Brown, Alexander Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Create National Network of African American Burial Grounds

Posted on November 13, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have introduced 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.

“Earlier this year, I joined a group of leaders to visit Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati, and see all the work that was needed to restore the burial ground to the place of honor that it should be. We worked with the community and with civil rights and veterans groups, and yesterday I joined leaders in Cincinnati to announce our legislation to preserve historic Black burial grounds around the country. The bipartisan African American Burial Grounds Network Act would create a voluntary, nationwide network of African American burial grounds, and it would provide federal resources to ensure sites like Union Baptist are preserved and maintained for future generations,” said Brown. 

“This bill will help identify and preserve African-American cemeteries that have been lost or almost forgotten from our country’s history. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, most high school seniors in America score the worst in U.S. history. By encouraging the study of U.S. history and protecting and preserving sites like these, we will better remember these important chapters in our nation’s story,” said Alexander. 

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. 

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 full list of supporting organizations can be found here.  

The Coalition for American Heritage is grateful to Senators Brown and Alexander for introducing legislation to help communities safeguard neglected and abandoned African-American burial grounds. Our member organizations have witnessed first-hand the need for federal action to protect and preserve these sites. By creating a national network, this bill will help to re-discover the existence of burial grounds ahead of commercial development, avoiding disturbances which create distress and heartache in communities. It would also ensure that family members and descendants of those interred are able to visit these sites to honor and remember their ancestors. Preserving and protecting these sacred sites, and the stories they tell, is an integral part of our American heritage,” said Kelly Lizarraga, Advocacy Coordinator, Coalition for American Heritage. 

“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.   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,” said Ms. Angelita Jones, Chair of the Trustee Board for Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati. 

“Heritage Ohio works to save the places that matter in our efforts to build stronger communities, from the first people to today, we honor the varied cultures and histories that contribute to our society. The African American Burial Grounds Network Act represents a basic act of human decency to honor all of our ancestors who contributed to where our communities are today.” said Joyce Barrett Executive Director Heritage Ohio.