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

Urban Scenes

Morrison’s travels through Kentucky took her not only to the rural Inner Bluegrass, but also to the cities of Lexington and Louisville. Here, she photographed bustling urban scenes that highlight differences between rural and city life.

In Kentucky’s segregated urban communities, African Americans built successful business districts that provided goods and services to the local black population and nearby rural residents. Old Walnut Street in Louisville and Deweese Street in Lexington offered barber and beauty shops, funeral homes, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, and theaters.

City architecture, street signs, and businesses in Morrison’s city images help pinpoint their urban locations. On the Levee shows boys in Louisville, on the bank of the Ohio River under the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge, which opened in 1929. In the distance is the Big Four Bridge, a railroad truss bridge completed in 1895 and updated in 1929. Highway signposts and the distinctive dome of the Fayette County Courthouse confirm that Morrison photographed the horse and cart image in Lexington on Main Street somewhere between Broadway and Mill streets.
 

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  1. Down South, Vintage Print. Print 101, Negative 532, Box 2, Folder 71
  2. On the Levee, Vintage Print. Print 97, Negative 18-08, Box 1, Folder 25
  3. Girl in dress licking ice cream cone in Lexington, Digital reproduction from negative. Negative 3-05, Box 3, Folder 89
  4. Horse and cart turning corner on street Main Street in Lexington, Digital reproduction from negative. Negative 3-39, Box 3, Folder 89
  5. Man in tie and cap with badge sitting on car bumper on urban street, Digital reproduction from negative. Negative 30-44, Box 3, Folder 116