Historical Marker #2109 in Lynch, Kentucky (Harlan County) commemorates the history of the Lynch Colored School, a segregation-era school that educated the community's African American students.
When the coal boom hit eastern Kentucky in the early-twentieth century, mining companies primarily recruited their workers from three population segments. First were local residents, who were traditionally farmers. Second were immigrants, including natives of Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Italy. Third were African Americans from the Southern states. Like the native mountaineers, they were typically farmers or had worked in the iron foundries of cities such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama. Many African Americans who tired of a sharecropping existence welcomed a new change of scenery and opportunity for wage labor.
During segregation, local residents and immigrant children attended the same schools, but African American students were educated elsewhere. In an attempt to accommodate "separate but equal" facilities as determined by the famous 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1923, the United States Coal Company constructed the Lynch Colored School in Harlan County, which served the adjacent coal towns of Lynch and Benham.
While their fathers toiled away in coal mines, the students at Lynch Colored School received instruction. African American teachers and administrators worked long hours to provide the miners' children with a quality education. Community ties were strong among Lynch’s black population. School events and sports teams brought out the whole community to support their scholars. When the school finally integrated in 1963, it became the town's West Main High School.
Today, Lynch Colored School still stands as a testament to African American initiative. Many of Lynch's black community—although now dispersed across the United States—still hold reunions to remember their times growing up in coal country.