You are not alone if you were unaware that there were any unmarked graves in East End Cemetery. Committee chair Paul Fourshee was first made aware of the African American graves years ago by cemetery caretaker Keidell Bridges. Fast forward to 2000, when I, along with David Sumner, Charles Morris & Pam Metts, began work on a new edition of a cemetery book for Trigg County. Our mission included identifying those who did not have grave markers.
So you may ask – how did we find these names? Well, there was no easy way of going about it. Hours were spent reading over obituaries and death certificates, comparing them to the names we had already recorded. Though those were our two main sources, there are problems with both. Trigg County newspaper records do not exist for much of the late 1800s and early 1900s, nor did the newspaper print obituaries for everyone. You may say....well, everyone should have a death certificate. Not necessarily! The state of Kentucky did not require death certificates until 1911, and in the first five to ten years, the doctors were not consistent in filling out certificates. However, even with all the flaws involved in these records, we still found numerous names that we could not match to a tombstone. And, it didn’t take long to realize that we were finding a large number of death certificates for African Americans, which stated that they were buried in East End Cemetery. The numbers began to drop off drastically as we reached the WWII era records. By the time we had finished our research, we had 55 names on the list. Many of the surnames on the list still exist in the county today, such as Alexander, Burke, Crump, Curlin, Greenwade, Manning, Redd, and Wilford.
There were community members who were aware that something needed to be done. Through Mayor Bailey’s efforts, the project finally got underway. As stated above, Keidell Bridges had informed Fourshee in the past as to the location of the graves – a swath through the center of the cemetery in an area that appears to be open space. There are only a few stones in that section, but many unmarked graves. One of the first tasks was to have Murray State University students bring in ground penetrating radar and search this area. They were able to identify many graves in this section, but were not able to determine an exact number.
East End Cemetery started as the Thompson family graveyard in 1835. The oldest African American graves are located in the center section, which is at the rear of this original cemetery. Many of these are thought to be slaves as they would date from before the Civil War. However, the cemetery continued to expand towards Lafayette Street. Along the east side next to the high school is another area that appears to be empty. The names on two stones found there are confirmed as African Americans. According to those dates, it would seem that the more modern African American graves are in that area. Close inspection of these areas, reveal many graves that are slightly sunken, and by considering the incomplete records and information submitted by Murray State University, it is estimated that there are close to 200 unmarked graves.
The committee has developed a classic design for the marker, which will stand about six feet tall. It will consist of two round columns supporting a broken pediment and flanking a large stone panel on which the names of the known graves will be inscribed. The stone is to be located next to the driveway to the left of the center section.
In late 2013, we began efforts to raise money in order to see this monument become a reality. Trigg County is well known for its generous people, and this effort was no exception. There were enough funds donated to cover the cost of the marker and for landscaping around it.
The monument should be arriving soon, and there are plans for a public unveiling ceremony. Please be watching for news about it and make plans to attend. Though overdue, this monument will long stand as an acknowledgement that every life lived here is a valuable contribution to the fabric of our community.
The Trigg County Historical and Preservation Society, Inc. has numerous ornaments that we have produced over the years still for sale. If you are interested in a past ornament, please call David Shore at 522-3975 or 871-7191, or Becky Boggess at 350-2050 or Bob Brame at 522-1122 or come by Cadiz Hardware. Remember our meeting is at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the Emergency Meeting Room behind the courthouse. The museum is closed because we are close to beginning renovations.