A brief guide to the remarkable history of Lexington's East End

September 1, 2013 

Charles D. Young

Born in 1864 in Mayslick, Young was the third black graduate of West Point, the first black military attaché to a foreign state and the highest ranking black officer at the beginning of World War I.

He was a child when his parents, Gabriel and Arminta, former slaves, moved to Huntington, Ohio. By 1880, the family lived in Ripley, Ohio where Young graduated from a white high school and taught at a colored school. He entered West Point in 1883, and after graduation, served in the Army for 28 years.

Local historian Yvonne Giles said that, although Young never lived in Lexington, his family had close ties here, with the Jacksons, "a very prominent African-American couple." Visits by the Youngs with the Jacksons were frequently reported in the local newspapers' "colored notes," as were Young's military accomplishments. Blacks in Lexington, "were very much acquainted with Mr. Young and all the struggles he had gone through."

Young died on detail in Liberia and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. When Young died in 1922, leaders of the black community chose to name a new park after him, Giles said. Later when a community center was built in the park, it became known as the Charles Young Center.

For more: The Early Life of Colonel Charles Young: 1864-1889, by R. E. Greene; and Charles D. Young in the Kentucky Encyclopedia 2000.

William Wells Brown

Brown was born close to Mount Sterling in 1814. His mother, Elizabeth, was a slave and so he was a slave; although his father, George Higgins, was white.

Giles said Brown was separated from his family as a young man and hired out to do a variety of jobs, working for barkeepers, riverboat captains and even a slave dealer — work he detested. He escaped at age 20 and made his way north, where he participated in abolitionist activities.

Brown went to Europe to avoid capture. Self-educated, he wrote a play, poems, songs, and books, including Clotel, the first novel published by a black. He went on the abolitionist lecture circuit and earned enough money to buy his freedom.

That allowed him to return to the U.S. where he continued working for the abolition of slavery along with Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe and other prominent figures.

He is buried in Chelsea, Mass., where he was living at the time of his death in 1884.

Next year is the 200th anniversary of Brown's birth. Giles said Ezra Greenspan, an English professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas, who is writing a biography of Brown, is trying to organize an international celebration of Brown's life and work. She said he hopes that Lexington, where the only school known to be named after Brown is located, will participate.

For more: From Slave to Abolitionist by W. W. Brown and L. S. Warner; and Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave Written by Himself.

Isaac Burns Murphy

Named either Jerry Burns or Isaac Burns at birth in Bourbon County in 1861, he was the son of America and Jerry Burns, both of whom were slaves. After his father died at Camp Nelson, Murphy's family moved into Lexington to live with his maternal grandfather, Green Murphy. Isaac changed his name to Murphy after becoming a jockey.

Murphy was the first back-to-back Kentucky Derby winner and the first to win three Derbies (1884, 1890 and 1891). One of the very best jockeys, Murphy won 44 percent of his starts, a record that remains unbroken. Murphy, like many black jockeys, lived in the East End, close to the racetrack.

His home, which sat on seven and a half acres, was on Third Street near Lewis, and the property backed up to the track. The property wasn't developed until 1907, long after Murphy's death in 1896. Murphy's widow, Lucy Murphy, died in 1910. She and her mother lived on North Limestone Street.

For more: Betty Borries Papers, Isaac Murphy Material, located at Kentucky State University; The Isaac Murphy Notebook at the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum in Lexington; and The Great Black Jockeys, by E. Hotaling.

African Cemetery No. 2

Located on East Seventh Street, the cemetery is about eight acres and contains over 5,000 graves of which only 1,200 are identified, and fewer than 600 have identifiable markers. There have been no burials since 1974. The cemetery is under the direction of African Cemetery No. 2, Inc., a nonprofit.

Though burials occurred there as early as the 1820s, the land was purchased and chartered as a burial ground by The Colored Peoples Union Benevolent Society No. 2 in 1869. Similar societies were created throughout the south after the Civil War for community building. The society cared for the cemetery until the 1930's after which a period of decline occurred.

A guide to a walking tour of the cemetery can be found at: www.uky.edu/Projects/AfricanCem/walking_tour.html.

Lyric Theatre

The Art Deco style of the theater and its marquee lit up the corner of East Third and DeWeese streets from the early 1940s. A leading entertainment center in the black community, the Lyric hosted first-run films, black films and entertainers like The Temptations, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots and Redd Foxx.

The Lyric offered blacks a place to enjoy shows without climbing to the balconies, often filthy and poorly maintained, where they were required to sit in other theaters. Its decline began with the integration of Lexington's other theaters and it closed in 1963. The theater reopened as a performing arts center in 2010 after the city acquired and rehabilitated it.

Sources: University of Kentucky Libraries Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. nkaa.uky.edu/index.php with additional material supplied by Lexington historian Yvonne Giles, who conducts walking tours of the East End under the auspices of the Lyric Theatre. For information on the tours go to www.lexingtonlyric.com or call 859-280-2218.

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