WKU history professor receives local humanitarian award

After publishing two books, working with the African American Museum and the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, and being a member of Phi Beta Sigma, it is without a doubt that Professor John Hardin has earned the Humanitarian Award. “I have received many awards, but this one is by far the most heartwarming of all,” Hardin says. Megan Strassweg/HERALD

Danielle Chavis

WKU history professor John Hardin was awarded a community Humanitarian Service Award by the local Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee on Jan. 16. Hardin was awarded for his diligence and major contribution to the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, the first encyclopedia of its kind in the state.

Completed in 2015, The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is comprised of almost 600 pages and includes contributions from 150 authors. Work on the encyclopedia started in 2009, with Hardin and Karen Cotton McDaniel, former director of libraries at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, sharing editing duties.

The idea for the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia originated in 2003, when Hardin worked as assistant dean in the WKU Potter College.

“I wanted to continue my research as historian on Kentucky African Americans,” Hardin said.

Previously, Hardin had two published books and was working on other projects. Hardin and his colleagues, Gerald L. Smith and Karen Cotton McDaniel, collectively developed the idea for the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.

“The University Press of Kentucky said make a proposal, so that we can do something unique,” Hardin said.

In the state of Kentucky, several encyclopedias already existed. Two of which were the Kentucky Encyclopedia and the Louisville Encyclopedia. Hardin suggested, “we would like to work on something called a Black Encyclopedia for Kentuckians.”

“[The University Press of Kentucky] said ‘is it possible?’ ‘Is there enough material?’” Hardin said.

Hardin’s response to this question was simple.

“Yes,” Hardin said. “And the other two people said yes.”

Once the proposal was submitted and reviewed, the hard work of collecting and archiving the data began. For 12 years, the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia transformed from an idea to an immense contribution to Kentucky history.

Ryan Dearbone, member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, explained the importance of Hardin’s work.

“Anybody who wants to know about the African American experience in Kentucky now has the ability because of that book,” Dearbone said.

Dearbone said Hardin’s contributions within the community have been significant.

“Dr. Hardin has made a career and lifetime of humanitarian work,” Dearbone said. “He has written several books about African American life in Kentucky.”

Hardin has also worked in organizations such as Phi Beta Sigma, the NAACP and the African American Museum in Bowling Green. The committee recognized Hardin because of his diligence and service to the public through education and history.

Dearborn said Hardin’s community involvement, enrichment of higher education and dynamic knowledge of African American history all earned him his recognition.

“The humanitarian award for us symbolizes anybody who has been working in this community to better the community, whether it’s through education, community service, civil rights or their daily lives,” Dearbone said.

Reporter Danielle Chavis can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]