The Reckoning

Facing the Legacy of Slavery in America

“The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future.”  —Dr. Michael Eric Dyson


Reckoning, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to examine the legacy of slavery in America, and to create ways for communities to engage with this information through research projects, media productions, educational curricula, online content, and other means. Since the 2020 premier of our public radio and podcast series, The Reckoning, our organization’s activities have expanded to include several different initiatives.  

1879, Louisa Taylor holding Helen Chenoweth Stites
1879, Louisa Taylor holding Helen Chenoweth Stites

The Reckoning Radio and Podcast Series

The Reckoning is a public radio and podcast series which traces the history and lasting impact of slavery in America. The first season, which premiered in 2020, examined how the institution unfolded in Kentucky. 

Kentucky stayed in the Union during the Civil War, seemingly on the right side of the battle over slavery, but the truth is more far more complex. Many white Kentuckians fought to hold onto slavery and the wealth the enslaved provided. In the years that followed, white citizens campaigned to downplay slavery’s role in the state’s economy and culture while working to deny Black citizens a seat at the table. 

As part of this story, we meet members of two families who were deeply affected by the institution of slavery. One is a prominent white family descended from both a major slave trader and one of Kentucky’s largest slave owners, the other an African American family who descend from two of the people enslaved by the white family.

These two families reflect how slavery touched nearly every person, place and institution in America, and how the country still needs to reconcile this painful past with the present — to recognize and reconcile the impact slavery has had on the health, wealth and safety of African Americans.

To learn more, please watch the video presentation below, recorded January 27, 2021 as part of the Locust Grove Living Room Lecture Series, and visit The Reckoning podcast page.

Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project

In researching The Reckoning, we found living descendants of people who were enslaved in Louisville on the Oxmoor plantation. One of the resources that helped locate them was a set of ledger books of African American Civil War soldiers from Kentucky which confirmed the name used in the Army by one of the Oxmoor enslaved. From the discovery of these ledger books, which include the names of the soldiers’ enslavers, this new project was born. 

We have begun this project by researching the lives of soldiers from counties that form the Louisville metropolitan area, going as far back as possible through slave schedules, wills, and estate settlements, and as far forward as possible, through pension documents, census data, and other resources, to create a set of documents for each man’s family.  We will then expand our scope to encompass the rest of Kentucky. According to experts at FamilySearch.org, there could be millions of descendants alive today directly related to the roughly nine thousand African American soldiers listed in these ledgers. The resulting information will be freely available to the public through a searchable online database available at kyusct.org.

To learn more, please read the June 19, 2022 Courier Journal cover story about the project, and watch the video presentation below, recorded in December 2021 at a virtual event for the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.

Pvt. Abram Garvin, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Pvt. Abram Garvin, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

On this episode of the Think Humanities podcast, host Bill Goodman talks to Dan Gediman, a noted radio producer, about the Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project, which uses historical documents to identify African American soldiers from Kentucky who fought in the Civil War.

John W. Fields, 1937, age 89
John W. Fields, 1937, age 89

Oral Histories of Formerly Enslaved Kentuckians


One of the goals of Reckoning, Inc. is to collect as many source documents as possible that pertain to slavery in Kentucky. Perhaps the most powerful of these are the first-person testimonials of the enslaved themselves.  

Unfortunately, there are no known audio or video recordings of formerly enslaved Kentuckians, but there were numerous print interviews that were done in the 1930s, some by African American scholars affiliated with Fisk University but most by writers and folklorists associated with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Writers’ Project. 

These interviews are organized into topics and by the name of the formerly enslaved person. It is possible to browse excerpts, read the full transcripts, and search by keyword. These oral histories can be accessed here.

Curricula 


Research into the legacy of slavery for
The Reckoning series revealed an abundance of primary source materials well-suited for the classroom.  Kathy Swan, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at University of Kentucky, led the effort to develop inquiry-based curricula to share these valuable resources with educators across the state.

Reckoning, Inc.’s resources for elementary, middle, and high school educators include a searchable database of over 100 oral histories of formerly enslaved Kentuckians, as well as inquiry materials aligned to the Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies. Educators will also find resources to support teaching responsibly with archival oral histories.

Learn more

Unknown Kentucky sharecroppers
Unknown Kentucky sharecroppers

We sincerely thank our funders for their generous support!