African American New Zion community celebrates 150 years
by Kathy Witt
New Zion, a historical and influential African American community located in Scott County, KY, is gearing up to (figuratively) blow out some 150 candles during a birthday celebration that includes live blues music, a street fair with arts and crafts vendors, pig roast, fried chicken and more, an old-fashioned basket meeting with Sunday morning and evenings services and home-cooked dinner, and Back to Basic Gospel Singing.
“All are welcome to this celebration as the residents of New Zion, including descendants of the original founders, mark this historic milestone,” said Willa “Billie” Gentry, New Zion historian and festival coordinator.
According to oral history, it is believed this village, situated not far from Georgetown in central Kentucky, was established in 1868. The celebration marking 150 years since its founding will take place on Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26, with participants gathering at 122 New Zion Road.
ccording to a deed at the Scott County Courthouse, formerly enslaved men Primus Keene and Calvin Hamilton purchased 23 acres of land on Nov. 23, 1872, but the settlement of this land had already been underway several years earlier. In fact, the 1870 Scott County census recorded 165 residents in Briar Hill with approximately 50 others living on or owning farms nearby.
Both Keene and Hamilton sold lots to other formerly enslaved persons, forming the African American village of Briar Hill. Homes were built on the lots sold by Hamilton; a church, school, lodge and well were built on the lots Keene sold.
The village was eventually renamed New Zion and, 125 years after its founding, a marker presented by the Scott County Fiscal Court was erected by the Kentucky Historical Society in 1993.
Descendants of the founders and earliest settlers still live in the village. Thirteen historical homes remain, all but four occupied, as well as the church and village cemetery. Four Buffalo Soldiers, members of the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 23rd and 24th Infantries – the first all-African American military units formed during peace time – are buried in this cemetery.
Admission to the New Zion 150th Birthday Celebration is free. Live blues with Tee Dee Young’s Blues band headlines the musical entertainment, which also includes the Gregg Figgs’ Blues Band and Back to Basic Gospel Singing.
The Street Fair takes place on Saturday afternoon and the Old-Fashioned Basket Meeting is est for Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Gentry invites all to bring lawn chairs and coolers, enjoy the music, meet descendants of the community founders and dig into some down-home-delicious home cooking, including country fried fish, fried chicken, frog legs, a pig roast, homemade pickles, salsa and chow chow and more.
Plan Your Travels
New Zion 150th Birthday Celebration, Scott County, KY
Information: 859-619-3738; www.georgetownky.com/events (click on “August” tab).
The story of New Zion is shared in brief by a marker presented by the Scott County, KY Fiscal Court in 1993.
Photo: Kentucky Tourism
The legendary Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-Black regiments in the U.S. Army. The name, “Buffalo Soldiers,” was given to them by Native Americans in the late 1870s and marks a place of honor in U.S. history for those who served.
You won’t go hungry at Scott County’s New Zion 150th Birthday Celebration.