“The beauty of this project is that it not only gives you a broader aspect of Lexington’s history, particularly African-American history, but also introduces you to individuals and situations that may not ever have crossed anyone’s purview,” says historian Yvonne Giles, referring to the new African American History Trail in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.
The trail is made up of 11 stops, primarily in Lexington’s urban core. Each stop has a marker describing a specific person or event that is significant to the area’s history. Many of these individuals and events are little known to people today, having been overlooked or obscured by traditional histories.
“As a child I never learned what I have learned in my 20 years of research,” says Giles. “And from that I found that there were former enslaved individuals who moved into a period of enlightenment, growth, and progression, and to read about how they achieved that is just, it’s just amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Giles relates the stories of some of the individuals who stood out most to her, including Charlotte DuPuis, a woman who, along with her husband and children, was enslaved to Henry Clay. DuPuis sued Clay for her freedom after spending four years with the Clays in Maryland, a free state, during Henry Clay’s time as Secretary of State. She ultimately lost the lawsuit and went back to the Clays at their Ashland estate until after the Civil War.
Another individual on the trail is Mary Britton, who was a doctor and social justice activist for women and children in Lexington. The house on North Limestone where she practiced medicine in the early 1900s is still standing, and is now a stop on the trail.
The History Trail came about after a series of sometimes difficult conversations about Lexington’s history and the way it has been presented.
“Together Lexington was formed with the goal of trying to bring a sense of community pride and spirit to Lexington to talk about what we’re proud of about Lexington and also to fund a series of projects that would benefit the community and hopefully have a lasting impact,” says Carla Blanton, Project Manager with Together Lexington. “We held community conversations – we called them Courageous Conversations – to talk about issues that need to be talked about but maybe aren’t always so comfortable to talk about. One of the things that came out from our conversations on race were just issues that the community has, from the Confederate statues that at the time were in a place of prominence to really a lack of being able to tell the full story of Lexington.
“We wanted to make sure that we told the good and the bad of Lexington’s history so that we could understand what happened in Lexington and how that still impacts us today, and moving forward how we can come together as a community by learning from the past,” Blanton adds.