Mammoth Cave's African-American History

By: Ryan Dearbone
By: Ryan Dearbone
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Joy Medley Lyons began working at Mammoth Cave the summer before her senior year of college.

During that time she became fascinated by the stories of the cave.

However, she felt there was a part of the story that hadn't been told.

"As I started to work here, even after graduation, I started to discover that there was very little known about the slave history here at Mammoth Cave, even though it had been prevalent through the 19th century."

She first learned about Stephen Bishop, a teenager from Glasgow who became a hit at the cave for his tours.

Through tourist accounts Lyons then learned more about lesser known slaves who worked at the cave.

Two of these were Matt and Nick Bransford, slaves who belonged to the same slave owner and gave tours for the cave.

"Matt Bransford started a tradition of cave-guiding at Mammoth Cave that started in about 1838 and ran until about 1939, about 101 continuous years. There was never a day there wasn't a Bransford man from that family guiding tours at Mammoth Cave.

Lyons says the contributions by African-Americans went beyond just giving tours.

She says the work they did helped to make the cave what it is today.

"I think it was the difference between success and failure. This was a large hotel, large tourism establishment, there was a lot of work to be done. Some of the slaves had trades, some of them worked as chambermaids."

According to Lyons, as the cave grew into a national attraction, many of the slaves and their families moved away leaving their stories untold.

Lyons says she believes that showing visitors the African-American tradition at the cave will only enrich the experience for everyone.

She also says in the visitor's center of Mammoth Cave, visitors can find pictures of African-Americans who have contributed to the cave.

Also inside of the cave are inscriptions in the cave walls by the slaves themselves.

For more, check out these links:

www.nps.gov/maca

joy_lyons@nps.gov


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