Formed in October 1852, this group of enslaved men banded together “to care for the sick, bury the dead and perform other acts of charity.” (History of Fayette County, Robert Peter, 1882, reprint 1979) In 1871, they opened an account with the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Bank in Lexington for accounting of funds received from the purchase of burial lots. (Freedman’s Saving and Trust deposit record #335, 1/1871)
The society became one of the more successful African American groups in Lexington. (Kentucky Leader, 2/3/1892)
In 1869, Leonard Fish, Henry King and Jordan Jackson, (Sr.) were the trustees of Union Benevolent Society No. 2. They fulfilled one of the goals of their organization by purchasing a four acre tract of land “for the purpose of making it a cemetery.” The land was “just outside the city limits” between Strodes Road and East Seventh Street, a little over a mile from the center of town. The society received a charter from the state to operate the cemetery 14 March 1870. (KENTUCKY ACTS: Vol. II, Chapter 699, Pp 349-351)
In April 1875, the trustees purchased an adjoining four acres to establish an eight acre site. By June of the same year, the land was theirs, free and clear of any encumbrances and has remained so during the period of its existence. Archival research has determined that the cemetery derived its name from the organization; there was never a cemetery number one in Lexington.
Benevolent Society Cemetery No. 2
Colored Cemetery No. 2
Cemetery No. 2
In 1980, the site was rededicated as African Cemetery No. 2.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of 1907 and 1934 show that there was a structure near the east front boundary. From 1873 through 1925, it was home to the sexton or caretaker of the cemetery. Willis Carr, William Wright, Marshall Washington, John Carr, William Anderson, George W. Jones, James Gibson, Alex Franklin and Lloyd Scroggins were employed by the cemetery board and lived on the grounds. From 1928 to 1947 Henry James and William Beasley were caretakers but lived in their own homes. Names of these men were gleaned from city directories, census, Freedman’s Savings and Trust bank record and an obituary.
Death certificates from 1894 through the 1950s document burials made in “No. 2”; a few certificates referenced UBS (Union Benevolent Society) No.2 or Benevolent No. 2. (Index to Lexington Deaths, 1894-1907 Melissa L. Gordon and Kentucky Vital Statistics Death fiche)
As designated in the organization’s charter, lot owners were given legal title to their purchases. Several deeds filed by individuals who purchased lots indicate that there was a map of the grounds as designated by their charter. Deed Book #79, 514, 10/2/1888; Deed Book #111m 165, 9/2/1897; Deed Book #123, 572, 10/2/1889; Deed Book #168, 62, 2/10/1912
By the late 1940s, the leaders of the first two generations had died and only a handful of community volunteers continued to manage the site. Lizzie Fouse and Jennie Neal spearheaded community efforts to raise funds and care for the cemetery through 1952.
The local papers featured captioned photos of the deterioration of the site beginning in 1949 through the 1970s.
In 1973 the city government considered having the site declared abandoned. They bid out a contract to clear and then survey the ground for burials. The Richardson’s Corporation of Owingsville, KY recorded the names and dates on 1,200 grave markers and determined that there were close to 5,000 burials.
In1979 a group of concerned citizens incorporated as African Cemetery No. 2. Reverend H. H. Greene was elected chair. He served until his death in 1986. During his tenure, a community development block grant was awarded to restore the cemetery. Restoration began 3 June 1980 and the site was rededicated 29 May 1981.
Eight Thousand Burials
Unfortunately during the time the cemetery was probably the most active-1869 to 1891- the record of burials was not preserved. Death certificates from 1894 to 1950 document eight thousand burials.
The last verified burial was of Mardie Mead, husband of Ruth Jenkins Mead, recorded in 1976. His wife’s headstone indicates that she was buried in 1974.
The cemetery is not currently accepting burials.
A survey taken in 2001 by a board member recorded 1,132 remaining markers. This number was verified by Bailey Land Surveyors in 2002 and by students of the Henry Clay High School History Club in 2009.