Honoring Black History: Repurposing Historical Symbols in Owensboro

Black History Month

A small building with big history.

“This church was founded right after slavery, 1871.”

Formed by freed slaves, George Washinton Carver once spoke inside the walls where hymns are sung, and sermons are spoken.

More than 100 years later, the congregation is still making history.

“They made history by selecting me to be their pastor as the first black woman to pastor a baptist church in our city and also western Kentucky.”

Rhondalyn Randolph is the leader of Pleasant Point Missionary Baptist Church. While not a native of Owensboro, Randolph spent time in the town as a young girl, and it’s where she and her family have called home now for many years.

After being elected pastor at Pleasant Point Baptist, Rhondalyn helped the church have its history recognized.

Along with George Washington Carver’s visit in 1909, the oldest black church in Daviess County is also the site of the most black veteran burial graves.

Along with Randolph’s natural talent of leadership, comes an affinity for history. In 2017, when white supremacists protested the removal of a Confederate statue she recognized the moment she was living in.

“I dug in a little bit deeper. I said it may be part of their heritage, but their heritage has been hijacked for hate.”

Motivated by the moment, Rhondalyn didn’t have to look far, sitting on the courthouse lawn in downtown Owensboro is a statue honoring Confederate soldiers, built in 1900.

Standing for more than a century, Rhondalyn began a movement to take it down.

“They didn’t laugh at us but it was like okay, you’re making some noise we’ll let you speak but we’re not going to do it.”

A failed attempt to accomplish her goal.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, Rhondalyn felt like she could try again.

“There are marvelous works that can be done if we all come together and we stand against injustice.”

After a peace rally led by Rhondalyn and others where hundreds gathered, she knew this time may be different.

“It started to get the ear of a whole lot more people that had a whole lot more influence, so it demanded that they address the issue.”

A recemt and unanimous vote by county leaders now has the statue being taken down.

Just a few blocks away from the statue sits another piece of Owensboro’s history, a wall. Constructed in the 1950’s at the site of Kendall Perkins Park to segregate the black neighborhood of town, from the white one on the other side. Also sitting at the spot in the 50’s was a swimming pool for black children only. The reason the wall was built, was so the white neighbors on the other side didn’t have to see them.

“Some of these same homes they were here back then, but they didn’t want to look at the black kids swimming so the city was forced to go ahead and put up that wall there so they didn’t have to participate in anyway with the black community,” said Richard Brown.

Brown has lived in Owensboro for more than 75 years. He grew up in the town that was segregated. Brown also served his country as a member of the Army, being stationed in Germany from 1962-1964.

The world and his hometown have changed in many ways over the last few decades. Brown remembers a time where neighborhoods like Baptist town and Mechanicsville were some of the only places where black families lived.

“We had Western school which I attended, which was an all black school.”

Brown remembers the black neighborhoods of town filled with businesses but also segregation.

Thy symbol that once sat as a line of segregation is now being turned into a piece of inspiration. Local artist Aaron Kizer is transforming the wall into a canvas filled with African American inspired paintings.

“It’s still standing. That is the wall, the symbolism of racism, but the painting represents a new day, and the dawning of changes taking place,” shared Brown.

Signs of progress, but also signs of work that needs to be done. The wall paintings were recently defaced with racist grafitti.

“They sit in a nice comfort zone and do nothing. That’s the worst thing you can do, is do nothing,” said Brown.

As for the statue, an agreement has been made to move a portion to a museum, but a final date for it’s removal hasn’t been solidified. No matter when it happens, it’s going to happen, in large part due to Rhondalyn Randolph and black leaders like her in the community.

“I picture that day to feel like a burden has been lifted. That I can actually, visually see progress being made, that the community as a whole can see the benefits of working together for a just cause.”

The monument is going to be separated into two pieces. While the statue of the soldier is going to a museum, the pedestal with the words “confederate” visible will go miles to the south. It’s slated to sit outside at the site of a civil war battle.

(This story was originally published on February 18, 2021)

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories