History and the arts came alive for Knox County Middle School students as Kentucky Chautauqua presented “Reverend Newton Bush: Freedom at a Terrible Price.”
Students of performing arts teacher Mayla McKeehan were visited by Robert Bell who portrays Reverend Newton Bush for Kentucky Chautauqua on Wednesday, April 10. In addition to learning about performing skills, students stepped back into history and learned about Rev. Bush, the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery, and army life in the late 1800’s.
Rev. Newton Bush (1845-1925) was born to Jake and Adeline Bush, who were owned by Nicholas P. Green. The family lived on Green’s Franklin County farm, where thirty-five slaves were responsible for taking care of the farm, tending to the livestock, and caring for the Green family.
When President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, slaves were freed throughout the county, but not in the border states which included Kentucky. The Emancipation Proclamation allowed for the enlistment of African Americans into the United States Colored Troops. Once again, Kentucky was excluded, as President Lincoln fought to keep Kentucky loyal to the Union. In 1864, Kentucky became the last state to allow the enlistment of slaves who had earned their freedom.
But earning freedom wasn’t easy for Kentucky’s slaves. Eager to fight for freedom for himself and those he loved, Bush devised a plan to escape Green’s farm and made his way to Camp Nelson where he enlisted in Company E of the 5th Regiment United States Colored Cavalry.
Army life offered a whole new set of struggles for the colored soldiers. In addition to fighting the Confederate soldiers, members of the Colored Cavalry had to deal with insults from the white soldiers. Bush and the colored soldiers were fighting both for the Union and for the respect of their fellow soldiers.
Bush’s life mirrors that of many African-American troops from Kentucky. They endured slavery and put their lives on the line fighting for the Union, only to return from the War surrounded by an ungrateful nation continuing to deny African Americans the same rights at white citizens.
Rev. Newton Bush died in 1925 and is buried at Green Hill Cemetery, the site where the Civil War monument bearing his name stands.
Robert Bell is a living historian and charter member of the 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery, Reactivated, and a Life Member of the Camp Nelson Heritage Foundation. He also is a charter member of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association, a national group dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the history of the African-American men who served during the Civil War. Bell has presented talks on the United States Colored Troops across Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
Kentucky Chautauqua is an exclusive presentation of the Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc. with support from: Scripps Howard Foundation, Lindsey Wilson College, the Cralle Foundation, The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, People’s Bank & Trust Company of Hazard, the Brown-Forman Corporation, Union College, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, PNC Bank in Lexington, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, Inc.
The Kentucky Humanities Council is a non-profit Kentucky corporation affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is not a state agency, but is a proud partner of Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For information, visit www.kyhumanities.org or call (859) 257-5932.