From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Cobb, Lewis Arthur Gill "Shoe Shine"

(born: 1966  -  died: 2009) Lewis Cobb was a modern-day professional shoe shiner who promoted his business in downtown Lexington, KY. [His first name has also been written as Louis in various articles.]

Cobb was well known by business owners and others who worked in or frequented the downtown area. It was a rare sight to see an African American shoe shiner soliciting business on the streets of Lexington in the 21st Century, most having disappeared during the early decades of the 1900s.

Shoemaking, shoe repairs, and shoe care had been predominately enslaved people's trades in Kentucky prior to the Civil War. After enslavement  ended in Kentucky with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, African American shoe makers were abundant in Lexington.

By the 1930s, there were more than 100 African Americans in Lexington who earned a living as self-employed shoe shiners and repairers or who were employed within businesses such as cleaners, barbershops, hat shops, horse industry businesses, train and bus stations, and shoe stores.

Cobb had learned the shoe shine business from a professional shoe shiner in Washington, D. C who also went by the name "Shoe Shine." When Lewis Cobb started his shoe shine business in Lexington, it was said that he could be controversial yet often humble, and also prone to offer a bit of philosophy, therapy, and spiritual inspiration while shining an individual's shoes.

Not everyone welcomed Cobb's presence; when authorities received complaints, Cobb was ticketed by the police for operating his business without a peddler's license. With the help of attorney Gatewood Galbraith, the charges were dropped; shoe shiners are not peddlers. But that did not prevent Cobb from receiving tickets for jaywalking and other infractions.

Over time, Cobb refined his approach toward potential customers, the ticketing eventually stopped, and Cobb became well known in downtown Lexington. 

Cobb had moved to D.C. from Virginia, where he had lived for ten years. While there, he established Cobb's Cleaning Service. Prior to living in Virginia, he had earned a college degree in North Carolina. Cobb was a native of Lexington and graduated from Bryan Station High School. He grew up in the Charlotte Court housing projects [now the Arbor Grove neighborhood].

In 2002, Lewis Cobb returned to Kentucky from D.C. and began his shoe shine business that summer. Two years later, he met Erin McAnallen-Wilson, a University of Kentucky student who filmed a documentary about Cobb's life. The film, Can't Stop the Shine, was shown at the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington on May 25, 2006. 

Lewis Cobb was the son of Betty Beatty and William A. Cobb. Information about his life was provided by his sisters Velma Johnson, Valois Lewis, and Arletta Taylor.

Articles about Lewis Cobb include C. Thompson, "Shoeshine pro becomes subject of documentary," Lexington Herald-Leader, 5/23/2006, section D, p.  1; and J. Brammer, "Shoeshine, well-known in downtown Lexington is remembered as a character," Lexington Herald-Leader, 11/12/2009, City/Region section, p. A3.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Cobb, Lewis Arthur Gill "Shoe Shine",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2024, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/2287.

Last modified: 2022-09-02 19:07:56