Adoption of African American Children in Kentucky, 1870-1950s(start date: 1870 - end date: 1950)
Image: Colored Orphans' & Industrial Home, 644 Georgetown; exterior, group on porch (African-American), 1931-07-10, Lexington, Kentucky. University of Kentucky, Special Collections Research Center.
Written by Reinette F. Jones, October 23, 2023.
This entry is in response to reference questions about the number of African American children who were adopted in Kentucky from the period of Emancipation up to the year 1920 (WWI). No data have been located at this time to answer these questions. There were formal adoptions, but there were a lot more informal adoptions (informal guardianships) that did not involve paperwork or the legal system. Adoption has historically been a controversial topic for African Americans, as discussed by G. D. Jaynes in the Encyclopedia of African American Society. Adoption history, as it applied to African American children, especially those in the South, continues to be unveiled.
A totally unauthenticated guess at the number of adopted African American children, in or from Kentucky, between 1870-1950, may be found in the U.S. Census records. The Ancestry search results will have the names of children who were enumerated in the U. S. Census records as "adopted." There will also be a lot of junk and the search results will need to be weeded. The search results will not explain what is meant by the term "adopted" in the U.S. Census records. The results do not define the types of adoptions, nor do the results explain where, when, why, or how the children were adopted. The enumerated data are self-reported names and numbers.
Immediately following Emancipation, no state agency in Kentucky kept statistics on the number of children being raised by persons who were not the biological parents. Life was segregated by race and there were no adoption services tailored specifically for African Americans in Kentucky until 1995. African Americans had to continue to rely on each other. Orphaned and abandoned children who received care lived with families and friends, or the children lived in the segregated orphanages and children's homes established by African American individuals, churches, and community welfare organizations. These facilities were also referred to as orphan asylums and some were said to be schools or training institutions. Financial support came from requested funding from the state, the city, benevolent societies, charity organizations, churches, donors, fundraising efforts, and other self-sufficient means.
Data on the number of children in the African American orphanages and homes in Kentucky may be found in the literature about each facility (see the NKAA "Orphans and Orphanages" entries). The unauthenticated guess at the number of orphaned African American children, in or from Kentucky, between 1870-1950, may also be found in the U.S. Census records. The search results will need to be weeded. Information found in the census records will provide the names of children who were enumerated as "orphan." The children may have lived in orphanages and other facilities, or they lived with families.
One of the earliest orphanages for African American children in Kentucky was the Louisville Colored Orphan's Home that opened in 1878. African American children in these types of facilities were often described as "hard to place." As public welfare laws continued to develop in Kentucky in the 1920s, the state welfare administration began to take responsibility for the care and financial support of orphans and abandoned children. The city of Louisville ranked first in the United States among cities of its size for the number of institutionalized children. A permanent Kentucky Child Welfare Commission (CWC) was established in 1922, it replaced the Children's Code Commission that was established in 1920. The CWC was to investigate and study the needs of Kentucky children and report the findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Kentucky General Assembly. The low number of adoptions for African American children was not one of the CWC's reports.
However, on the national level, after WWII, there were concerns about the small number of African American children being adopted in the United States. These were adoptions that could be tracked through state documents or private adoption agencies. Booklets published for New York offered suggestions on how to address the low number of adoptions. There was also talk of integration. Kentucky orphanages would start to be integrated in the 1960s.
But prior to that time, in 1952, Kentucky Youth Authority, a division of the Department of Welfare, was allotted $150,000 from the State Property and Buildings Commission for the construction of an African American ward at the Kentucky Children's Home at Lyndon (Jefferson County). The new ward was to be a dormitory for neglected and dependent African American children who would be provided with institutional care. It was the first allocation of funds for the care and treatment of African American children at the Kentucky Children's Home. The property had been deeded to the Department of Welfare in 1944. For decades, the Kentucky Children's Home Society was regarded as the model organization for the care of orphaned and indigent white children in Kentucky.
