A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: The Lumpkins Family of Newport, major contributors to betterment of their community

By Shirlene Jensen

Special to NKyTribune

Part 8 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020”

As many historians know, it is often difficult to find more than just basic resources and information about African Americans before and after the Civil War. In the 1810 census for Campbell County, Kentucky, there were 438 enslaved people and one free black. Just after the census was taken, Susan Lumpkins was born in Newport, Kentucky in 1811. The story of her family deserves recognition for their many achievements.

The Lumpkins family was enslaved to the James Taylor V family from the early days of Newport. When Taylor died in 1848, he named in his will, Susan and her husband, Burl Lumpkins, and others to be freed. He provided a wagon, a mule and tools that the family could use to take care of themselves.

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For more information on the Taylor family, see Our Rich History articles:
• The Taylor family settling into prosperous rivertown
• James Taylor V and the first public school
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Burl and Susan Lumpkins had several children, who grew up in the shadow of the slave auction block at the courthouse. It was a mere six blocks from where they lived on Taylor Street and only two blocks from the Newport Barracks. The American flag flew over both. The irony of that image was not lost on any of the enslaved in the county, even if most whites did not understand it. Whenever a slave owner died, often his slaves were sold at that auction block. Even if the Lumpkins family was free, it did not prevent slave hunters from kidnapping them and selling them elsewhere.

After Taylor died, Burl and Susan knew that being free meant more than just being able to go about their business as they pleased. In 1851 they tested their newfound freedom by gathering at William S. Bailey’s house in Newport. Bailey was a white man who published a newspaper called the Free South about abolishing slavery. At this gathering, he not only spoke about how evil slavery was but encouraged others, including blacks, to speak out about it.

The Dayton National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, was established in 1867. William and Washington Lumpkins were both buried here. (Courtesy of nps.gov)

Can you imagine a white man asking Burl and Susan what they thought about slavery? It led to a lively discussion, and the family found a way to voice their thoughts. However, the neighbors noticed something was going on with so many blacks arriving at Bailey’s house because the sheriff showed up and arrested Bailey. He was fined for mingling with blacks in his home and had to appear in court to pay the fine.

The Taylor Street Methodist Episcopal Church was started in Newport in 1802, 
and with support from the Beecher family in Cincinnati, bought a building in 1833. When Burl Lumpkins was a young man, Taylor “allowed” him to attend services there. Burl came to know all the blacks in the county through his association with this church, as it became the center where blacks could gather together for activities and information. This put Lumpkins in a position to help any runaways he may have come in contact with to make their way to freedom across the Ohio River.

Freedom also meant responsibility and the entire Lumpkins family took that on in many ways. Four of their sons joined the Union army when President Lincoln put out the call for black troops. William, Beverly, Washington and George Lumpkins answered the call and enlisted in the US Colored Troops Infantry.

Before the Civil War, black children were being taught secretly in private homes by some whites who firmly believed they should be educated. One of the criteria from the Taylor will written in 1844 was that first, each freed slave had to have a marketable skill, and second, each one had to have a rudimentary ability to read and write. It is believed by most local historians, myself included, that the abolitionists — Ira Root, a lawyer, and his wife, Sarah, well known for community service in Newport — stepped up and oversaw the teaching. Later actions by them confirm this idea.

After the Civil War, in April 1866 Washington Rippleton, a prominent African American in Newport, formed a board of trustees for the newly established African-American School. The school opened under the direction of the Missionary Aid Association and the Freedman’s Bureau. Burl became one of its trustees. The Freedman’s Bureau opened the school in Newport in December 1868. It operated until February 1869. In 1870, the Newport Board of Education bought a piece of property on which they built a wooden schoolhouse. When it was completed, the Newport Negro Elementary School opened in this building at Washington and Southgate Streets in 1873.

When the state recognized that African Americans had been given the right to vote, William Lumpkins became the first black in Campbell County to vote. He was also considered as a candidate for Assessor in the Third Ward.

On February 8, 1873, Burl and William attended a special meeting at the courthouse in Newport. There, Burl was elected as a delegate to the Colored Education Convention in Louisville on February 15, 1873. While at the convention, Burl learned that a new state law would be introduced that would allow Kentucky taxes to be used for public education for African-American children.

On August 12, 1891, Rippleton helped to organize the Colored Republican League Club, the first of its kind in the State of Kentucky. William Lumpkins was elected to the executive committee on March 3, 1892. In 1893 the wooden school building was replaced with a brick building and became known as the Southgate Street School.

Taylor’s will stipulated that if any of his male slaves would stay and work for his son, then when they reached the age of 30, the estate would give them 25 acres and $25 to live on. Two of the Lumpkins’ sons did this.

Washington and William Lumpkins and their brother in law, Willis Hamilton, had always been available to work for Taylor Jr. so when they reached the age of 30 as was stipulated in the will, they expected to receive the promised 25 acres and the money. Taylor Jr. the executor of the estate, refused to honor the will of his father. It wasn’t until 1883 that they were given the right to sue the Taylor estate. Who would have thought they had a chance against a big name like Taylor? But the court ruled in their favor in 1891. But by that time, the estate was gone and there was no money nor land for them (The Kentucky State Journal, May 14, 1889, p. 3).

When William and Washington Lumpkins reached the age when they could no longer work, they applied for and received a pension from the government for their service in the Civil War. When they died, they were buried in the Dayton National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

The Lumpkins family became major contributors to the improvement of life not only for the county’s black citizens but also for all of the people of Newport. They became great examples of a family who were engaged in the betterment of their community.

Shirlene Jensen is currently working on a Masters in history with an emphasis on research and writing at Northern Kentucky University. She completed her undergraduate degree in history from NKU in December 2018. Shirlene has been a board member of the Campbell County Historical & Genealogical Society for 15 years and the director of the Family History Center for 15 years. She retired from Pipefitter’s Local 392 in 2005 after 30 years in construction.

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  1. Brenda Payne says:

    Please make it easier to find previous articles in this series. Your archives are hard to find. This series does not seem to fit into the searchable categories.

    • Judy Clabes says:

      Our archives are not hard to find, Ms. Payne. In the search category, enter “Our Rich History” and all the columns show up. In this story, we provided specific links to the previous columns on James Taylor V. So the links are in the story itself.

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