Somerset Slaves Memorial Gets Grant to Help Move Project Toward Spring 2018 Construction

Sep 4, 2017

An artist's rendering of the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial by sculptor Ayokunle Odeleye.
Credit Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial

A Pulaski County memorial to slaves buried in unmarked graves is moving forward with a grant and some media attention.

The Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial began as a response to the murder of nine African-Americans by a white supremacist during a Bible study in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.

The memorial has been awarded a $1,000 grant from the Puffin Foundation, an organization that funds art projects often excluded from mainstream grants because of race, gender or social philosophy.


The project was also featured as a portion of a recent interview with David Holland, co-chair of the memorial committee, on the "American Voices" program Sirius X-M Radio. In the interview Holland discusses how he and two other local residents realized there were 2,500 slaves in the community in 1860 and many  of them were buried in unmarked graves. The three men wanted to honor the work done by the slaves, including building roads and fences and harvesting crops.

Charles Leveridge, co-chair of the project, says the slaves memorial will have an educational component to encourage discussion among diverse groups.

“When you consider the current state of race relations in this country and the polarization that is ongoing, this is an opportunity for us as citizens in our little corner of the world to bring honor and dignity and respect to the final resting places for enslaved Americans that never received any real recognition.”

Leveridge says the memorial will encourage respectful conversations about racial, cultural and political topics.

"This could be a focal point in which different folks could have the opportunity to discuss a lot of the issues facing the country today.”

The project has previously received $5,000 from the Pulaski County Fiscal Court and a matching amount from Somerset City Council, as well as private donations. 

The slaves memorial committee is applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in hopes of beginning construction in May of 2018.

A design has been done by sculptor Ayokunle Odeleye, a professor of art at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. The memorial will be on the campus of Somerset Community College.

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Note: You can listen to the "American Voices" interview on the slaves memorial by copying and pasting this link into your browser. The portion of the interview with David Holland begins at about 11:20.

https://soundcloud.com/billbradley/one-of-the-last-mirror-ball-makers-in-the-country-tells-us-how-the-business-is-stayin-alive