Louisville's first African American female officer's grave lost in time

Louisville's first African American female officer's grave lost in time
Bertha Whedbee became the LMPD's first African American female police officer in 1922.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - They say history can be forgotten but never erased. That is still the case at the Louisville Cemetery, even though at some particular graves there are no markers, no flowers, or names. There was only a pink flag, placed so our cameras could find it.

"It's essentially just grass," said Chuck Cooper a retired Louisville Metro Police Department officer.

We were at the resting place of Bertha Whedbee.

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WAVE 3 News obtained a copy of her official department photo. She was the first African American female officer in Louisville, appointed in March 1922.

She was a true trailblazer.

We also obtained a copy of her oath with the department, which bears a prominent scratch that would change Louisville history. The "man" in policeman was crossed out and replaced with police "woman."

"I can't even imagine the imbalance of power she faced," Cooper said.

Whedbee lived in a house on Chestnut Street. It still stands today.

She married Dr. Ellis Whedbee, who now lies next to her on at that unmarked plot of land. Despite their contributions to the community, their graves were forgotten.

Dr. Whedbee helped establish the Louisville Red Cross Hospital, which served African Americans during a segregated Louisville. His name is now on a historic marker in front of the building at Shelby Street.

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Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton helped establish the historic marker in front of the building. Her own father worked as a physician there decades ago.

Hamilton said Bertha Whedbee was also part of a women's committee which governed the Red Cross Hospital. To Cooper, it's all the more reason their graves should be honored.

"There are so many good role models and powerful people in our past," he said. "We just felt that was terribly wrong."

Cooper and other officers are now raising money to give Bertha and her husband the resting place they deserve. They've created a Go Fund Me page, the Bertha Whedbee Memorial Fund.

To Cooper, Whedbee's sacrifices and commitment to serve -- regardless of her race or gender -- are lessons that should be honored today.

"We don't divide into camps," he said. "We celebrate each others diversity as one big community."

They are hoping the community will step up to give Bertha and her husband a proper resting place.

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