Bipartisan Legislation Would Establish Preservation Program Through the National Park Service

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call to discuss the introduction of his African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act. The newly-introduced bipartisan bill is also sponsored by U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Brown first introduced similar legislation in 2019 after he visited Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati following news reports of vandalism at the cemetery and the cemetery’s call for much-needed repairs. Union Baptist Cemetery was founded in 1864 and includes the remains of former slaves, African American Union soldiers and civil rights activists.

“As a nation, we have not invested the necessary resources to preserve these hallowed grounds. That’s why we’ve worked with the community, and with civil rights, veterans, and historic preservation groups to introduce bipartisan legislation to preserve historic Black burial grounds around the country,” said Brown. “Cemeteries like Union Baptist are important historical sites, and they’re tools for education and understanding the American story. We need to act now before these sites are lost to the ravages of time or development.”

“Burial grounds are a place of solemn remembrance, allowing us to connect the present with the past and honor the history of our loved ones and communities,” said Romney. “It is important to preserve and protect African-American cemeteries around the country for generations to come.”

The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act, would establish a program at the National Park Service to provide grant opportunities and technical assistance to local partners to research, identify, survey and preserve these cemeteries. Providing federal resources will ensure sites like Union Baptist are preserved and maintained for future generations.

Brown was be joined on the call by Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, the Vice Mayor of Cincinnati.

“Cemeteries not only honor our ancestors, but the history of our communities. I am very grateful for Sen. Sherrod Brown for recognizing the need for care that our cemeteries require in order to show respect for and uplift our heritage,” said Kearney.

Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives next week by Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) and Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-4).

“Graveyards, burial grounds, and cemeteries not only honor our ancestors; they’re also an important resource for historians and genealogists who want to tell our history. However, the burial sites of African Americans are often forgotten or ignored,” said Adams. “This dishonors the memories of those who came before us and obscures our nation’s history. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the ‘African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act.’ with Senator Brown and Representative McEachin. This legislation will provide federal support for historic African American burial grounds to ensure their preservation. I can’t think of a better time than Black History Month to take an affirmative step to preserve our history for generations to come.”

“Since the inception of our country, the graves of African Americans have suffered unjust abuse and neglect,” said McEachin. “These burial sites hold the untold stories of millions of African Americans and the integral role they played in our nation’s trajectory. I am proud to stand alongside Congresswoman Adams and Senator Brown to introduce the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act to preserve predominantly Black cemeteries and other resting places. The protection of these burial grounds is long overdue and critical to ensuring a more complete, comprehensive understanding of America’s history.”

The legislation is also supported by historic preservation groups in Ohio and across the country.

“Heritage Ohio supports Senator Brown’s legislation for African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act.  The gaps in our historical records represent the incomplete cultural connections for all Americans today,” said Joyce Barrett, Executive Director of Heritage Ohio.