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Shelby City African American Cemetery Update—Spring 2016

Shelby City African American Cemetery Update—Spring 2016


Students, staff, faculty, and community members continue to volunteer their time to restore and maintain the historic Shelby City African American Cemetery just south of the EKU Danville Campus.

Early research shows that this cemetery likely began as a slave cemetery on the property of the first governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby. As of this spring 2016, volunteers have identified the names of 174 people buried here, many of them with ties to the Isaac Shelby family and estate. When the group began their work, only 8 graves were identified.

Over the winter months, volunteers were able to clear almost all of the debris in the cemetery except the back property line where trash has actually been bulldozed onto the property. They were also able to completely uncover a large piece of upright stone that is shaped like an angel that has been on the east side of the cemetery for as long as any resident in the area can recall. It had been nearly completely covered with grapevines and Virginia creeper. (That’s a bird house on top!)

Spring 2016 has been especially beautiful in the cemetery with daffodils currently in full bloom and the flowering trees just beginning to tinge with color.

Two weeks ago, Barry Sanborn, a community volunteer, uncovered the remaining two pieces of a Victorian wrought-iron bench that we had found part of in fall 2014. The four-foot back has an elaborate design that includes cherubs, and the sides contain a fleur-de-lis pattern. All of the pieces are quite heavy, but they appear to need only sanding, painting, and a new seat. We would like to restore all of the pieces and place the bench back in the cemetery where all visitors can enjoy it.


The plans for this spring and summer include

  • Completing the cleanup of the back of the property,
  • Starting the cleaning of all of the headstones, and
  • Beginning to repair broken headstones.

Already the Central Kentucky African American Cemetery Association has

  • Written and published a brochure on the history of the cemetery and four profiles on significant people buried in the cemetery,
  • Designed and erected signage,
  • Researched and started a website with detailed information on the families buried in the cemetery,
  • Arranged with Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. (CRAI) in Lexington to scan a portion of the cemetery with ground-penetrating radar to identify several unmarked graves, and
  • Taken possession of the cemetery to help ensure its continued maintenance and preservation.

EKU and Centre College students, staff, and faculty have taken part in the work from the project’s beginning in October 2013. A Regional Stewardship grant from the Center for Appalachian Regional Engagement and Stewardship (CARES) in University Programs at Eastern Kentucky University provided $10,000 to the group in 2014/2015. That grant paid for the land survey, removal of tree stumps, the published brochures and profiles, and tools for the future maintenance of this historic property.

Published on March 28, 2016

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