They Were Here

John Hays is helping an arts org bring attention to the often-unseen history of slavery

Published in 2024 Kentucky Super Lawyers magazine

By Beth Taylor on December 28, 2023


In 2016, John Hays took on the task of handling legal work for a public art history project designed to illustrate an often unseen chapter in American history. It started with a conversation with client Marjorie Guyon, artist and founder of the I Was Here project. “One day, Marjorie stopped me on the street to tell me about her concept for the project,” recalls the construction litigator at Jackson Kelly. “I told her I loved it and would help any way I could.”

The result was a series of portraits of contemporary Black Americans, transformed into representative images of their African ancestors. The portraits are reproduced on translucent fabric in locations ranging from shop windows to bars around the Old Fayette County Courthouse, site of a large auction of enslaved Africans. As a permanent memorial, portraits are installed in the windows of the courthouse.

Hays and other Jackson Kelly attorneys are not only still handling the project’s legal work pro bono—from contract negotiations to intellectual property issues—but Hays is also on the organization’s board. “I majored in American history at Princeton and know well that our history students are not taught the full history of slavery in America,” he says. “Too much has been lost about the people who were enslaved.”

The original pieces were exhibited at Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. Large reproductions can be seen in downtown Lexington and Winchester, Kentucky; Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky; The Octagon museum in Washington, D.C., and the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum in New York City. I Was Here won a CODA award for collaboration in design and art in 2020. Information about the project can be found at

“John Hays has been critically important to the development of the project,” Guyon says. “We have relied on his guidance, acumen and advocacy as the project has grown.”

Search attorney feature articles

Featured lawyers

John W. Hays

John W. Hays

Top rated Construction Litigation lawyer Jackson Kelly PLLC Lexington, KY

Other featured articles

Making a Murderer has brought him, and the justice system, to the national stage

David Bernstein, Noble McIntyre, and Hugh M. Robert donated meals to those in need in 2011, and haven’t stopped since

Jason Tarasek on cannabis law and what’s next

View more articles featuring lawyers

Find top lawyers with confidence

The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.

Find a lawyer near you