Free Black Entrepreneurs -
A Neighborhood for Free Black Entrepreneurs
Sign #2 275 S. Limestone Street
Lexington’s free black community was filled with driven individuals who, more often than not, purchased their own freedom and went on to either free or purchase their enslaved family members. As this community grew, they were not residentially segregated. Rather, freed blacks lived alongside white households throughout the city. Although still severely restricted in their movements and rights, freedmen provided a range of services for Lexington’s economy. A quarter of freed-peoples were able to acquire enough wealth to join the middle and upper-classes of the Antebellum Era.
Despite many obstacles, a few free black elites owned and/or built homes throughout Lexington. In 1840, 41 freedmen held 58 pieces of real estate. At least three homes have been concretely linked to Lexington’s free black community and are concentrated in the South Hill neighborhood.
Michael and Hannah Clarke built their home in 1818 at 344 South Upper Street in South Hill. Mr. Clarke worked as a carpenter and waiter; Mrs. Clarke was both a laundress and seamstress. Next door, the blacksmith Rolley Blue purchased 346 South Upper Street to use as a rental for other freed families. To the east of Blue’s property sits the Oldham house*. At 245 South Limestone Street, the home was built in 1835 by Samuel and Daphney Oldham. A duplex at 331 South Mill Street was home James and Arena Turner. Mr. Turner was a minister of St. Paul AME Church, and the Turner home served as a station in the Underground Railroad. Farther southwest, Downtown confectionery owners Billy and Hannah Tucker lived at 521 South Upper Street. This clustering shows that South Hill was as important a neighborhood for Lexington’s white elite as it was for prominent members of the freed black community.