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Kentucky: A State of Many Hues

Over the past two centuries, Kentucky has played a significant role in African-American history. It is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed more than 3 million slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as modern heroes like world-champion boxer Muhammad Ali.

Travelers can delve into their inspirational stories and many others as they explore the following noteworthy sites.

Hotel Metropolitan


During segregation, the Hotel Metropolitan served as Paducah’s only African-American hotel, housing world-famous musicians and entertainers such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Tina Turner on the second floor of the modest, shotgun-style house. Though the historic treasure later fell into disrepair, a nonprofit called the Upper Town Heritage Foundation acquired the building during the 1980s and restored it for public viewing.

“It’s the quintessential candidate for a hidden gem,” said Fowler Black, sales director at the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Visitors should prepare themselves for an immersive experience. From the moment they step on the porch, guests are transported to the early 1900s as Ms. Maggie Steed, the hotel hostess, cautiously answers the door.

“If it’s a group of white folks, Ms. Maggie will turn around the open sign and say through the window, ‘Children, I can’t help ya; get back on the bus,’ and scold everybody about getting her in trouble with Jim Crow laws,” said Black.

After some coaxing, Ms. Maggie allows the visitors inside and begins showing them around the house, describing how she built it back in 1908, a time when not many black women could claim to own and operate their own establishment. She goes on to talk about everyday life in segregated culture and how even celebrated artists like Billie Holiday had nowhere else to stay in town but the Hotel Metropolitan. At the end of the tour, guests are treated to tea or coffee and a slice of Ms. Maggie’s chess pie.

It is recommended to pair the experience with a visit to the Civil War Museum just two blocks down the road, which is housed in the former home of a Civil War general.

Tours must be scheduled in advance.

Muhammad Ali Center


Many people know Muhammad Ali for his feats in the boxing ring, but at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, groups also learn about his intellectual genius, his passion for social activism and his lifelong humanitarian efforts.

“Since Muhammad passed away last year, it has raised global awareness about his legacy and what he meant to the nation, especially his home state of Kentucky. He never forgot where he came from,” said Jeanie Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs at the center.

Whether or not visitors are sports fans, the museum offers a thought-provoking glimpse into one man’s professional and spiritual journey. In addition to winning three national heavyweight championships, Ali inspired many with his unapologetic pride in his abilities and beliefs. Born Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after converting to Islam early in his career. When certain news outlets refused to recognize his new name and faith, he famously said, “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

“It’s really about one person’s life and how that person faced the lows in his life,” Kahnke said. “It took a lot of conviction, perseverance and dedication.”