James D. Black (1849-1938)

Historical marker #1811 in Knox County commemorates the life of Kentucky Governor James D. Black, a native of the county.

Born on September 29, 1849, Black grew up in Knox County. His parents were John C. and Clarissa (Jones) Black. James attended local schools until he went to college at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tennessee. In 1874, he graduated from college and went on to pursue a law career. After passing the bar, Black set up his practice in Barbourville, the county seat of Knox County. This practice became a family affair when his son and son-in-law later joined the firm. In addition to law, Black was passionate about education. He taught school in Knox County while studying for the bar and also worked as the superintendent of Knox County Schools from 1884 to 1885. In 1879, Black helped co-found Union College in Barbourville. Then, from 1910 to 1912, he served as the president of the college.

While practicing law and improving education in Knox County, Black became involved in politics. From 1876 to 1877, he served in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Several decades later, Black became the state’s first assistant attorney general. In 1915, he won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, running with Augustus Owsley Stanley as governor. Stanley and Black won their race. In 1919, Black became Kentucky’s thirty-ninth governor when Stanley resigned to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. Because Stanley’s term only had a few months left, Black started his gubernatorial race for the next term and secured the Democratic nomination. However, Republican Edwin P. Morrow defeated him. In his last days in office as governor, Black pardoned Henry Youtsey, one of the possible conspirators in the 1900 assassination of William Goebel. Youtsey served seventeen years in prison before being pardoned.

After leaving office, Black became the state’s chief prohibition inspector. He later resumed his law career and served as the Barbourville National Bank president. On August 5, 1938, he died and was buried in Barbourville.