In Depth: Abe Lincoln And Jefferson Davis Not The Only Native Kentuckians To Become Presidents.

Feb 13, 2012

WUKY and the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum are commemorating Black History Month with lesser known stories of prominent local African-Americans. In this segment, curator Yvonne Giles introduces us to Lexington's Alfred Russell who, for a time presided over the African nation of Liberia.

Alfred Russell was born in Kentucky to Milly, an enslaved of Jane Todd Irvin. When Jane died, here daughter, Mary Owen Todd Russell inherited her estate. Mary learned that John Russell, her son, had fathered Alfred.

Mary O.T. Russell purchased Milly and Alfred from the estate of her mother in 1825, preventing their sale to slave traders of the southern market for purchase by others.

They remained in the Russell household until 1833 when they left for Liberia; a nation created by the American and Kentucky Colonization Societies which offered freedom to enslaved African Americans if they would relocate to Liberia on the west coast of Africa.

Alfred and his mother, Milly, as well as other members of the Russell family: Lucy, Sinthia, Gilbert, George and Henry, walked to Frankfort and then to Louisville where they boarded a riverboat for their trip to New Orleans.

On April 20, 1833, they boarded the ship, Ajax, which took them to Liberia. On arrival, they faced quarantine, poor housing, scarce food sources and inadequate medical service.

In a letter written by Alfred in 1855, he stated, "We have suffered in Africa and suffered greatly. It was so long before we could find Africa out, how to live in it and what to do to live, that it almost cost us death seeking life. To receive notice that goods had been sent, and even to see them, was one thing but getting them was another."

Alfred served as Vice President from 1878 to 1883 and President from 1883 to 1884 of Liberia which had declared its independence in 1847.

You can learn more about Alfred Russell and many other historical figures, at the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum in the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center on Georgetown Street; the former location of Lexington's Colored Orphan Industrial Home.