More than 100 years after his death, Cassius Clay is still receiving recognition for his anti-slavery efforts.
Clay lived most of his life at White Hall, now the state-run White Hall Historical Site.
On Tuesday, the Society of Professional Journalists held a ceremony honoring White Hall as the 2011 Historical Site in Journalism.
Only two of the 99 awards since 1942 have gone to a person or place from Kentucky.
In 1965, Henry Watterson, who founded the Louisville Courier-Journal, received the award.
From 1845 to 1847, Clay, the son of a slave owner, started and ran the anti-slavery newspaper, “The True American.”
Despite receiving death threats, Clay continued printing the newspaper in Lexington until an 1846 court injunction allowed a committee of citizens to shut it down.
Clay published the paper for another year, printing in Cincinnati.
“It’s an opportunity to thank someone who stood up, despite the times, not only for slaves but for the First Amendment, to tell his point of view,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
She said the word hero is often overused, but not in this case.
“When it comes to what he stood for, he defines hero,” she said, adding that he was able to use a newspaper to change the course of history.
Limor presented a plaque to White Hall listing many of Clay’s achievements.
Among the guest speakers was Clay’s great-great-grandson Charles Herrick, president of the Clay Family Society.
Herrick said he first visited White Hall in 1947, but was too scared of the big house to go inside.
He returned in 1963, then again in 1968 after the state had taken possession of the mostly run-down house.
When he heard the state was planning to spend millions of dollars to rebuild the home, he asked a local man living in poverty if he thought that made sense.
The man told him that Clay was a man of strong principle, who took a stand even when he was attacked for his ideas.
“People in this state need to know that there was a man who took a stand against slavery,” he said the man told him.
The move to get White Hall nominated for the award began in the 1980s at Eastern Kentucky University.
Even though the nomination was not accepted at the time, it recently was revised and submitted again.
In November of last year, White Hall was selected for the award.
“As a student of history, a lifelong resident of Madison County and the president of Eastern Kentucky University, I am pleased and honored to have the opportunity to welcome you here today,” Doug Whitlock told the assembled crowd.
“This is a great day for Kentucky, a great day for Madison County and a great day for White Hall,” he said.
In addition to Clay’s role in fighting against slavery, White Hall also was selected for the award to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
Tim Mandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669 ext. 6696.