In reference to African Americans, in 1909, a proposal had been put before Kentucky Governor Augustus E. Wilson for a similar society to be established for the care of African American children. The reason given for the request was that there was said to be too many children who needed to be taken away from their criminal parents. It was suggested that the African American society be overseen by the Kentucky Children's Home Society. The result was the Kentucky Home Society for Colored Children led by Charles H. Parrish, Sr. The society hired Rev. Octavius Singleton as the superintendent over the Kentucky Home for Colored Children. A disagreement of some kind occurred and Parrish replaced Singleton who left and established the National Home Finding Society for Colored Children as an orphanage/school in Louisville. Singleton's facility had no state (Kentucky) affiliation and was under the Michigan State Board of the Corrections and Charities.
By 1952, it had been decided that the care of the African American children could take place in a separate ward on the campus of the Kentucky Children's Home for white children. This did not address what had become an ongoing concern about the low number of African American children being adopted in Kentucky. On August 5, 1956, The Courier-Journal newspaper published an article about the findings of a federal survey of adopted babies. The study found that only 3 African American babies had been adopted in Kentucky in 1953. Three years later, the small number of adopted African American children in Kentucky was still viewed as a problem.
It was reported in the newspaper that ten African American families were approved for adoption and six African American children were adopted in Kentucky in 1956. The state government response was that a new program would be implemented that would be aimed at making the African American adoption program as effective as the program for whites. George W. Simmons, an African American, was appointed assistant supervisor of adoptions in the Kentucky Department of Economic Security.
There continued to be a small number of African American children adopted in Kentucky, and there was an insufficient number of African American families being certified to adopt. In 1995, to help address the situation, Kentucky One Church, One Child established the first African American adoption agency in Kentucky. Questions about current adoption practices, data, and other information concerning African American children in Kentucky should be directed to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
EARLY AFRICAN AMERICAN ORPHAN HOMES in KENTUCKY
1877-1920 Louisville House of Refuge, Colored Boys (1877), Colored Girls (1894). Became Ridgewood Campus of Ormsby Village in 1920.
1878-1908 Louisville's Colored Orphan's Home
1884 - ? A Colored Benevolent Society purchased 100 acres of land near Mt. Sterling, KY, for a widows and orphans home. Source: "Religious," Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, 12/16/1884, front page.
1892-1980 Colored Orphan Industrial Home in Lexington, KY. Later named Robert H. Williams Children's Home 1980-1988.
1893- ? The Widows and Orphans Home at Brooks Station was located on a 234-acre farm in Bullitt County, KY. The facility was owned by the United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of the Mysterious Ten Society. John Goddie was the manager with assistance from W. T. Peyton and W. Gaines. There were seven persons at the facility in 1893. Source: "Colored charitable institution," The Courier-Journal, 09/29/1893, p.6.
1895 - ? Colored Orphan Home Asylum in Covington, KY. Source: "Colored Orphan Asylum," The Kentucky Post, 12/27/1895, p.6.
1897-1963 Good Shepherd Home for Colored Girls in Louisville, KY. Source: The Encyclopedia of Louisville edited by J. E. Kleber.
1903-1972 Colored Home of the Friendless in Paducah, KY. Name changed to Burton and Gaines Colored Friendly Home in 1965.
1905 - ? Ethiopian Christian Orphan Home in Erlanger, KY. Source: "Colored Orphans' Home," The Kentucky Post, 06/15/1905, front page.
1909-1937 Kentucky Home for Colored Children in Louisville, KY. Children described as "defective" and "hard to place" were housed in buildings at the former Eckstein Norton school in Cane Spring, KY.
1909-1950 National Home Finding Society for Colored Children in Louisville, KY and Busy Bee Farm in Irvington, KY. Founded by Rev. Octavius Singleton under the Michigan State Board of the Corrections and Charities (no Kentucky affiliation).
1912 - ? Women's Protective Orphans' Home Association in Owensboro, KY. President Mary Hardin. In 1914, a hosptital was added. Mary F. Harding, Sallie B. Williams, and Elsie M. Robinson filed amended articles of incorporation to have the facility name changed to the Women's Protective Orphans' Home and Hospital. The home and hospital were to be opened to the aged, infirmed, and homeless colored children. Sources: "Many Churches are represented," The Twice-a-Week Messenger, 10/12/1912, p.8; "Will do hospital work," Owesnboro Daily Inquirer, 02/12/1914, front page.
