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New self-guided tour highlights Paducah’s Black history

Picture of Washington Street Baptist Church
Dixie Lynn
Washington Street Baptist Church is one of the stops on the self-guided African American Heritage Driving Tour in Paducah.

A Paducah organization has developed a self-guided driving tour highlighting the far western Kentucky city’s African-American history.

The Paducah Historical Preservation Group formed in 2022 with a goal of highlighting the McCracken County seat’s Black history, as well as African-American contributions in nearby communities.

As part of Eighth of August Emancipation Day celebrations earlier this month, the group put together a bus tour that took participants around town to about 30 different locations that have significance to Paducah’s African-American community. Rhonda McCorry-Smith, an advisor to the historical preservation group, led that bus tour.

“We want to keep things alive in Paducah. [Some of] the buildings are gone, but the stories can still be told,” McCorry-Smith said.

The tour included places like Burks Chapel A.M.E Church, Black-owned businesses like Happy’s Chili Parlor and Lincoln High School, where local African-American students went before classrooms were desegregated in Kentucky.

McCorry-Smith said PHPG worked with the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau to organize the tour and to lay out the order of the more than two dozen stops.

Along with highlighting Black history and contributions in the Purchase Area, part of PHPG’s mission is to get official historical markers at many of these sites so that visitors can understand their significance to the community.

It is also important to McCorry-Smith, who wants her grandchildren and future generations to understand the history of their surroundings, even if the buildings are no longer there.

“So much has been lost, that my children know a few things because I've told them and they've seen some of the markers,” McCorry-Smith said. “But my grandchildren hardly know anything because the attention hadn't been brought to those things. So it's very important to keep the history alive.”

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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