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The Lincoln Institute: A standard in Kentucky education

This history behind what was once a premier school for African Americans in Shelby County, Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Today, the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Job Corps Training Center helps teach young people the skills they need to succeed through career and academic training. Years before, that area was the campus of the Lincoln Institute, a place that helped shape the lives of hundreds of students, and set a standard of education for young African Americans.  

Interracial classrooms were a way of life for students at Berea College, but things changed in 1904 when the Kentucky Legislature passed the Day Law. The law stopped African Americans and white students from getting an education at the same school.

"I lived exactly one block walking distance from the nearest high school which was Shelbyville, but because of segregation, we were not allowed to attend school in Shelbyville," Vivian Warren Overall said.

With the passage of the Day Law, the doors were closed to Blacks at Berea College, but on October 1, 1912, those students were welcomed inside the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky.   

"This was...a family-oriented campus," Overall said. 

The Lincoln Institute started with just 85 students but soon grew by the hundreds, with students coming from all over the state of Kentucky. 

"We had people from Anchorage, Berrytown, Louisville, LaGrange, Lawrenceburg, Eminence, which is in Henry County," Overall said.  

The Lincoln Institute was soon recognized as one of the premier schools for African Americans, including boarding students from places like Honduras and Cuba.

MOMENTS THAT MATTER: Celebrating Black History in Kentucky and southern Indiana

Men worked on the farm, while women worked in the library and the post office. Overall said her teachers made sure students stayed on the straight and narrow.

"They didn't have a problem reaching out to your parents to let them know that you had strayed from their teaching," she said.

It was a place where the curriculum was rich in both education and life. Beyond books, the lessons the students learned at the Lincoln Institute carried throughout their lives. 

"The teachers were like family to us, they cared," Overall said.  

After more than 50 years of education, the Lincoln Institute held its final graduation in 1966. The legacy of the Lincoln Institute lives on through The Lincoln Foundation, which holds a year-round educational program focused on talented kids who may be facing economic disadvantages.

"Whether it's poverty or whether it's just additional studies that they need, the Lincoln Foundation has a program to help them be successful," Overall said. 

The Lincoln Foundation keeps its educational programs going thanks to dozens of sponsors and donations.  If you would like to help, you can find information on their website at Lincolnfd.org.

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