her workdays were long and hard, and the pay was undoubtedly low. How long Allie continued to work is unclear. She is not listed as employed in the 1940 Census, but this may have been an interlude between jobs.

Morrison took 28 photographs of Allie B. Clay. She appears working in her employer’s kitchen, sometimes with her young granddaughter, Alice B. Carter; heading home at the end of the day; and relaxing outside with her sister-in-law.

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