WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Sherrod Brown wants the National Park Service to create a voluntary database of historic African American burial grounds around the country and to provide federal resources for their preservation.
Earlier this month, he joined with Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander to introduce legislation to make that happen. Brown said many African American burial sites aren’t marked on official records, and that creating and maintaining a network of them will help communities preserve local history while better informing development decisions and community planning.
“The goal here is to first identify where these cemeteries are, to figure out the condition they’re in and help refurbish them,” Brown told reporters on Wednesday.
Brown said his concern about the issue was prompted by visiting Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati, which needs restoration.
“Burial grounds in every culture are considered sacred places where ancestors can be properly honored and provided for with dignity, care, and respect in death," said a statement from Angelita Jones, who chairs the church’s trustee board. “African Americans want that same dignity, care, and respect in our death that often has been denied in life. We can’t look at this as just African AmerIcan History, but American History that belongs to us all.”
Brown said he doesn’t expect the bill will cost much, and that many communities are already funding cemetery rehabilitation work.
“There will be local interest in this,” Brown predicted. “I’m sure you’ll see some contracts and probably some private contributors to some of these.”
Their bill, which has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has backing from 50 organizations around the country including Heritage Ohio.
The bill’s House of Representatives counterpart has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. Its 43 cosponsors include Ohio’s Mike Turner of Dayton and Troy Balderson of Zanesville, who are Republicans, as well as Democrats Joyce Beatty of Columbus and Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights.Sen. Sherrod Brown introduces legislation to preserve black cemeteries »