The SEEK MUSEUM at THE BIBB HOUSE begins with the arrival of Revolutionary War Major Richard Bibb with the dozens of people enslaved by him in Russellville, KY. in the 1790’s. Bibb eventually emancipated nearly 100 enslaved people, and their struggles for equality in an area of legalized slavery are told. This museum is located at Bibb's 1817 urban plantation that includes his townhouse and the adjacent kitchen/laundry work building. It is one of the few public museums in America that tells the stories of both the slavery and the emancipations that occurred onsite.
Slavery in Kentucky at the Bibb House
Richard Bibb came to Kentucky after the state's government had adopted a Constitution that legalized and protected slavery. He had inherited slaves and was the second largest slaveholder in his home county in Virginia, and he brought those enslaved people with him when he came to Kentucky and eventually settled in the western frontier of Logan County. The lives of Major Bibb and his family and the lives of the enslaved people are explored and told from within the walls of their home and workplaces.
Richard Bibb had been exposed to anti-slavery sentiment in central Virginia, and he agreed to send 31 of the people that were enslaved by him to Liberia as part of the project developed by the American Colonization Society. This was the largest number of people sent to Liberia by any Kentuckian, and the Museum addresses the struggles of these individuals and the role of the ACS in the anti-slavery movement.
At Bibb's death in 1839, he emancipated the 65 people that were still enslaved by him and provided financial assets to them. Two communities (Upper and Lower Bibbtowns) were settled in Logan County by the freed people. Their struggles for real freedom and for some measure of equality took place in a world where slavery was still legal and racial discrimination was the norm. The legal ownership of the land that they had inherited was not given to the freed people until the 1880s.
The SEEK MUSEUM in THE BOTTOM is located in a National Register Historic District that was settled primarily by formerly enslaved people. The area developed into a vibrant, yet segregated, residential and commercial neighborhood. Museum exhibits about the cultural heritage of the area, segregation and racial violence and the struggles for civil rights are displayed in the 1810 Morton-Kimbrough house, the 1880 Cooksey House, the 1890 Orendorff-Townsend House, the 1929 Rosenwald school and the 1945 Payne-Dunnigan House.
The Cultural Heritage of the Bottom
The cultural heritage of the Bottom began before the Civil War when some of the formerly enslaved people who had been freed by Richard Bibb, settled in the Bottom. After the War, it became the primary residential and business area for the newly freed people to live and work. Several veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops used their pensions to pay for their homes, and churches, schools and businesses were built. A strong sense of community and a unique cultural heritage developed as these residents shared their struggles for justice and equality.
Barriers to Equality: Segregation and Mob Violence
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the political control of Logan County returned to ex-Confederates. Segregation became the law of the land resulting in separate facilities for schools and restrictions in public and private places. Racial based violence (including the lynching of 19 people in the county) by the Night Riders, Ku Klux Klan and others created terror and fear of the lawless mobs. As the Bottom was developing as a commercial and residential hub for the freed people in the segregated society, their struggles for equality and justice continued amidst the legal obstacles and the threats of violence.
The struggles for equality and justice were present from the early days of the Bottom, and the stories of these struggles and the victories that were achieved are celebrated in the museum. One of the most notable heroes is Alice Allison Dunnigan, a Logan County native who became the first female, African American to be admitted to the White House and Congressional Press Corps. A bronze statue of her has been installed on the museum grounds in the center of a park dedicated to the struggles for civil rights, and the site of part of the national Civil Rights Trail.