“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 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to examine the legacy of slavery and resulting race relations in the Americas, 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.

Learn more

 Religion and Slavery Project

In the coming years we will continue to produce content for The Reckoning radio and podcast series. This will take the form of several multi-episode documentaries on a particular subject related to our mission. The first will be a series about the role religion played in the institution of slavery.

From its inception as a state, Kentucky debated the role of slavery in its constitution and laws, with clergy at the forefront of the conversations. There had been a failed effort by Presbyterian minister David Rice to include a prohibition against slavery in Kentucky’s first two constitutions in 1792 and 1799, and two Baptist ministers, David Barrow and Carter Tarrant, formed the Kentucky Abolition Society in 1808. On the other hand, in the Catholic counties of Central Kentucky, there were some of the highest rates of enslavement in the country, with several religious orders owning enslaved people as well as the archbishop himself. In 1845, the nation’s largest denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, broke in two over the issue of slavery at a national convention held in Louisville. And when Kentucky again considered amending its constitution in 1849 to either outlaw or strengthen slavery in the state, constitutional delegates used passages from Scripture to support their opposing arguments.

In fact, the intersection of religion and slavery is so critical to Kentucky, we decided to make it the focus of a special series of episodes in the second season of The Reckoning. Pending sufficient funding, we expect to launch this series during 2022. 

Learn more

Memorial at Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Motherhouse
Memorial at Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Motherhouse
Sergeant Samuel Smith, his wife Mollie Smith, and daughters Mary and Maggie Smith
Sergeant Samuel Smith, his wife Mollie Smith, and daughters Mary and Maggie Smith

Kentucky African American Civil War Soldiers 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 over fifteen million 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 on the project’s website and other means

Learn more

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.

John W. Fields, 1937, age 89
John W. Fields, 1937, age 89
Unknown Kentucky sharecroppers
Unknown Kentucky sharecroppers

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

The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, provides American Rescue Plan Funds to Reckoning, Inc. with federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. www.artscouncil.ky.gov 

Funding has been provided by Kentucky Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed at in this program, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Kentucky Humanities. https://www.kyhumanities.org/


The National Endowment for the Humanities and Reckoning, Inc. together: Democracy demands wisdom.  https://www.neh.gov/