Lexington leaders are trying to find out more about the enslaved people who were buried in unmarked graves in the city-run cemetery. 

The site two short blocks off of Main Street dates to the 1740s and the oldest section is crowded with headstones. Mayor Jason Hayes’ parents and grandparents are buried here.

Hayes says there are detailed records about most of the graves. But there’s an empty grassy area of nearly 4,000 square feet that’s long been known as a place where enslaved people were buried before the Civil War.

So what do we know about them? Virtually nothing, Hayes says. 

“No records. None,” he says.

Mystery shrouds this green space. Some time ago a squat stone and masonry marker was placed in the middle. But there’s no documentation of who put it there or why. Its inscription reads: “In this large, vacant space, before the Civil War, negro slaves were buried by their masters.”

Hayes says without records they may never be able to answer who is buried here. But there may be clues as to how many and where their remains are located.

Lexington has been awarded $6,000 from the state Historic Preservation Office — along with $2,500 in city funds — to perform an archaeological survey using ground-penetrating radar. Hayes says getting answers is a matter of equity.

“I can't think of any better way, given the limited amount of information that we have to say that you matter,” he says. “You mattered to your families back then, you matter to families today that they may be ancestors of, but that they matter to our community.”

He says once additional information is known about the remains, a more appropriate memorial will be placed here.

  • Lexington Mayor Jason Hayes in Lexington City Cemetery.

    Lexington Mayor Jason Hayes in Lexington City Cemetery. His parents and grandparents are buried here. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • Lexington city cemetery

    Side view of the stone and masonry memorial erected to note that enslaved people were buried in this part of the cemetery without headstones. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • The entrance to Lexington City Cemetery.

    The entrance to Lexington City Cemetery. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

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