While well-intentioned, placing a historical marker to commemorate the Corbin 1919 Race Riot, as the Sunup Initiative has proposed, probably isn’t the best idea in the world for multiple reasons.
First, some background about the incident for anyone unfamiliar with it, which would include pretty much no one, who has lived in or around Corbin for most of their lives.
On Oct. 30, 1919, an angry mob led by Steve “Pistol Pete” Rogers took to the streets of Corbin in an effort to round up the approximately 200 African-American residents and force them to leave town after a white man had been mugged by two black men, according to stories that have surfaced over the years.
There were some white Corbin residents, who unsuccessfully tried to stop this and protect their black friends and neighbors. Rogers eventually went to the state penitentiary for his role in the incident.
The event left Corbin saddled with a reputation for decades as a “sundown town” for minorities, and especially African-American people. This reputation unfairly continues for Corbin to some degree to this day.
In 2019, at the urging of the Sunup Initiative, Corbin leaders approved a proclamation to acknowledge that past and move forward.
Now the Sunup Initiative wants Corbin to apply for a historical marker “to acknowledge the events of the past in order to move forward.”
“It is not like a monument to this event proclaiming that it was great or anything like that,” Sunup Initiative member Kathryn Engle told the Corbin City Commission recently.
While the Sunup Initiative doesn’t intend this to be a monument to an event that was “great or anything like that,” others might very well have a different take on that, and want to commemorate it for different reasons.
Let’s face it. There are groups out there that believe running every Black or African-American person out of town to be a good thing, and would celebrate it.
What happens when the KKK or some other group composed of some idiot white supremacists decide they want to commemorate this event for all the wrong reasons and do so at this historical marker.
What happens when the counter protesters show up? What happens if the two groups clash and do so violently, which would be a very real possibility? What happens if the two groups are armed and they clash?
I think everyone gets my point.
Secondly, it’s a historical marker that Sunup officials acknowledge likely “would get shot at or graffitied.” I think that one speaks for itself.
Let me be clear. I am not saying Corbin shouldn’t work on race relations.
Given that many of the African-American people forced out of Corbin during the 1919 event were here working on the railroad, Corbin City Commissioner Trent Knuckles probably has the best idea, which would be to place an exhibit in the eventual train museum detailing the event.
This way the exhibit would at least be somewhat protected, and context could be offered about the event.
If the Sunup Initiative wants to educate young people about what happened, then I would suggest working with Corbin schools to teach a segment about it during Black History Month.
To people of color afraid to visit Corbin solely because of something that happened over 100 years ago, I would say this.
Corbin is a great place to live and a great place to visit.
We have great local restaurants. We have a vibrant downtown. We have a happening arena, which brings in nationally known acts on a regular basis to perform. We are home of the original Kentucky Fried Chicken, which has a cool new museum that should open soon. We boast one of the state’s greatest natural wonders, Cumberland Falls, just down the road from us.
Yes, there are some racists, who live in and around Corbin as there are every where else. No, Corbin isn’t a racist town.
Corbin has issues just like every city, but by and large, Corbin is a nice, safe welcoming place to live and visit.
Please come and check us out, and make a stop in downtown Williamsburg too while you are in the area.