I learned a little bit of Kentucky history this week. My family and I took a few days off to see some of the historical and cultural sites here in our new state of residence, including Mammoth Caves, the Lincoln birthplace, and My Old Kentucky Home state park.
I will admit that I’ve lived here for almost a year and have never gotten around to reading the lyrics for the official state song: “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster. I thought that the visit to the My Old Kentucky Home state park would be the perfect opportunity. We went to see the historic mansion and my two-year-old daughter had fun running through the beautiful gardens.
It was on the drive away from the park, however, that my wife and I read over a print-out of the state song lyrics and history. Turns out that the official state song is a nostalgic reflection of the Southern plantation lifestyle. It was only in the 1980s that the Kentucky state legislature changed the word “darkies” (the song refers to how the slaves on the plantation are all happy and “gay”) to “people” in the official lyrics of the song. That was news to me!
It reminded me of a passage from Kentucky Politics and Government by Penny Miller (1994):
Although Kentucky officially supported the Union, it found its heroes and postwar character in the Confederate cause. One historian [John Pearce] noted (if not with scrupulous accuracy) that Kentucky’s was “the only government in history to join the loser after the loss.”