Explore Black History and Eat Great Food in Kentucky
Exploring Black heritage can be a rewarding and eye-opening experience for many travelers. In a place like Kentucky, history can be discovered in every nook of the state. Black travelers can easily make the connection between African American pioneers who paved the way in numerous fields and those who have maintained and built on the history to create a vibrant present and exciting future.
Food is an essential element when discussing Black history and heritage. Black food culture is a great way to investigate history and identity because, in many ways, it connects Africa and America in a seamless manner. Plus, what better way to kick off or wind down a day of exploration than with a good meal from Black-owned restaurants or Black chefs? Check out this guide to discovering black history and food in Kentucky.
Kentucky’s largest city is steeped in Black history, and travelers can take a full day delving into the many landmarks, museums, sporting heroes and neighborhoods that played a role in the city’s development.
Stroll along the Louisville Civil Rights trail to follow the path of those who helped end segregation in the city. With 11 markers along the trail that highlight important sights, individuals and events in the fight for Civil Rights, this walk shows the impact of the movement on downtown Louisville. Visit the Frazier History Museum to find out more about the role African Americans played in creating Kentucky’s most well-known export, Bourbon. The Black Americans in Bourbon tour touches on the unheralded people and unheard stories around the history of the spirit.
Dive into The Unfiltered Truth Collection to experience and explore 7 remarkable stories of some extraordinary people in Louisville’s history.
No matter what your foodie interests, once you start feeling hunger pangs, Louisville has got you covered. If soul food is your thing, there are several amazing soul food restaurants in the city, but Shirley Mae’s Café and Bar is a must-visit for historically significant dishes like hot water cornbread, chitterlings and cobblers. For an authentic African dining experience, check out Funmi’s Café for colorful, savory dishes straight from Nigeria. And if you’re craving some ice cream, the black-owned Louisville Cream has drawn several major accolades, including Best Ice Cream in Kentucky by Food and Wine.
Lexington plays a major role in the story of Black history in the state as well. Given its connection to horse racing, there’s no surprise that the International Museum of the Horse is located here.
At the museum, you can explore the Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf permanent exhibit, which details the oft-forgotten contributions Black Americans made to the sport. In East Lexington, you can visit the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, built on the former homestead of one of the most successful Black jockeys of horse racing’s early days, and visit the final resting place of many unheralded Black jockeys at African Cemetery No. 2.
One of the rising chefs in the culinary world can be found at Lexington’s Honeywood restaurant. Executive Chef Lawrence Weeks grew up in central Kentucky and now brings his unique mix of flavors and history to the menu. Weeks was named a 2020 Smith Fellow by the Southern Foodways Alliance for his work in enriching Southern food culture.
The state capital plays an important role in preserving Black history and heritage, including the recent passage of bills designed to help preserve landmarks like the Hotel Metropolitan in Paducah.
While visiting Frankfort, you can take a break from the Capitol Building by visiting the oldest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the state, Kentucky State University. Founded in 1886 as only the second state-supported institution of higher learning, KSU hosted Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 for commencement. Frankfort has a large Civil War presence as well, and while this can be difficult for some travelers, the African American Civil War Memorial is a source of pride for many. This 10-foot limestone pillar honors the 25,000 Black Kentuckians who fought for the Union during the conflict.
Stop by the recently opened Gigi’s Kitchen for a taste of authentic soul food that includes chicken, fish and their special sides, which change daily.
Elizabethtown and surrounding area
Black farmers were a critical element of Kentucky’s development and growth, but their toil has been completely overlooked. And while there are only 600 Black-owned farms throughout the state, the connection between the land and heritage is starting to grow once again.
In Bonnieville, Travis Cleaver followed his dream and spent his own money to create Cleav’s Family Market, a working, 55-acre farm that uses sustainable agriculture practices to produce naturally raised meats and produce. While the policy on visitors isn’t clear, Cleav’s Family Market does sell its products both online and in-person throughout the region, including in Elizabethtown.
If you have something a little more upscale in mind after a day on the farm, Waters Edge Winery & Bistro in Elizabethtown in a Black-owned restaurant offering brunch, sandwiches and appetizers to the first winery in Etown.
Written by Elliott Smith
January 17, 2022