The community of Jonesville lives on primarily in memories and a historic marker on the Western Kentucky University campus.
We are glad to see that is slowly changing.
Jonesville was a roughly 30-acre historically Black community bounded by Russellville Road, Dogwood Drive and the L&N railroad tracks.
It was established in 1881 by formerly enslaved people who had fought for the Union during the Civil War. By the turn of the century, it had grown to be the home of about 500 residents and numerous Black-owned businesses and churches.
That all changed in the late 1950s.
Growing Western Kentucky University coveted the land for the expansion of its athletic facilities. The university started buying up properties, and when some property owners refused to sell, the WKU Board of Regents started condemnation proceedings, allowing the university to take the private property against the owners’ will.
Through the process, many Jonesville residents were given only token amounts – as small as a paltry $100 – for their properties.
The former Jonesville is now home to Houchens-Smith Stadium, E.A. Diddle Arena and the Nick Denes baseball field.
As the Daily News’ Sarah Michels reported last week, WKU is reckoning with its role in the destruction of Jonesville in a new Kentucky Museum exhibit opening later this month titled “Honoring Jonesville: Our People, Our Community, Our Legacy.”
The exhibit includes oral histories from Jonesville residents and descendants and is the first project of the Jonesville Reconciliation Workgroup.
The workgroup was established by WKU President Timothy Caboni last spring to look at ways for the university to acknowledge and make amends for the destruction of Jonesville.
While the number of former Jonesville residents is dwindling, it is still important to remember and address the history.
Dr. Saundra Ardrey, WKU political science associate professor and member of the workgroup, said the exhibit aims to recognize the achievements of Jonesville while also allowing WKU to do “a little soul-searching.”
The workgroup is planning further conferences, events and discussions on next steps.
“This is not just a one and done,” Ardrey said.
Alice Gatewood Waddell is a Jonesville descendant and the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission executive director. She said she hopes that the exhibit and workgroup projects are a catalyst for eduction, “so that history does not repeat itself.”
As Waddell put it succinctly, “If you don’t know any better, you can’t do any better.”