Kalvin Graves got interested in genealogy a few years back, and started researching his great-great grandfather, a free man of color named Lawson Graves who lived in a black community near the UK campus named Adamstown.
Graves became intrigued by Adamstown, a small enclave that overlooked Stoll Field near Martin Luther King Boulevard. By the 1940s, the rapidly growing University of Kentucky had purchased all the houses, and before long, the neighborhood was wiped away and paved over for the construction of Memorial Coliseum.
“This community was important to UK and it disappeared,” Graves said. “We need to make sure people know this history.”
Graves got some help with that task on Tuesday when UK officials unveiled a historical marker at the back of Memorial Coliseum to commemorate both Adamstown and Pierre Whiting, an Adamstown resident who worked as a janitor at UK for 57 years. He was called “Dean Whiting” on a campus where black students wouldn’t be allowed until 1949, when Lyman T. Johnson sued for entry.
Whiting started working at UK in 1888, carrying water and mortar to the men building the Main Building. He became so well-known on campus that he was frequently interviewed by the Kentucky Kernel, Graves found in his research.
“Whiting gives us historical perspectives on Patterson, the first president of UK, he gave us historical aspects of the football games,” Graves said, which Adamstown residents would watch from their houses because they were not allowed to attend. “He was a folk hero, he was loved by students at UK and he loved this university.”
Many Adamstown residents were skilled workers who contributed to UK and Lexington, said Deirdre Scaggs, associate dean of UK special collections and archives. The 1880 census identified 65 black families who built frame houses at what was then the edge of Lexington. The 22-acre rectangle was bordered by what is now the Avenue of Champions, Rose Street, MLK and Adams Street, now the Memorial Coliseum parking lot. Two churches in the neighborhood — Rose Street Baptist and Macedonia Baptist — merged to become Consolidated Baptist Church, which is now located on Russell Cave Road.
“It is critical that we share and reveal the ugly parts of our past,” Scaggs said, “ . . . to help others know there are important questions that need to be asked.”
UK has started putting up its own historical markers, based on the state Transportation Cabinet plaques around the state, Scaggs said. .
Graves said he wanted to use the story of Adamstown to help Lexington today. “One of my concerns is gentrification that’s going on in Lexington,” he said. “We don’t want to see more black communities disappear.”
Graves, who has a history degree from UK, thanked Yvonne Giles, who has uncovered much of Lexington’s previously unknown black history, and said he will continue his work with her, sitting in the Kentucky Room at the Lexington Public Library.
“I’m uncovering so many things,” he said. “I have quite a few stories to tell that are coming down the road.”