Robert Henry Clay Mitchell Blythe(born: May 10, 1894 or 1895 - died: November 12, 1968)
Robert Henry Clay Mitchell Blythe was born in Berea, KY, probably in 1895 (although his World War II draft registration card, which he filled out and signed, states he was born in 1894). Blythe was named after Baptist minister Rev. Robert H. C. Mitchell, a frequent guest in the Blythe family home; his name usually appears as Robert Henry Blythe. He was married to Rose A. Jackson of Madisonville, KY, and later to Lenamae Coleman of Williamstown, KY; he and both wives were teachers and attendees of Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons (now Kentucky State University) in Frankfort, KY.
Mr. Blythe’s parents, Charles Henry Blythe and Mary Eliza White Blythe, were born into slavery. Records show they were students at Berea College in Berea, KY, but Robert Blythe was precluded from an education there because of restrictions imposed by the "Day Law."
From the first bell ringing in 1927 until the door slammed shut in 1963, Robert Henry Blythe was the first and only principal of the Middletown Consolidated School. Affectionately and respectfully called “Professor,” Mr. Blythe acquired the title when he taught Agriculture at Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute, now Kentucky State University).
His collegiate studies at Kentucky Normal were interrupted by World War I; he saw action in Europe as an Army corporal, serving in the 801st Pioneer Infantry.
After the war he returned to his studies and began teaching Agriculture at Kentucky Normal. There he became friends with Henry Allen Laine, author of the poetry collection Foot Prints and the first Black County Extension Agent. Laine’s daughter, Helen Laine, was one of the first teachers he hired for the new Middletown Consolidated (Rosenwald) School.
At the school’s dedication in 1927, The Citizen reported that Superintendent Blythe “gave a very gracious and well-worded welcome[:] ‘We welcome you to the hospitality of our people, to the simplicity of our homes and to the beauty of our locality.”’
When he assumed the role of superintendent, or principal, of the new school, he brought with him innovative ideas, culture, and stability. Under his leadership, Middletown, which consolidated the one-room schools of Berea, Farristown, and Middletown, became an educational center and beacon for community activities. At Middletown, Blythe introduced a shop program where manual trade skills were taught. Fairs and farm day programs, with attendance in the hundreds; academic contests; plays and operettas; all attracted citizens of both the Black and White communities.
In addition to his teaching duties, Mr. Blythe owned a farm with his sister, Nancy Deatherage, also a Middletown teacher. In the 1940 U.S. Census, his address was listed at Berea and Menlaus Pike, RR 1.
He was often seen wearing a white shirt while “slopping the pigs.” He was a quiet, unassuming man with a quirky sense of humor. With a straight face, he would tell of his fear of snakes, of jumping off a fence, seeing a snake and jumping backwards in mid-air back over the fence.
Upon the closing of Madison County’s Black elementary schools, its African American teachers were not given the option of continuing to teach in the formerly all-white schools. Their choices were either to get further training to qualify as school librarians or to retire. This applied no matter how long or what qualifications the Black teacher had. Professor Blythe chose to retire.
Robert Blythe had a great love of history. In retirement he shared information about his family history, including a manumission paper describing the freeing his maternal grandfather, Mitchel White. Mr. Blythe also related stories of his paternal grandfather, John D. Harris, a Confederate officer who was one of the armed men who drove John G. Fee from Berea. Robert Henry Blythe is buried in Berea Cemetery.
For more information, see Eblen, Tom, "Alumni Recall Teachers, Community at First Reunion of Historic Black School in Madison County," Lexington Herald-Leader, July 02, 2016 (online). [Paper/microfilm copy: July 3, 2016, p. 1A]
This entry was submitted by Sharyn Mitchell.