Soul of Second Street photographic exhibit looking to add displays

Published 8:32 am Monday, November 27, 2017

When Kentucky officially kicked off its 225th anniversary in Danville this past June, a permanent photographic exhibit featuring Danville’s Historic African-American Second Street Business District was unveiled inside Grayson’s Tavern at Constitution Square Historic Site. The display is only a portion of photographs gathered by Michael Hughes, of Danville, and features many of the people, families and businesses that made the area a vibrant social scene and thriving business district for the African-American community during the 1920s through the 1950s.

The photos were originally displayed at Pioneer Playhouse during the play “Good Blues Tonight” written by Robbie Henson and focusing on the same era. The exhibit also spurred the local Soul of Second Street Festival.

Jennifer Kirchner, director of the Danville-Boyle County Visitors and Convention Bureau (CVB), said they are now ready to take the exhibit a step further.

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Kirchner said they are seeking to locate and display any items that would enhance this exhibit. For example, she is asking the public to loan or donate objects, such as period clothing that could be displayed on a mannequin, or even an old barber chair or something from a barber shop, anything which would help illustrate the time period.

“It would be a bonus,” if someone could donate something specifically from a Second Street African American business, she said. Or, any “culturally specific items … We’d be willing to work with anybody on that,” she said.

Robin Hart/
Michael Hughes, a Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau board member who has collected old photographs of the African-American Business District in Danville sits in front of “The Man” which is part of the permanent photographic display inside Grayson’s Tavern. Hughes said “The Man” is unidentified. The CVB is hoping to expand the exhibit with a few items depicting the era of the Second Street business districtls heyday and is asking the public for possible loans or donations of these items.

Hughes, who is also on the Heart of Danville board and member of the Danville-Boyle County African-American Historical Society, said if a person only wanted to loan an item for two or three months, that would be fine too. He said his photographs were initially focused on the Second Street District. His focus now has evolved to include most of the African-American culture in Boyle County.

“It was a really thriving time,” in the Second Street area, Kirchner said, referring to the decades of the 1920s through the ’50s. 

Hughes added, “People just felt engaged when they came to Second Street.” 

He said they worked domestic jobs and other jobs, “but when they came to Second Street, they had a good time. There was so much going on.” Hughes said there were restaurants, stores, dry cleaners churches and even a movie theater just for  African-Americans.

Hughes described the area as being a fun place to hang out and watch people.

“It will be interesting to see what people come up with,” Kirchner said. An old juke box “would be very cool,” she said. And, “the mantel is begging for something,” as she pointed to a bare space hanging over the fireplace. She felt like it would be a great spot to set several representative objects to enhance the photographic exhibit.

“It’s hard to say what people could bring,” Hughes wondered.

Kirchner said, “It’s really an exciting project. We’re always looking for ways to keep it interesting and interactive.”

Kirchner said they are hoping the exhibit will continue to grow. She said it may be possible some day for the CVB to host small meetings for people to come and talk about the history of the Second Street area when it was in its heyday and share their recollections. 

She said said the African-American history is, “not very well captured at all. A lot of it is oral tradition. We need to get it documented. When we lose those people, we lose those stories.”

Kirchner said, “We are really interested to see what comes from it,” referring to possible donations. “Having local people come in and have these conversations and looking at the photos, their memories come back.” 

And being able to display a few items from that era would be another way to interpret and present the history of the local African-American culture in an interesting and engaging way.

In addition, Kirchner said on the state level, “they’re talking about increasing African-American tourism,” so this exhibit would be important to the community. 

“We really think that there’s a lot of value not only for community, but for tourism in general,” she said.

Anyone who has an item they want to contribute to the African-American Business District exhibit can contact Kirchner by calling (859) 236-7794; (859) 236-2361; or email

The Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau has listed the following as African American assets in the area:

African American exhibit in Grayson’s Tavern

Danville’s African American Business District, Historic Marker #1958

Danville Boyle County African American Historical Society

Doric Lodge, South Second Street (razed)

St. James AME Church, 124 East Walnut St.

Willis Russell Memorial Cabin, 204 East Walnut St., Historical Marker #2386

Dorma Sledd House, Martin Luther King Blvd.

Constitution Square Historic Site art exhibit, 105 East Walnut St.

Frank X Walker

William “Bunny” Davis

Soul of 2nd Street Festival

Bate Reunion

Amelia Sleet Burton School, 105 R.L. Sleet Street, Perryville


Aliceton African American, Boyle County

Atoka African American, Old Schoolhouse Road

Shelby City African-American, Short Acres Road

Worldstown Baker African American, Worldstown Road

Camp Nelson Historic Marker #2388, located in Jessamine County