An Introduction to The Cemetery
Though burials occurred in African Cemetery No. 2 as early as the 1820's, the land was first purchased and chartered as a burial ground by The Colored Peoples Union Benevolent Society No. 2 in 1869. This society also founded the Colored Fair in 1859. Similar societies were common throughout the south for community building after the Civil War. The society cared for the cemetery until the 1930's after which a period of decline occurred, which also corresponded to the demise of the Colored Fair.
The cemetery was largely neglected for 30 to 40 years, although burials continued to occur. In the 1960's, the cemetery was renovated, after which it again entered a period of decline for 10 to 15 years. In 1973, another effort was made to restore the cemetery, which culminated in 1979-80 with the help of then Mayor Jim Amato to uncover, restore, and mark the existing gravesites. The brick pillars in front and existing fencing are part of that effort.
The year 1979 was also when perpetual care of the cemetery was handed over to a non-profit committee, African Cemetery No. 2, Inc. For the next 20 years unfortunately, consistent care was lacking. Continual vandalism occurred, and encroachment of the property on either side occurred.
Three years ago, revival of interest in cemetery care, spearheaded by Thomas Mundy a concerned citizen and John Jones of the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS), prompted formation of a new board with a wide spectrum of participants from Lexington and the African American community.
The current board is developing plans for perpetual care, preservation, written histories, and an educational resource center. We need your help in terms of donations (time, effort, or money). Join the cemetery campaign!
A Walking Tour of African Cemetery No. 2
The cemetery is approximately 8 acres in size and contains over 5,000 graves of which only 1,200 are identified and fewer than 600 contain identifiable markers. There have been no burials since 1974. You will note in passing that some of the military graves are marked with flags in preparation for Memorial Day and that numerous new trees have been planted in preparation for developing the cemetery into a memorial park. As you stand on 7th Street and look into the cemetery you can see the beginnings of some additional landscaping in the distance.
(Stations Marked by Red Flags)
Station 1 - Literacy Stone - The first stop is the literacy stone. The inscription on the stone reflects a person struggling with literacy - symbolic of African people learning to write.
Station 2 - Joseph Scott - African Americans were an important The inscription on the African people learning part of the early history of thoroughbred racing as jockeys and trainers. Race riding was a dangerous profession. Scott was just 16 when he died. It is interesting to note that even though African American jockeys dominated early horse racing in Kentucky and the United States, none are represented in Thoroughbred Park.
Station 3 - Isaac Murphy - You are standing at the approximate location of Isaac Murphy's original grave. Murphy is perhaps one of the most famous of all thoroughbred jockeys. He was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbies (1884, 1890, 1891) and still has the highest winning percentage for a jockey, 44% (accomplished in 1892 and 1895). Murphy was born in Lexington in 1861 and lived on 3rd St. He died February 12, 1896 and his funeral involved over 500 people. In 1967 his remains were moved to the Man-O-War gravesite off Russell Cave Road and both were removed to their current location at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1987. Plans are being made to place a memorial stone for Murphy at this location.
Station 4 - Obelisk Stone - The obelisk stone is very distinct and like those burial stones seen in West Africa. Compare it to the Washington monument, a very Egyptian art form.
Station 5 - Hannibal Gravesite - The cemetery is the final resting-place for numerous early ministers of Lexington's African American Community, many of whom are buried here, in the central part of he cemetery. Hannibal was a minister at the Episcopal Church.
Station 6 - Claiborne Lee - Although many of the people buried here were quite young, Lee, as you can read from his inscription, lived to be 111 years old. He was living at the time George Washington was president.
Station 7 - Spanish American War Veteran - This gravestone, for a member of the 24th Infantry, is an example of one of the many burials of military veterans that occurred in the cemetery.
Station 8 - 1973 Markers - The major cemetery restorations that occurred in the 1970's are commemorated in these markers, which acknowledge the original members of African Cemetery No. 2, Inc. and Mayor Amato's office. It also memorializes the vast majority of individuals buried in the cemetery whose graves are unmarked and whose identities may never be known.
Station 9 - Cassius Clay Tankersly - Note the inscription. Tankersly was a race rider whose monument was erected by his employer after Tankersly was killed in a race at Latonia. The east end of Lexington had a thriving thoroughbred industry and its own racecourse, which stood where the Aspendale development project now exists.
Station 10 - Carved face - Although severely damaged, you can see that the stone is an ornate, hand-carved figure of a woman whose symbolism and identity are unknown at present. You can see the efforts at landscaping around you. Invasive weeds such as Japanese Nutsedge represent a continual maintenance problem.
Station 11 - 54th Massachusetts - Many of the veterans buried here served in regiments from the southeast. This gravestone is remarkable in that it marks the resting place of a member of the 54th Massachusetts. The 54th was renowned for its action at Ft. Wagner in which it suffered 40% casualties. The regiment was the subject of the movie "Glory" starring Morgan Freeman.
Station 12 - Buffalo Soldiers - African Americans were the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the American West. They served in the 9th and 10th cavalry and 24th and 25th infantry regiments. Several African American veterans of the Civil war are also buried here.
Station 13 - Last Burial - This gravestone represents the last known burial in the cemetery.
We thank you for your visit and we hope you will return frequently to watch our continuing restoration efforts. Our group received a Special 2000 Historic Preservation Award for the efforts that have gone on here. We entirely rely on volunteers, so your help with clean up efforts, donations, and service on committees would be much appreciated. Our major group efforts are the first Saturday of each month. For more information, call Bruce Mundy (266-0863), Alvin Seals (263-4442), Stella Stewart (258-3132), or Mark Coyne (257-4202).