This article is presented in partnership with Lexington Tourism.

On a bluff above the Missouri River, there is a little-known African American cemetery named Forest Grove predating the Civil War. There are no records of the earliest burials, but it is believed they may have begun prior to 1854. Many of those first buried at Forest Grove were born into slavery, but as free people the scope of their labors mirrored the times. Military veterans are laid to rest among the coal miners, horsemen, smiths, farm hands, civic leaders, merchants, musicians, morticians, athletes, carpenters, cooks, domestics, barbers, educators, and construction workers who made their homes in this historic river town.

The property was sold to the City of Lexington in 1854 and designated for use as a public cemetery. In 1872, the City conveyed the property to “the trustees for the colored people of Lexington,” with the property to be held “forever in trust for the colored people of Lexington to be used as a graveyard and burying ground.”

The Forest Grove Cemetery Project was organized in recent years to restore headstones and fencing, resurface the road, and provide continual maintenance on the cemetery, as well as compile biographies of those interred on the grounds.

Among those believed to be buried at Forest Grove Cemetery is Miss Annie Williams. She is a beloved character in Lexington’s history. She had a colorful personality, and her favorite expression was, “Ain’t it dish?”

Miss Annie Williams. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.

Miss Annie was born into slavery close to Lexington circa 1831, and her feisty personality occasionally got her into trouble. An article in the Lexington Intelligencer in 1885 reports Ann Davis and Annie Williams had a fuss at the “colored” Baptist church. A jury assessed a fine of $10 against Ann Davis and there were eighteen witnesses in the case.

On December 14, 1924, Miss Annie was killed when struck by an automobile in the streets of Lexington. She always dressed in the color red, and her custom-made casket was lined entirely in that color. While Miss Annie doesn’t currently have a marker at Forest Grove Cemetery, others born into slavery have had their graves marked since their deaths. 

This beautiful marker is in place for Solomon Lawson, who was born in 1825. He was purchased by Orlando Bradley, in Virginia, and brought to Missouri in 1832 where he remained with the Lexington family after emancipation. He was believed to be 96 years old at the time of his death. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.
Morocco Saunders worked as a cook at Wentworth Military Academy after emancipation. He was married and had at least one child, but his stone commemorates his lifelong ethics and workmanship. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.
George H. Green. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.

“The Professor” George H. Green also has a prominent marker. He was born a slave and rose to become one of the state’s most prominent Negro educators. Mr. Green told the story of being sold twice as a child. When he was 8, a man came to his master wanting to buy his mother. The men haggled over the value of his mother, so the master finally gave in and threw George in to seal the deal. The second time he was sold was at the age of 12 for $400.00. His new master sent him to tutors along with his own children, and thus he began his formal education.

Professor Green graduated from the segregated Lincoln Institute (now known as Lincoln University) in Jefferson City. He came to Lexington in 1886, and became the principal of the Douglass School, where he served for fifty years.

One of the efforts of the Forest Grove Cemetery Project is to make sure the numerous veterans from the Civil War to present are honored with appropriate military headstones. Early military service was as diverse as the men who served.

Henry Colley, born in 1842, served in the eighteenth United States Colored Infantry Regiment, which was organized in Missouri. Unlike other African-American regiments from Missouri, the Regiment was mustered directly into U.S., rather than State service. Henry enlisted August 19, 1864, and mustered out February 21, 1866. One of the main engagements was the Battle of Nashville. Following the war, Henry was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of veterans of the Union Army. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.
Edward (Edwin) Mady was born December 13, 1897, in Lexington and served in World War I as part of the 317th Sanitary Train. Before leaving for France in 1918, they received the name “Buffalo Soldier Division” as a tribute to the four Buffalo Soldier regiments that fought in the regular US Army in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The 317th served in mobile hospitals, the last being near the front at the Argonne Forest. Tragically he died September 28, 1926, in Lexington, Missouri at age 28, the victim of a homicide. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.

After emancipation, African American families continued to leave a lasting legacy in their community. Elmer Radd was born April 3, 1909 and was an accomplished musician with the Elmer’s Cotton Club Band and the Harlem Blue Birds which was famous throughout the Midwest, playing mainly in “whites only” ballrooms, saloons, and dance halls.

Musical talent was not in short supply in Lexington. Alice Freeman Hancock was born on May 13, 1891. She studied piano growing up, and in 1913 did a concert tour in Canada. Alice died on June 25, 1922, after sustaining injuries falling down some steps while she was pregnant. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.
Even the most humble stones continue to tell the story of those in Forest Grove. In 1913, Jennie Paris requested to be buried near her parents. It is believed that Mary Turner is her mother and so acknowledged on this small combined tombstone. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.

Forest Grove Cemetery is located at 900 Golf Road, on the north edge of Lexington. The replacement of the fence surrounding the cemetery has been completed. You can learn more about ongoing projects and the growing anthology of the citizens at and on the Facebook page.

The new fence at Forest Grove Cemetery. Photo courtesy Forest Grove Cemetery Project.

Forest Grove is one of three antebellum cemeteries that still have current burials within Lexington. The Old Catholic Cemetery is located on Old Cemetery Road after being moved from its original location when Highway 13 and 24 were improved in the 1930’s. Machpelah Cemetery—originally known as the Waddell Family Cemetery. The first burial there was in 1849, William Bradford Waddell donated his family’s cemetery, along with other nearby land, to form Machpelah. The Lexington Historical Association will be sponsoring a Haunted Cemetery Tour at Machpelah Cemetery on October 26th at 6 PM. Find more details at .