Mammoth Cave to honor Black History Month with tours, discussions

Published 4:12 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

By Jack Dobbs, Bowling Green Daily News

Mammoth Cave National Park will host a series of tours, discussions and presentations for Black History Month. The month-long series will highlight the contributions of African-Americans to the research, tourism and exploration of the cave.

Molly Schroer, public information officer for the park, said the history of Mammoth Cave is rooted in the contributions of African Americans.

“It’s not all pretty,” Schroer said. “The early guides were enslaved. They were not here of their free will, but they did a lot to progress the cave and tourism in the area.”

The park will host ranger-led talks daily. Though the topics will change with each talk, all cover the early history of African Americans at Mammoth Cave.

Schroer said Black history at Mammoth Cave extends back to when the cave was rediscovered in 1799. At that time, enslaved African Americans were tasked with exploration of the cave system and guiding tourists through the cave.

One such enslaved person was Materson “Mat” Bransford. Among the first enslaved people brought to the cave in the early 1800s, five generations of Bransford’s family guided visitors around the cave for over 150 years.

Schroer said many of the cave’s most famous attractions were first discovered by African Americans.

Stephen Bishop, an enslaved man, was the first person to cross the “Bottomless Pit” in the cave and is credited with discovering some of the cave’s most famous features, such as Mammoth Dome, the Ruins of Karnak, River Hall and Fat Man’s Misery, Schroer said.

Bishop and other African American explorers are also credited for mapping the cave. Schroer said Bishop drew a map of the cave system, and it was “very accurate” for the time, given no modern cartography tools were available. She said she thinks it is important to learn this history, since so many different cultures have contributed to the cave.

“Native American history, African American history, European history, we all kind of converge in this tourist attraction and this geologic wonder, and all of our powers combined have created what we have today,” Schroer said.

Other topics for the talks include the 1800s saltpeter mining operation, early cave guides and the all African American Civilian Conservation Corps camp that developed roads, trails and tour routes within the cave.

Additionally, guests can visit the Bransford Family Cemetery. The quarter-mile walk to the cemetery will educate visitors on the history of the Bransford family’s contributions to the cave and tourism in the area.

This tour will last around two hours and will be canceled in the event of inclement weather.

On Feb. 22, the park will host a one-hour presentation at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center’s “Museum of the Barrens” in Glasgow. Attendees will learn about the Bransford Summer Resort, a hotel that was owned and operated by Bransford’s descendant Matt and his wife, Zemmie Bransford, during the 1920s and 1930s.

All events are free and open to the public.