A few years ago, I joined community leaders in Cincinnati to visit Union Baptist Cemetery, one of the most historic African American burial grounds in our state, and see all the work that’s needed to restore this hallowed ground to the place of honor that it should be.
This week I introduced the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act, bipartisan legislation to provide federal resources to ensure historic Black burial grounds around Ohio and the country are preserved and maintained for future generations.
Union Baptist is a historic site where Black union soldiers, civil rights activists, former slaves and so many other Black Ohioans share their final resting place. But it hasn’t been honored and preserved as it should be.
Several years ago we worked with the community and with civil rights and veterans’ groups to introduce bipartisan legislation to preserve historic Black burial grounds around the country. We got it passed in the Senate, but not across the finish line. This year, we hope we can get this new bill to the president’s desk and signed into law.
The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act would set up a program through the National Park Service that would provide grant opportunities and technical assistance to local partners to research, identify, survey and preserve historic Black Cemeteries.
When I visited Union Baptist, local leaders highlighted the graves of Powhatan Beaty, a former slave and Civil War veteran who became an actor and received a Congressional Medal of Honor, and Dr. Jennie Davis Porter, the first African American to receive a graduate degree from the University of Cincinnati, and so many other great Ohioans.
Cemeteries like Union Baptist don’t just matter to those whose ancestors are buried there – they’re important historical sites, and they’re tools for education and understanding.
Last month we brought in Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, for a virtual Ohio event focused on the history we can learn from these burial grounds. He said “you can tell a great deal about a people and a nation by what they deem important enough to remember.
But we may learn even more by what a country chooses to forget. Too often in our country that is African American history – which is why preserving these burial grounds is so important.”
It’s not a partisan issue. The bill we passed in 2019 was bipartisan, and this year I’m working with Republican Mitt Romney on the updated bill.
I will keep working to preserve and protect these historic sites, so future generations can learn about the profound impact those laid to rest here had in shaping our state.
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) represents the state in the U.S. Senate.