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MSU history professor Brian Clardy presents on Cherokee Historic State Park at McCracken County Public Library

The McCracken County Public Library presents its next installment of Evenings Upstairs, "Segregation in Public Accommodation: A Focus on Cherokee Historic State Park," led by Murray State history professor Dr. Brian Clardy, on Thursday, June 13, at 5:30 pm. Open from 1949 to 1963, Cherokee Historic State Park is located on the banks of Kentucky Lake near Kenlake State Park and was Kentucky's only state park for its Black population during the Jim Crow era. Morning Edition host Daniel Hurt speaks to Clardy ahead of the presentation about the park and its legacy.

"The idea of it was conceived in the late 1940s and having what was called a colored park apart for Black people during the period of segregation," Clardy explains. "But it really didn't get established until 1951. Cherokee Park is literally across the highway from Kenlake Park [and] existed up until the early 1960s in the period after official segregation that ended in Kentucky and in the country. It just kind of went away, but so much was lost there."

"For an area like this, it was a place where you did not have to eat outside, you did not have to order your food in the back of the restaurant. It was a place where you could go with your head held high and sit where you want, eat where you want, and sleep where you want. You went in there as an equal. You could get away from the madness of segregation, the dehumanization of Jim Crow."

After segregation ended, most people utilized the facilities at Kenlake State Park instead of Cherokee Park. Consequently, many of the structures were torn down, moved, or never replaced. "A lot of the cabins had been dismantled and taken up a river," Clardy says. "A lot of that was gone. Of course, the swimming pool went away. The superintendent's house is still standing. The main clubhouse is still standing. It's been used for different purposes like weddings and was used by the Murray State rowing team at one time."

In recent years, there have been attempts made to bring focus back to Cherokee Park due to its historic significance. A documentary short film called A Legacy Lost and Found in Recreation was created about the park, which will be shown along with Clardy's presentation at the library.

The video, Clardy explains, "was conceived by Dr. Nancy Dawson and Dr. Tammy Holmes. I worked with them at SIU Carbondale in the 1990s, and they were working on this project to put together a documentary about Kenlake. There was a symposium that was going to be held in February 2022 here at Murray State on segregation in public places because there were other Cherokee parks throughout the country."

"We were going to celebrate that, and they asked me to say a few words about the historic significance of Cherokee Park in a documentary," Clardy continues. "I found out in October there was going to be a world premiere of the documentary. We hosted a screening of it at the Kentucky Humanities Council fall board meeting at Lake Barkley this past year. It's been really well received as played at film festivals all over the country and even won some awards."

Clardy says the public can still visit Cherokee State Historic Park today if they wish. Although many of the original structures are gone, Clardy says it is worth the trip. "It's across the street from Kenlake State Park. It's a pretty fair haul. When you go across the highway, you go on this one-lane road. It's a long ride, but once you get there, you'll know it and you'll see it. It's really a beautiful place."

The McCracken County Public Library presents Evenings Upstairs: "Segregation in Public Accommodation: A Focus on Cherokee Historic State Park" with Dr. Brian Clardy on Thursday, June 13, at 5:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Visit the library's website for more information.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “Daniel Hurt Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
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