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

Zion Hill

Located in southern Scott County off of Paynes Depot Road, Zion Hill traces its origins to just before emancipation, when a slaveholder named Harris deeded land to freed African Americans. First known as Lenerson or South Elkhorn Bend, Zion Hill encompassed over 200 acres. By 1900, the freetown included 45 residences, two stores, a post office (1900-1903), and two churches: an African Methodist Episcopal church and Zion Hill Missionary Baptist. By 1909 there was also a school, replaced in 1929 by a new Rosenwald school.

Morrison's images reveal uses of space common to the homes in Zion Hill and other freetowns: a backyard reserved for domestic or agricultural work, and front porches and yards devoted to social activities. Women like Fannie Lewis took in laundry and washed and dried it in their backyards. Couples like Zack and Georgia Bell relaxed on their front porches, and neighborhood girls, including Myrtle B. Livers, Lillian Marie Bell, and Leanna C. Bell, gathered on porches and in the adjacent roadside.

Morrison photographed Myrtle B. Livers Hughes as a child. Hughes grew up in Zion Hill, married, and raised a family in the community. Fortuitously, in 2000, Chicago-area photographer Sarah Hoskins began to photograph the freetowns, titling her series “The Homeplace.” Hoskins formed lasting friendships with the residents on her many trips to the region, and remains especially close to Myrtle Hughes. Hughes helped Hoskins identify a number of the individuals who appear in Morrison’s images.  These identifications along with the United States Census, an invaluable tool for local and family history research, helped in piecing together the residents of Zion Hill.  Shown here are two pages from the 1940 Census listing some of the residents of Zion Hill in Scott County.  Individuals who appear or are discussed in the exhibition are highlighted.
 

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