In 2015, three residents of Somerset were made aware of unmarked graves belonging to enslaved Americans in the Lake Cumberland region. To pay tribute and respect to their final resting place, the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial was erected as a reminder that these individuals will never be forgotten. The renowned artist and sculptor, Ayokunle Odeleye, was commissioned to create the twenty-foot memorial, which now stands on the campus of Somerset Community College. The design features a paddle, a significant symbol in West African cultures representing water and its connection to life and death. At the top of the memorial is a representation of the West African Sankofa bird, looking back over its body to symbolize the efforts of communities and individuals to reclaim their culture and history.
Somerset Community College installed the sculpture on July 9th, 2019.
In addition to the memorial, the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial plans to launch an educational component that aims to promote inclusiveness and provide learning opportunities for community members to gain a deeper understanding of the daily experiences and contributions of slaves. This project also aims to identify possible slave burial sites in the region. It is important to remember that on the eve of the Civil War, Pulaski County alone was home to 1,330 enslaved Americans, making up almost 10% of the county’s population.
The Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial Association is determined to ensure that these lives are not forgotten and that they are recognized for their impact.