Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery

An African American cemetery in Elsmere, Kentucky

The Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery was founded in 1950 and was dedicated to Mary E. Smith (1866-1950), the mother of co-founder Rev. Edward Smith. This cemetery is the final resting place of many notable persons including Civil Rights activist William H. “Che” Payne (1943-1970).

The cemetery is located on Wycliff Avenue in Elsmere, Kentucky. A number of WWI veterans are buried here, including Ferdinand DeSota Blackburn, Rev. Oscar H. Huggins, William Lambkins, and Dr. James E. Randolph.

Other notable persons buried here include: Dr. Percival L. Bacchus, longtime physician of Newport, Kentucky; Elizabeth Berry Delaney, owner of the E. B. Delaney Funeral Home; Brandent Englemon, football player at the University of Michigan; and Alice Thornton Shimfessel, Civil Rights leader in Northern Kentucky.

Perhaps the best-known person buried in this cemetery is William H. “Che” Payne, a Civil Rights activist. In the late 1960’s, Payne was part of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was originally from Covington, Kentucky.

“Che” Payne was killed on March 9, 1970, along with Ralph Featherstone, when a bomb exploded in their car. The bombing took place in Bel Air, Maryland, less than a mile from the Hartford County courthouse. Payne and Featherstone were associates of H. Rap Brown, who was scheduled to go on trial at that courthouse the following day. (Brown was charged with having instigated a riot several years earlier.) After the bombing, many people believed that H. Rap Brown was the intended target, and that Payne and Featherstone were killed by mistake. William H. “Che” Payne was 26.

The Mary E. Smith Cemetery was in the news in 2020 because of vandalism. At least 30 headstones were overturned. Some were spray-painted with anarchist symbols (a letter “A” circumscribed by a circle) and foul language. Police investigated, but there was not much for them to go on.

After the vandalism, WVXU reporter Tana Weingartner interviewed Crystal Madaris, who has four generations of her family buried in the Mary E. Smith Cemetery. Madaris said,

“It's so devastating and heartbreaking… . I don't know whether to blame it on a political climate or... . I don't want to think that people are just that mean. I really don't know how to classify it, but I do think that it's targeted and that there needs to be something done, not only for the cemetery's sake but for each of us who are walking around each and every day. We need to be better to each other.”


Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery
Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery Wycliff Drive, Elsmere, Kentucky Creator: Chris Hanlin Date: 2023
Founders of the Mary E Smith Cemetery
Founders of the Mary E Smith Cemetery Creator: Chris Hanlin Date: 2023
Mary E Smith Memorial Cemetery
Mary E Smith Memorial Cemetery Creator: Chris Hanlin Date: 2023



Chris Hanlin, “Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,