Best Of 2021

Best Legislation News for Ohio’s Oldest Black Cemetery: United American Cemetery

Two cemetery associations were founded in Cincinnati in 1844. Both created burial grounds that were revolutionary in their own ways, but the tales of these two cities of the dead are remarkably divergent. The Cincinnati Horticulture Society produced Spring Grove Cemetery, and the United Colored American Association created United Colored American Cemetery, later shortened to United American Cemetery. While Spring Grove set a new bar for graveyard design, United American became the first respectable burying ground for Black Cincinnatians — and the first Black cemetery in the State of Ohio. Today, Spring Grove is a source of municipal pride. It is the site of weddings as well as funerals. Its manicured beauty makes it a popular destination for leisurely walks or runs, and the cemetery offers guided walking tours. By contrast, United American looks derelict. But a piece of legislation could change the cemetery’s fate. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) initiated a bipartisan bill, the African American Burial Grounds Network Act, which passed unanimously through the Senate this winter. The goal is to create a voluntary, nationwide network of historic African American burial grounds and allocate resources for their restoration and continued maintenance. Sen. Brown said on the Senate floor, “We know that for too long in too many parts of our country, Black families were blocked from burying their loved ones in white cemeteries. These men and women were freed slaves, civil rights champions, veterans, mothers, fathers, workers in communities. We need to act now before these sites are lost to the ravages of time or development.” The act now moves to the house.