African Americans made considerable contributions to the Northern Kentucky community. Some have been recognized, many have been forgotten. Finding primary resources can be problematic. African Americans historically were not well documented in area newspapers. In addition, few repositories actively sought their personal papers or other records. In an effort to address this inequality, the Kenton County Public Library is collecting the history of the African American community in our region. The following are a few examples.

Jacob Price is primarily known for the former public housing complex in the east side neighborhood of Covington. Price was a Baptist minister and leader in Covington’s African American community. Born in April 1839 in Woodford County, Ky., he was married to Mary Singer Price who shared in his work.

Jacob Price moved to Covington in 1859. In the 1860 Census, he is listed as a free man of color. By 1864, he was named pastor of the Black Baptist Church on Bremen Street (eventually, the congregation re-located to East Ninth Street). Price was an early advocate for educational opportunities for Covington’s African American population. On April 17, 1866, a group of concerned citizens, including Price, met in the Covington City Hall to establish a school for African American children. The first classes at the new school were held in his home at 61 Bremen St. Eventually the school was absorbed by the Covington Public School System. In 1886, Price worked diligently to establish a high school for African Americans in Covington. That year, William Grant High School opened its doors. The Prices’ daughter, Ann, was in the first graduating class in 1889. She became a long-time teacher in Covington’s African American public schools.

Jacob Price was a well-known lumber dealer in the region. He established his business in 1881. A decade later, sales had increased to $15,000 per year, and the firm employed two delivery teams. The business was located on Madison Avenue in the heart of the city’s business district. Price operated the business until about 1914. Jacob Price died on March 1, 1923 in Covington. His widow and two children survived him. Services were conducted at the First Baptist Church (African American) on East Ninth Street. Burial was in Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Ky. His small obituary in the Kentucky Post stated, “He was held in high esteem by both races.” Mary Singer Price, Jacob’s wife, died April 20, 1924.

African Americans also made contributions to health care in our region. Among the earliest was Dr. James E. Randolph who was born on Jan. 17, 1888 in Frankfort, Pike County, Mo. He was the grandson of a slave. He received his medical degree from Meharry College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1917 and began practicing medicine in Shelbyville, Tenn. In 1922, Dr. Randolph and his family moved to Covington. He began his practice at 1039 Greenup St. and in 1950 moved to 1002 Greenup St. He was the first African American physician to be on the staff of St. Elizabeth Hospital and the first African American physician to be a member of the Campbell-Kenton Medical Society. A large percentage of the African American babies born in Covington between 1922 and 1958 were delivered by Dr. Randolph. Randolph received numerous honors during his long career. In 1976, LaSalette Academy awarded the doctor with a gold medal for his service to the community in the field of science. The city of Covington also named a park in the east side neighborhood in honor of Dr. Randolph in 1975. In 1997, he was posthumously inducted into the Northern Kentucky Leadership Hall of Fame. Dr. Randolph was an active member of St. James A.M.E. Church in Covington and served as president of the Kentucky A.M.E. Organization of Lay Members. He died May 23, 1981 at the Baptist Convalescent Center in Newport. He was survived by a sister, three nieces and three great-nieces. Funeral services were conducted at St. James A.M.E. Church with burial at the Mary Smith Cemetery in Elsmere.

African Americans were also active in Covington’s business community and politics. Among the most well known was James Simpson. Born July 24, 1928 in Somerset, Ky., Simpson was educated in the city’s public schools. He joined the United States Army in 1947. Simpson took advantage of GI Bill funds to finance his education at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and graduated with a degree in 1951. In the following year he began working at the C.E. Jones Funeral Home in Covington, which served the African American community of Northern Kentucky. In May 1961, Anna Jones, the owner of the funeral home retired. At that time, Simpson purchased the business and changed the named to Jones & Simpson Funeral Home. Ten years later, James Simpson ran successfully for Covington City Commission. He was the first African American to win a city commission election in the history of Covington. Simpson served the full two-year term. He later finished an un-expired term on the commission in 1991. Simpson was active in many civic groups. He served on the following boards: Kenton County Airport Board (included a term as chairman), People’s Liberty Bank Board of Directors, Booth Hospital Board of Trustees, St. Elizabeth Hospital Board and the Kenton County TB Sanatorium Board. Simpson was also one of the founders of the Northern Kentucky Community Center in the east side neighborhood of Covington. James Simpson Jr. died Feb, 18, 1999. He was survived by his widow, Zona Simpson, and four children: James Simpson III, Ronald Simpson, Adrienne Simpson and Arnold Simpson, a former city manager of Covington and current Kentucky State Representative. Funeral services were held at the First Baptist Church on Ninth Street in Covington with burial at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell.

These three individuals represent only a small portion of the African Americans in our region who contributed generously to the community. Their struggles and successes are beacons to current generations and remind all of us how important each person’s life is to our region.

Dave Schroeder is the executive director of the Kenton County Public Library. He serves on many regional and state boards including Friends of the Kentucky Public Archives and the Northern Kentucky Education Council


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