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MSU to host symposium on historic Black recreation areas

A postcard of Cherokee State Park (circa 1951-1963)
Kentucky State Parks
A postcard of Cherokee State Park (circa 1951-1963)

A symposium discussing the history of African American recreation during the Jim Crow era is planned for Friday.

Organized by Cherokee State Resort Historic Park with the help of Murray State’s Multicultural Initiatives, the event will feature presenters from different universities.

Cherokee was Kentucky’s only state park open to Black people during the Jim Crow era. It was originally open from 1951 until 1963, serving as a sanctuary for Black families that found its listing in “green books” – travel guides that listed safe destinations for Black travelers. Before the park merged with Kenlake Resort in 1963, it covered nearly 300 acres. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Purdue University professor of African American Studies Ronald Stephens will be featured at the symposium. Stephens has written numerous articles on Idlewild, a historically black resort in western Michigan.

Stephens says the African American community wanted to enforce integration and, as a result, left these all-black resorts like Cherokee Historic State Park and Idlewild Resort. He says these landmarks are being restored and remembered for their contributions to the African American community.

“There are many Americans, white and Black, that are unaware of this history,” Stephens says. “If they studied their history they would understand the limitations and obstacles African Americans faced. They are not responsible for it but it is important that they understand American History as it is and not have negative opinions about how African Americans celebrate themselves.”

Cherokee State Resort Historic Park received a large grant just last year for some restoration efforts and a new trail connecting it to the main Kenlake trail system was opened in the fall of 2021.

Other speakers will include Dr. William O’Brien of Florida Atlantic University; Gerry Seavo James from “Explore Kentucky;” Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson of the Getty Conservation Institute; Dr. Brian Clardy from Murray State; Dr. Nancy J. Dawson; and Henriatta Shelton from the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation.

The symposium will start at 9:30 a.m. and will conclude with a conversation at 6:30 p.m. featuring all of the presenters from throughout the day. The event is free to the public.

Mason Galemore is a Murray State student studying journalism. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. Since then has explored different publication avenues such as broadcasting. He hopes to travel as a journalist documenting conflict zones and different cultures. He remembers watching the Arab Spring in 2011 via the news when he was a kid, which dawned in a new age of journalism grounded in social media. His favorite hobbies are hiking, photography, reading, writing and playing with his Australian Shepard, Izzy. He is originally from Charleston, Missouri.
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