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Historian and preservationist Yvonne Giles is now Doctor Giles

Yvonne Giles, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on May 3, 2019. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto

Posted online May 6, 2019

LEXINGTON, Ky.  Ms. Yvonne Giles was one of five who earned honorary doctorates from the University of Kentucky (UK) for their distinguished careers and community service at the May 2019 Commencement Ceremonies.

The UK Board of Trustees also approved the honorary degrees for Stephen B. Bright, Jim Host, Howard L. Lewis and Reese Terry.

Yvonne Giles received Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. A native Lexingtonian, Giles has two other degrees from UK. She first graduated from UK with a home economics degree in 1967. She worked for several years as a dietitian​ at Good Samaritan Hospital at which time she earned a master’s degree from UK in food science and nutrition. Giles then began working for the Extension Service and became the first African-American extension agent in Oldham County. After retiring from the Extension Service, she remained in Oldham County and was elected as the first African-American woman on the LaGrange City Council, and she chaired the Main Street Historic District Commission. Eventually, Giles returned to Lexington and worked in the gift industry. Upon her retirement there, she embarked on a self-taught career in historical research.

Yvonne Giles, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on May 3, 2019. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto
Ms. Yvonne Giles give a tour of African Cemetery No. 2 to Central Kentucky Black Homeschoolers in 2013.

Giles sought information about her own family’s genealogy, and that eventually expanded into in-depth research of Lexington’s African-American history. Over the last 20 years, Giles has worked with the cooperation and support of others to rediscover and illuminate the history and accomplishments of African Americans in Lexington dating as far back as when Kentucky’s first settlers arrived. She has dedicated her life to uncovering and documenting those buried and/or forgotten in the city, specifically at Lexington’s African Cemetery No. 2.

Giles’ accomplishments over the years include founding a museum named in honor of Lexington sculptor Isaac Scott Hathaway, publishing a book based on African Cemetery No. 2, and unveiling the African-American Heritage Trail in downtown Lexington.