1917-1930 Industrial Union Mission School for Colored Orphans in Harrodsburg, KY
1920-1968 Ridgewood Campus of Ormsby Village (dependent and delinquent African American children). Part of the Louisville and Jefferson County Children's Home.
1926-1938 Ratliff Institute in Louisville (1926-1930), Glasgow, KY (1929-1931), and Louisville (1931-1938).
1925- ? Colored Masonic Widows and Orphans Home in Newburg, KY. Source: "Aged woman is rescued," The Lexington Leader, 06/03/1925, p.16.
1929- ? Colored Masonic Widows and Orphans Home in Louisville, KY was incorporated in 1929 by T. W. Bradford, T. T. Wendell, and A. L. Garvin. Source: The Colored Masonic Widows and Orphans Home," The Sun-Democrat, 08/01/1929, p.13.
1930- ? Colored Masonic Widows and Orphans Home in Buechel. There were 18 children and E. G. Castleman was the superintendent. Source: Gerald Griffin, "2,500 Orphans to be aided by 1-day meet," The Courier-Journal, 11/14/1930, p.17.
"Negro children: in need of protection from criminal parents," The Courier-Journal, 02/14/1909, p.3: Frances Ingram, "Report of the Kentucky Children's Code Commission : covering child welfare legislation prior to and thru the legislative session of 1922; Adoption in New York State; a community sponsored study of adoption of minors, Part I & II, Department of Social Welfare, March 1944; "Negro ward slated at Children's Home, The Courier-Journal, 10/09/1952, p.17; See "3 Negroes adopted" in the Ora Spaid article "Adoption's children: half of babies placed are born in wedlock, Bess finds," The Courier-Journal, 08/05/1956, p.14; Kyle Vance, "Negro-adoption problems get new state emphasis," The Courier-Journal, 11/22/1956, section 2, p.43; "Simmons appointed as adoption official," The Courier-Journal, 01/12/1957, p.14; Rita Dukette and Thelma G. Thompson, "Adoptive resources for Negro children, August 1959, published by the Child Welfare League of America; Gary Kettler, "Campaign launched here for adoption of Negro children," The Paducah Sun-Democrat, 07/19/1962, p.15; see "Orphanages Integrated" within the article "8th Street convent closing," The Courier-Journal, 09/05/1964, p.10; "60 in Foster Homes Now: backlog of Negro children awaiting adoption cut some," Lexington Leader, 05/09/1966, p.2; Constantine William Curris, "State public welfare developments in Kentucky," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, v.64, no.4, (October 1966), pp.299-336; Gail Evans, "State subsidies may boost adoptions of Negro children," The Courier-Journal, 01/09/1967, p.17.
Nikita Stewart, "Black parents wanted: agency steps in as state services lag, The Courier-Journal, 06/11/1995, front page; Child Welfare: an Africentric Perspective by Everett, Chipungu, & Leashore (1991); G. Jackson-White, C. D. Dozier, J. T. Oliver, L. G. Gardner," Why African American adoption agencies succeed: a new perspective on self-help," Child Welfare, v.76, no.1, Special Issue: Perspectives on Serving African American Children, Youths, and Families, Jan/Feb 1997, pp.239-254; see the entries Ormsby Village-Ridgewood by David Morgan, Orphanages, and Religious Orphanages in The Encyclopedia of Louisville edited by John E. Kleber; Sarah Beth Bell, Rachel Farr, Eugene Ofosu, Eric Hehman & C. Nathan DeWall, "Implicit bias predicts less willingness and less frequent adoption of Black children more than explicit bias," The Journal of Social Psychology, 11/09/2021, pp.1-12; "Adoption." Encyclopedia of African American Society, edited by Gerald D. Jaynes, vol. 1, SAGE Reference, 2005, p. 16; Adoption History Project : Timeline of Adoption History at the University of Oregon; Kentucky Adoption Website.