Discovering Cuba's Connection to KY
This article, written by WKU graduate student Shelley Spalding (History), was created for the May 2019 issue of El Kentubano, a Spanish-language publication in Louisville, KY. For the Spanish translation of the article, click here.
African-American former slaves in the small town of Power’s Station, KY probably saw the 1896 newspaper headlines proclaiming the tragic death of the Cuban war hero Antonio Maceo Grajales. Maceo was killed in combat fighting for his country’s independence and his death had made international news. It was around this time that Power’s Station had been looking for a new name because many residents confused it with the name of the local post office. With the strong, young African-American population and the inspiration from the Afro-Cuban war hero, this small Daviess county town near the Ohio River decided to change its name to Maceo and remains so today.
Maceo has been a national Cuban hero since his death in 1896. He fought as a guerrilla leader in the Cuban War of Independence and his followers looked up to him to lead them into battle against the Spanish. Maceo traveled to the United States to ask for help in the cause for Cuban independence. He visited Washington, D.C. and New York, speaking in political circles to ask for support and funds. When he returned to Cuba, he was suddenly and tragically killed in combat. After his burial, Cubans began to see him as a national hero and erected many statues and monuments in his honor. To this day Cuba still celebrates him as “The Titan of Bronze.”
The death of Maceo invaded American newspapers. Many Americans in 1896 saw him as the “George Washington of Cuba.” Doris Estes, a resident of Maceo in 1993, called him “the hero of the hour.” Many today believe that the Daviess county judge in 1897 chose to name the town after Maceo to honor the African-American community of the area. Over the years, the town of Maceo maintained this lively and successful African-American community. These freed slaves established a school and a Baptist church that functioned for many years as important community sites.
Although Antonio Maceo never visited Kentucky, his legacy was able to create multicultural connections among Cubans, African-Americans, and other Kentuckians. It is clear that Cuban history reaches much farther than the Caribbean and rural Kentucky’s diverse history reaches much farther than the Ohio River Valley.
Source: Daviess County Public Library
Photo: Hispanic Division, United States Library of Congress, Public Domain
Maceo welcome sign
Maceo United Methodist Church
Louisville & Nashville railroad in Maceo