County activities feature
local re-enactor Booker
LA GRANGE, Ky. (February 2005) Many re-enactors
and Chautauqua performers spend years perfecting their knowledge of
a certain historical figure so they can accurately portray this person
before an audience. But for La Grange, Ky., local Diane Booker, this
was an easy task.
Diane Booker shares
what life was like for
her cousin, Cora Harris,
during the 1940s,
1950s and 1960s.
Booker has recently begun portraying someone she knows
well: her cousin Cora Harris. Bookers persona describes a major
portion of Harris life as an African American in Oldham County
during the 40s and 60s. She will give children a glimpse into Harris
life from 10 a.m. until noon Feb. 5 at the Oldham County History Center.
Born in 1901, Harris was one of the first African Americans to get a
diploma from the La Grange Training School, said Booker. Harris was
one of two children, and her brother, John, was allowed to attend Lincoln
Institute while Harris was not because she was a woman. But Harris
father was insistent that both of his children get an education.
Harris was the first African American to pass the entrance exam to Central
High. On weekdays, she boarded a train bound for Louisville at 6 a.m.
and arrived home again by 8 to do the evening chores. She eventually
had to leave school to take care of her ailing mother.
Harris then began working for Mammoth Life Insurance Agency, a successful
African American business began by two Louisville businessmen. She traveled
the countryside in her Model T, collecting insurance premiums. This
was really something for a woman to do at this time in history, said
Harris resided in a house at 206 Madison St. in La Grange with her husband.
Even though they had no children, Harris was always a caregiver. She
cared for a niece who was blind and often cooked for different people
in need in the community. She was a very loving, caring person,
Mary Bullitt, Harris grandmother, was a slave to the Duncan family
who owned the house a block east of the Oldham County History Center.
After the Civil War, the Duncans deeded a house to Bullitt.
Harriss grandfather, Washington Bullitt was a free man. He was
a friend of abolitionist and educator Elijah Marrs, said Nancy Theiss,
executive director of the History Center. Marrs and Bullitt were instrumental
in beginning a Freedmans School in La Grange. There were only
19 of these federally funded schools in Kentucky. Bullitt also helped
found the Kynett Church shortly after the Civil War.
The house in which Harris lived was full of history. The Clore family
of Oldham County gave it to her grandfather. Washington gave it to Harris
father, who in turn, passed it on to her. Her brother moved on to Michigan,
where he lived and raised his family.
By portraying a person so close to her, Booker didnt have to put
in as much research time as some re-enactors do, having grown up her
entire life knowing Harris. One of Harris nieces loaned papers
to Booker, documenting the house she lived in and other things in Harris
life, so Booker could include these facts into her persona.
What Booker did have to spend time researching was the time period in
Oldham County history when Harris lived. She interviewed many older
people in the community
and said her only regret was that she didnt do this earlier.
She learned volumes about the county and its elderly people, who shared
many memories that coincided with Harris life.
I really like doing it, said Booker of her portrayal of
Harris. Booker, a life-long resident of Oldham County, said it was Theiss
who approached her with the idea of portraying Harris. Since last years
Juneteenth celebration, Theiss had been searching for something
like this, said Booker.
Theiss said Booker became involved with the History Center through the
African American Heritage Committee, formed last year. Harris had been
a part-time receptionist for Theisss fathers veterinary
business, in addition to doing some domestic work at Theisss house.
Harris was also a very close family friend of my familys.
I knew Cora all my life, said Theiss.
Booker hopes to some day take her portrayal into local schools and continue
working through the History Center to provide insight into Harris
life during the 20th century in Oldham County.
Theiss said Harris was a community leader, respected for her leadership
and service in her church. She was always the center of activities for
fund raising. Harris was an important figure in the community because
like so many African Americans during he time, she worked in her
community to improve the educational opportunities in a committed way
without recognition or support.
Booker said she hopes children will learn how difficult and different
it was for an African American person growing up in the previous century.
She also wants students to learn why humans treated African Americans
the way they did, she said. It hasnt always been easy.
We are a people of strong possibilities and deep faith.
She mainly wants audiences to see us as a person. Bookers
performance is part of a series of Finding My Sense of Place Childrens
Workshops, offered on Saturdays at the History Center. The workshops
expose children to the unique cultural and natural history events making
Oldham County a special place.
For more information, contact the History
Center at (502) 222-0826.
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