Kentucky Historical Society
Kentucky Historical Society Provides Insight into Black History

Press Release Date:  Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Contact Information:  Lisa Murphy
502-564-1792 ext. 4486

The extremely rare portraits of a free, pre-Civil War African American couple are featured in the galleries of the Kentucky Historical Society. Now, the Society’s recent acquisition of the original 1814 emancipation documents of the woman featured in the portrait provides amazing context.


The two handsome portraits of a stately nineteenth-century couple hang side by side on permanent exhibit in the Kentucky Journey gallery at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. They bear little resemblance to the dim, stained canvases found in a barn a few years ago. Acquired and conserved with extreme care by the Kentucky Historical Society in 2000, these Patrick Henry Davenport paintings of Dennis and Diademia Doram were a significant addition to the Kentucky Historical Society collection.


Though portraits of prominent nineteenth-century couples are not unusual, the Doram portraits are extremely rare. This affluent couple was African-American, living free and apparently prosperously in the antebellum south.


Recently, one of the Dorams’ descendents, Mrs. Viola Gross, donated sixty-five original documents pertaining to the Doram-Rowe family. “This provides amazing context,” notes Mary Winter, recently retired director of collections and research services. “To stand in our permanent gallery and look at Diademia’s portrait and to know that now in the same building we have the original 1814 emancipation document that recorded her freedom is nothing short of astounding.”


Dennis Doram was among Danville, Kentucky’s most respected businessman, involved with several establishments, including the Caldwell School for Women, a rope factory, and a hemp business. By the 1840s, the Dorams had several thousand dollars in the bank and owned hundreds of acres. 

The emancipation document confirms that on April 11, 1814, Gibson [Taylor], a free man of color, paid Moses O. Bledsoe of Saint Louis, $700.00 for the freedom of his wife Cloe and her children.  This emancipation document was then recorded in Mercer County, Kentucky, for “Diademia one of the children of said Cloe” on December 30, 1835, and certified on March 7, 1836.


Many of the original documents provided are evidence for the family’s acquisition of land in Danville and Boyle County along the Dix River, thus establishing the Dorams as Danville’s most affluent African American family.  The collection also includes depositions, indentures, receipts, court records, and original poetry.


“We are deeply indebted to Mrs. Gross for donating this rare and significant collection,” notes Kent Whitworth, the Kentucky Historical Society’s executive director. “It provides amazing connections, perspective and inspiration as we try to present, protect and preserve the history of Kentuckians.”


In honor of Black History Month, the Kentucky Historical Society offers the following events and resources that spotlight African Americans and their role in Kentucky’s history throughout February.  For more information on these events, or for access to African American resources available from the Kentucky Historical Society, visit our Web site at


Online Resource

Since 1998, more than 200 Kentuckians have shared their memories of the civil rights movement in interviews with the Kentucky Oral History Commission.  Now their powerful stories, in their own words in video, audio and transcript format are available online on our Kentucky Civil Rights Movement database at


Museum Theatre

Nothing New for Easter:  Shopping for Civil Rights

Saturdays, 2:00 p.m., Center for Kentucky History

Travel back to 1960s Louisville with young Mattie Eleanor Lewis as she takes her place in the growing civil rights movement.  Free with admission.  To learn more, contact Greg Hardison, ext. 4454.


Brown Bag History

“Shadows of the Past”

Wednesday, February 1, noon, Center for Kentucky History

Celebrate African American History Month with historian Louis Stout for a look at the history of African American high school athletics programs before racial integration took place.  For adults.  Free.  Contact Joanie DiMartino, ext. 4467.


Genealogy Workshop

African American Genealogy

Saturday, February 11, 12:30-4 p.m., Martin F. Schmidt Library, Center for Kentucky History

Successful African American genealogy requires the overcoming of several research challenges, including the limitations of available records and the use and adoption of surnames in past centuries. This course explores resources available for African American research and the methods employed by successful genealogists. One and a half hours of research time is included. For more information, contact Beth Shields, ext. 4421.



An agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, the Kentucky Historical Society, since 1836, has provided connections to the past, perspective on the present and inspiration for the future.  KHS operates the Old State Capitol, Kentucky Military History Museum and its five-year-old headquarters, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.   Since 1999, the thirty-million-dollar Center for Kentucky History has welcomed almost one million visitors.   For more information about the Kentucky Historical Society and its programs, visit the Web at