Prominent Whitley County natives remembered
Nearly everyone, who lives in Southeastern Kentucky, is familiar with the story of Corbin’s most famous resident, Colonel Harland Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken.
What many people may not realize is throughout its 200 year history, Whitley County has been the home of several other people with very prominent accomplishments, including a Academy Award winning actress, a pioneering pilot and civil rights leader, and one of the few women to receive a Civil War pension because of wounds she suffered fighting during the Civil War.
Julia Ann Marcum spent much of her adult life in Williamsburg and is buried in Highland Park Cemetery.
Marcum, a school teacher, was born on Nov. 7, 1844, near Huntsville in Scott County, Tennessee. During the Civil War, her father, Hiram C. Marcum, was known to be a Union sympathizer.
About 2 a.m., on Sept. 7, 1861, Confederate soldiers came to her house near Huntsville looking for her father, who was hiding in the barn. After one of the Confederate soldiers threatened to kill the family and burn the house, Julia grabbed an ax and attacked the soldier.
During the fight, the soldier wounded her in the eye and on one of her fingers. Her father soon arrived and killed the soldier, but Julia lost the sight in one eye and spent three months recuperating from her wounds.
In January 1862, her family was driven away from their home by Confederate soldiers, and moved to Casey County, Kentucky. Her father joined the Union Army and died of small pox.
After the war, Julia returned to Tennessee where she taught school for 12 years.
Eventually her wounds disabled her.
On Oct. 15, 1885, Congress awarded her a military pension as a private citizen for her role as a combatant. She received a $30 monthly pension that was increased to $40 per month in 1922.
After receiving her pension, Julia moved to Williamsburg and lived in a house on Main Street where she was known as “Aunt Julia.”
She died on May 9, 1936, and was given a full military funeral.
Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military, but after pressure from civil rights organizations and the black press, the military formed an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. The group, which also included bombardiers, mechanics and other support personnel, became known as the Tuskegee Airman.
One of the group’s members, Roy Martis Chappell, lived in Williamsburg until he was five years old before moving to Michigan with his family. In 2006, a historical marker was placed in Williamsburg to honor Chappell.
In addition to being a Tuskegee Airman, Chappell was also known for his contributions as an educator and as a leader in the civil rights movement.
During WWII, Chappell and 100 other black officers fought inequality by entering a segregated officers’ club.
Chappell’s widow, Dr. Lucy Lang Chappell, noted during a 2006 marker dedication ceremony that the black officers took offense to German prisoners of war being allowed entrance into the “white’s only” club when they weren’t. The soldiers entered the club risking a charge of treason during time of war, and a possible death sentence in order to protest this.
The incident, which became known as the Freeman Mutiny, in part helped induce President Harry S. Truman to end military segregation three years later.
Dr. Lucy Chappell noted that the service records of the 101 officers weren’t expunged until 1990.
Roy Chappell died on Sept. 22, 2002, and is buried in Chicago.
Without doubt, the most famous resident of the now defunct Packard mining community, which was located near Big Patterson Creek, was Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal, who an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in 1963’s “Hud.”
She was born in Packard in 1926, while her father was a bookkeeper there.
The family moved to Knoxville when she was five years old.
Neal went on to become Broadway star winning a 1947 Tony Award for her role as the teenage “Regina Hubbard” in Lillian Hellman’s play, “Another Part of the Forest.”
Neal went on to star in television and several films, including “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
She died in 2010 at the age of 84.