It's frequently said today's young people don't know or care about history, but don't tell that to a group of students at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. They love history.
The Henry Clay High School History Club, which has about 60 members, recently was named the Outstanding History Club of 2011 by the Boston-based National History Club Association and its sponsor, the History Channel.
The recognition is based on several of the club's recent projects and activities, including its ongoing effort to restore, research and document more than 1,000 tombstones at Lexington's historic African Cemetery No. 2 on Seventh Street.
The project started last year with Henry Clay club members using rags and toothbrushes to scrub and clean the tombstones, many of which were showing the ravages of time and damage from vandals.
This year, club members have been photographing each tombstone. Soon, they'll start taking rubbings of the tombstones, recording what's written on each one.
Once they've gathered all the rubbings and photographs, club members plan to give the entire package of data to the University of Kentucky Libraries' Special Collections, where it would be available for anyone doing research on the African-American burial ground. The project could keep club members busy through next year and perhaps beyond, says Chris Snow, a Henry Clay history teacher and history club sponsor.
Club members also want to learn more about the oldest graves in the cemetery, some of which date to the 1700s, and the graves of some black Spanish-American War veterans, Snow said.
"It will be a lot of hard work, but we're going to try to find out," he said.
Twins Beth and Anna Hansen, 17, are co-presidents of the history club this year. The seniors said they joined the club two years ago, mostly at the encouragement of their older sister, Amy, who'd been a member when she attended Henry Clay.
"Now, we're really glad we did," Anna said.
"Mr. Snow comes up with lots of projects and ideas, and makes history really interesting," Beth said.
The club was at a low ebb until about six years ago, when an effort to restart it began. One of the first steps was creation of a "history lab" in Snow's classroom. It now contains more than 1,000 donated objects and artifacts, including Roman coins, an ancient Turkish oil lamp, a working 1900 Edison phonograph, and plastic radios and a Geiger counter from the 1950s. Most of the items still work.
The artifacts are used regularly in lectures and classroom discussions, giving students a "hands on" taste of the history they study in textbooks.
Apparently it pays off.
Juniors Chyla Smith, 16, and Lauren Coyne, 17, are co-leaders in the research project at African Cemetery No. 2.
"It has been really interesting because there are about 5,000 people buried there, but only 1,000 or 1,200 of the graves are marked," Lauren said.
Added Chyla, "I like the idea of getting involved in the community, looking look at the tombstones and seeing how old they are.
"History shows us where we came from, and it makes up what we are today. If you present history the right way, it's no problem getting kids interested."
The club beat out more than 7,000 clubs for the national honor. Henry Clay's history club is also among the top 10 student groups featured in the National History Club's spring magazine. For more information, go to Nationalhistoryclub.org.