‘We never wanted to forget her.’ Markers dedicated for family of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

·4 min read

Ann Scott was a former slave who family history says bore scars on her back that looked like the branches of a tree.

She was an aunt to internationally acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and a caregiver who helped raise more than one generation of nieces and nephews to whom she opened her home on Corral Street.

When she died in 1933, she was over 100 years old.

And on Saturday, some of her family members were present to see a memorial marker dedicated in her honor at the historic Lexington cemetery where she is buried.

Markers were dedicated for Scott and Henry Dunham, who was married to Scott’s niece, at African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street.

The exact locations of Scott and Dunham’s grave sites within the cemetery is not known, said historian Yvonne Giles, who helped organize the dedication, the first of its kind for the cemetery. The markers were placed in the center Memorial Garden area.

Marcia L. Wilson, of Cleveland, contacted the cemetery board about eight months ago about having the markers placed for Scott, her great-great aunt, and Dunham, her grandfather.

That call, Giles said, “sent me on a journey” that has led to the uncovering of some interesting stories.

Wilson and her sister, Alesia Adams Dell ’Orto, drove hours Saturday to attend the dedication and share some of their family’s history.

“We are honored and flattered that they are being honored today,” Wilson told those in attendance.

Marcia L. Wilson and her sister Alesia Adams Dell ‘Orto at a dedication ceremony for markers for their relatives Ann Scott and Henry Dunham, who were relatives of Paul Laurence Dunbar, at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022.
Marcia L. Wilson and her sister Alesia Adams Dell ‘Orto at a dedication ceremony for markers for their relatives Ann Scott and Henry Dunham, who were relatives of Paul Laurence Dunbar, at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022.

“This means a lot, because my grandmother and mother were basically raised by Ann Scott,” Wilson said. “She was basically forgotten.”

Wilson said Scott stepped in to help care for two generations of nieces and nephews after one of their parents died.

When Scott’s sister Priscilla Burton Washington died at a young age, Scott raised her four children, one of whom was Wilson’s grandmother, Lula Washington, Wilson said.

Lula Washington grew up and married Dunham, who, Wilson said, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1926, leaving behind a family of five children, including Wilson’s mother. She said Scott, who would have been more than 90 by then, again stepped in to help care for the family.

Wilson said she grew up hearing her mother and aunts tell stories about Scott, who was affectionately known as “Auntie.”

“We never wanted to forget her,” Wilson told attendees Saturday. “We always said her name..”

Marcia L. Wilson speaks about her relatives Henry Dunham and Ann Scott, who were relatives of Paul Laurence Dunbar during a dedication ceremony for a cousin and an aunt of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022.
Marcia L. Wilson speaks about her relatives Henry Dunham and Ann Scott, who were relatives of Paul Laurence Dunbar during a dedication ceremony for a cousin and an aunt of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Wilson said her mother told them how Scott’s back “looked like tree limbs.”

“She was not a very, as they would say, obedient slave, and so she wore the scars of that,” she said. “She taught the girls how to be young ladies, how to be independent, and we bless her for that.”

Minister Ronald Woolfolk told the group Saturday that Scott “stood for her rights, which encourages me to stand for mine.”

Scott was poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s aunt on his mother’s side, a sister to his mother Matilda Burton, who had also been enslaved in Kentucky before the Civil War.

Dunbar’s visits to his Kentucky family were apparently dear to him. He wrote of his experiences in the poem, “After a Visit,” which was read Saturday by Mekhi McLeod. One stanza states:

See jest how they give you welcome

To the best that’s in the land,

Feel the sort o’ grip they give you

When they take you by the hand.

Hear ‘em say, “We ‘re glad to have you,

Better stay a week er two;

An’ the way they treat you makes you

Feel that ev’ry word is true.

In April 1899, a Lexington newspaper ran an article headlined “A pleasing incident: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s visit to his relatives,” which recounted Dunbar’s visit to Scott at her home on Corral Street.

Dunbar, for whom a Lexington high school is named, grew up in Dayton, Ohio and was renowned for his poetry, though he wrote prolifically, publishing novels, short stories and essays on what life was like for many Black Americans at the turn of the 20th century. He died at age 33 in 1906.

University of Kentucky professor Reinette Jones, co-creator of the Kentucky Notable African Americans Database, said Wilson’s information on members of her family, from Dunham’s daughter who served in World War II and had a successful banking career in New York to his brother who was one of the few African-American doctors in Kentucky in the early 1900s, has been very helpful for adding to entries in the database.

And as for Dunbar, she said, “He was not just Kentucky. He was not just Dayton. This man was nationally known and internationally known.”

Woolfolk, the minister, told the crowd that there is value in remembering and that “our labor is not in vain.”

“They’re on the other side,” he said, “but their memory and their legacy lives on.”

Memorial markers for Ann Scott and Henry Dunham sit freshly decorated with flowers during a dedication at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022. Scott and Dunham were relatives of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Memorial markers for Ann Scott and Henry Dunham sit freshly decorated with flowers during a dedication at African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, May 21, 2022. Scott and Dunham were relatives of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

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