African American Cemetery #2

Historical Marker #2110 in Lexington notes the location of African American Cemetery #2, which was established in 1869.

After the Civil War, Kentucky African Americans looked to make good on the social, political, and economic changes produced by the conflict. Many Kentucky blacks had served in the war to maintain the Union and end slavery, and therefore felt an obligation to continue to serve their nation, state, and community by demanding rights such a the opportunity to testify in courts and be allowed to vote. Some sought immediate change, and to help spur those efforts they formed schools where their children could be educated, churches where they could worship, and cemeteries where they could respectably rest in peace.

In 1869, the Union Benevolent Society No. 2 purchased four acres of Lexington property to establish a cemetery. This community organization paid $1500 for the land and, four months later, the Kentucky legislature issued a charter. Four additional acres were purchased a few years later.

The Union Benevolent Society No. 2 actually began before the Civil War. It was founded in 1852 by Lewis Page, Sam Breckinridge, Leonard Fish, and other Lexington black men to "take care of the sick, bury the dead, and perform other deeds of charity." In section three of the state charter specific provisions were made for the burial ground. "The land . . . when conveyed, shall be held solely and exclusively for a cemetery and ornamental grounds connected therewith, and shall never be used in any manner inconsistent with this act, or for any purpose than burial lots, as herein prescribed."

Among the thousands of graves in African American Cemetery #2 are those of J. H. Jackson, the first president of Kentucky Normal College, now Kentucky State University, as well as forty-three known soldiers that served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, including one member of the famous 54th Massachusetts. African American Cemetery #2 is also the final resting place for a number of Lexington’s early black leaders including founders of the Union Benevolent Society No. 2, and members of African American organizations such the Agricultural and Mechanical Fair for Colored People, the Colored Orphan Industrial Home, as well as teachers of Lexington’s early black schools, ministers from the town’s churches, and individuals that were instrumental in establishing the thoroughbred horse racing industry in Kentucky.

The cemetery fell into disrepair during much of the 20th century, but it is now managed by a non-profit organization and serves as a point of pride as well as an important piece of Lexington and Kentucky history.

Images

George Thomas Prosser

George Thomas Prosser

George Thomas Prosser, a member of the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, who was captured at the Battle of Fort Wagner, rests in African American Cemetery #2. Photograph courtesy of Tim Talbott. View File Details Page

African American Cemetery #2

African American Cemetery #2

Teachers learn about African American Cemetery #2 during an on-site workshop. Photograph courtesy of Tim Talbott. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “African American Cemetery #2,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed May 26, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/268.

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