Saturday, shortly after noon, members of Main Street Baptist Church will gather at the gates of African Cemetery No. 2, preparing to give honor to the minister who started their congregation 150 years ago.
The ceremony will include the dedication and unveiling of a headstone for the Rev. Fredrick Braxton, the minister who, with 400 followers, broke with First African Baptist Church and walked to Main Street where they formed a new church in 1862.
"We don't know if there ever was a headstone for him or if it was destroyed," said Eric Smith who is coordinating the dedication.
Smith, Delphine Ridgeway, and Joyce A. Smith, all members of Main Street, had been researching bits of church history separately before uniting their efforts a few years ago. Since then, they have collected artifacts that are now housed in Main Street's history museum in the Fredrick Braxton Building across the Jefferson Street viaduct from the church.
Before he died in 2008, Elder D.J. Ward, the 14th pastor of Main Street, often talked about finding Braxton's grave and placing a headstone on it. The amateur sleuths were all inspired by that wish.
In her research, Ridgeway learned Braxton was buried in African Cemetery No. 2, and learned about the Braxton family plot. But she couldn't pinpoint the exact grave without DNA and exhuming the surrounding remains.
Yvonne Giles, the director of the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum who is extremely knowledgeable of Lexington black history and the cemetery, told Ridgeway the headstone could be placed in one of the two memorial garden areas of the cemetery. That's where people can place memorials for loved ones whose exact burial plot is uncertain.
The headstone will be placed in the center of the cemetery, near a headstone for Braxton's son.
Ridgeway, who was mentored by Giles, said Braxton became the pastor of First African after the 1854 death of London Ferrill, the longtime pastor who had grown the congregation into the largest in Kentucky, black or white.
Braxton's relationship with First African ended in 1862 when established Independent Baptist Church in an old hemp warehouse, Ridgeway said. It was later named Main Street.
In Braxton's obituary, printed in the Kentucky Gazette in February, 1876, the break-up might have been caused by politics. "...division sprang up amongst them, owing to politics, it is said, and Bro. Braxton colonised and built a church on West Main street, which is probably the most numerous congregation in Kentucky," the article said.
The warehouse once belonged to a group of heirs which included Mary Todd Lincoln. But it was sold 10 years before Braxton and the church bought it.
During a funeral in 1869, the roof of the church collapsed as did the floor, killing two women and a child. A new church was built and it stood until 1964 when it was torn down to make way for the current facility.
A free man and blacksmith by trade, Braxton had only one eye, according to the obituary, and ruled the church "with an iron rod."
"He often ex-communicated a hundred or two at a time, but yet so powerful was his appeals that he soon supplied their number, and the church continued very strong up to the time of his death," the article said.
Still the church was often in debt. "When his church was in the clutches of the law and there seemed hardly any possibility of its being saved, he managed to evade the lawyers and hold the church."
And a century and a half later, the church still stands and the congregation wants everyone to help celebrate its history.
In addition to the gravestone dedication on Saturday, the church will celebrate with worship services and an open dinner Sunday. Everyone is welcome.
If you have any photos or other artifacts from the church's history, Ridgeway would love to have them for the museum. Bring them with you.
For Giles, who pressed Ridgeway to document everything, watching others become history buffs is exciting.
"It has been really, really, encouraging to see this," Giles said. "We need more young people involved."
Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.