Historically Black Neighborhoods in Louisville: James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood
Center For Neighborhoods worked with the James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood to create an updated neighborhood plan, which was adopted in November 2020 and is available here. Much of the information included in this post comes from the plan.
The roots of the historically Black neighborhood of James Taylor–Jacob School can be traced back to the construction of the Jefferson Jacob School around 1918.
Named for the first free African American counted in the Harrod’s Creek census, the Jefferson Jacob School was constructed along Jacob School Road using volunteers, donated materials, and Rosenwald Fund support. The Rosenwald Fund was created to assist African American communities across the country with providing access to education. Support was especially important in the South, where “Southern school boards and state systems of education routinely underfunded African American schools while allocating more funds for the education of white students” (https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/rosenwald-fund-schools-1912-1932/).
In 1922, after the school was opened, James T. Taylor, a farmer and owner of a small real estate company, purchased land adjacent to Jacob School Road and began raising livestock. He soon created a subdivision and sold parcels to African American families.
The first subdivision was created along Shirley Avenue, and more housing was developed over several decades, including by James T. Taylor’s son, James S. Taylor. The development plans established large, suburban lots that enabled large gardens for self-sufficiency, coupled with smaller traditional wood frame housing set back on the lots to provide a rural character.
According to Carridder “RIta” Jones, author of Voices from African American Communities Near Louisville, Kentucky, “the James Taylor Subdivision came about for different reasons than most subdivisions. Taylor wanted people to have nice homes and be near their work. He felt that African American who toiled as domestic servants and farm laborers for wealthy households around Prospect in the 1920s deserved modest country homes of their own at the end of the day. What he started out to do was sell land he had control over to blacks. There was no other area where blacks could buy land in the area” (https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/oldham/2015/12/11/james-taylor-helped-black-neighborhood-start/76806550/).
This development is significant to Black history not only locally but nationally as well: It is the only known example of a modern subdivision originally created and maintained solely by and for African Americans. Neighborhood residents state an attachment to this history, seeing it as foundational to the character and values of the neighborhood itself.
For three generations, the James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood was composed mostly of family members of original homeowners. While the neighborhood has seen demographic shifts that echo the larger sprawling development of eastern Jefferson County and nearby Prospect, there are still original homes and homeowners in the neighborhood, as well as second- and third-generation descendants who have purchased or inherited their homes from their parents or grandparents.
Mr. Mark Jackson, president of the James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood Association, is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Jacob. His mother grew up in the neighborhood, then returned with her family in 1962 after having previously moved away. He lives in the home his parents purchased from a retired school teacher that year. Mr. Jackson’s oldest daughter rents a home that once belonged to his great-grandmother, and he plans to pass his home onto her someday. He hopes she’ll then pass it onto one of her children or grandchildren. “I pray it stays in the family,” he says.
Ms. Annette Papps, neighborhood association secretary, has lived in the neighborhood since she was nine years old. She describes the James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood as a close-knit community where people “want to know each other and take care of each other,” sending cards on significant occasions or providing meals in times of need. “That’s the kind of closeness we have,” she says. “That’s how it was when I was a little girl.”
Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Papps assisted in the creation of the James Taylor–Jacob School Neighborhood Plan, which seeks to ensure that the neighborhood preserves and promotes its cultural, environmental, and physical assets while embracing diversity and appropriate growth.
When it comes to preservation, they both want the neighborhood to maintain its historic prevalence of single-family homes. But even more importantly, they want the neighborhood to preserve its caring spirit.
“I want us to be known as the friendliest place on this side of Jefferson County,” Ms. Papps says.
Mr. Jackson agrees. As he puts it, “the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”