Brown, Alexander Call for Hearing on Legislation to Create National Network of African American Burial Grounds, Ahead of Black History Month

Senators’ Bipartisan Bill Would Help Identify, Preserve Historically Black Burial Grounds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of Black History Month, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are calling for a hearing on their bipartisan legislation to create a voluntary, nationwide network of African American burial grounds and to provide federal assistance to ensure the burial sites are preserved and maintained for future generations. In a letter to Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Senators urged the committee to hold a hearing on the African American Burial Grounds Network Act, so that the Senate can take up and pass the legislation into law.  

Brown and Alexander’s bill, the African American Burial Grounds Network Act, would:

  • Create a voluntary, national database within the National Park Service of historic African American burial grounds and;
  • Provide grant opportunities and technical assistance to local partners to research, identify, survey and preserve the burial grounds.

“Under the stain of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism, generations of African Americans were barred from burying their loved ones on the same land as their neighbors. Because of these restrictions, many of these burial grounds were located in rural areas, on undesirable land far from their communities’ centers, and were otherwise denied the same level of support as other community cemeteries. As a result, many of these final resting grounds are now unknown, unmarked, or in serious disrepair,” the senators wrote in the letter.

For many African American burial sites, there is no official record or database of where these sites are located. Creating and maintaining a network of African-American burial grounds will help communities preserve local history while better informing development decisions and community planning.

Brown and Alexander’s bill has the support of more than 50 organizations around the country, including the Coalition for American Heritage, Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati and Heritage Ohio.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be read here and below.

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin:

As the Energy and Natural Resources Committee begins the second session of the 116th Congress, we strongly encourage the Committee to hold a hearing on the African American Burial Grounds Network Act (S.2827). This bipartisan, bicameral legislation helps fill an important gap in protecting and preserving African American cemeteries and promotes partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), non-profits, and the private sector to ensure that the legacy of these historic sites is not forgotten.

Under the stain of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism, generations of African Americans were barred from burying their loved ones on the same land as their neighbors. Because of these restrictions, many of these burial grounds were located in rural areas, on undesirable land far from their communities’ centers, and were otherwise denied the same level of support as other community cemeteries. As a result, many of these final resting grounds are now unknown, unmarked, or in serious disrepair. Many of these burial grounds face further damage or destruction due to development. 

S.2827 will help prevent continued damage or destruction of these sites by authorizing NPS to create a voluntary, nationwide network of African American cemeteries. NPS would also be directed to develop a program to assist stakeholders in identifying, safeguarding, and restoring these historic places. NPS’s expertise would ensure that communities of all sizes, regardless of their location, would have access to the tools and information necessary to protect these sites.

As the Committee develops its hearing schedule for the year, we urge you to include S.2827 so that the Senate can take up and pass this legislation into law. 

Sincerely,

 

 

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