History professor makes history

WKU professor John Hardin, a co-editor of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia Project, has now published three books bearing his name, the latest being The Kentucky African American, which features entries from more than 150 writers to paint a complete picture about the black experience in Kentucky. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Marcel Mayo

One WKU professor made history in August.

John Hardin, a professor of history, was one of three Kentucky editors to edit the first African-American encyclopedia.

“The Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia” is the first encyclopedia in the U.S. to be written specifically about African-Americans.

The other editors on the encyclopedia were Gerald Smith, associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, and Karen Cotton McDaniel, a retired professor from Kentucky State University.

Smith said he valued the work of this project greatly.

“This encyclopedia is needed because it fills an economic and social gap,” Smith said.

The book is an extended version of Alice Dunnigan’s work. Dunnigan was an African-American teacher in Logan County. Dunnigan wrote a weekly column for the Louisville Defender in the 1930s titled, “The Achievements of the Kentucky Negro.” Later in her life, Dunnigan wrote a book about black Kentuckians, and the encyclopedia serves as a continuation of her findings on Kentucky’s history of African-Americans.

The encyclopedia was published Aug. 28. The project began in late 2003 and was officially launched in 2008. It was then edited and sent to the publisher in 2013.

The encyclopedia contains 1,155 different journal entries and has over 150 authors. The entire encyclopedia was also published digitally. It addresses topics such as education, women, employment, civil rights issues and racism.

Several faculty and students from schools in Kentucky besides WKU, including University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University and University of Louisville, worked on the encyclopedia.

Hardin said the education system can benefit from these works.

“This work is important because the school said they don’t have enough information on African-Americans,” Hardin said. “It fulfills something that has not been done before.”

Hardin said Kentucky has set a high standard for other states to follow in their footsteps.

“Will it be copied by other states?” said Hardin. “We hope, but Kentucky is the first.”