CINCINNATI — Union Baptist Church honored the lives and sacrifices of our nation's heroes at one of its historic cemeteries in Madisonville for Memorial Day. However, ongoing flooding issues there continue to disrupt the church's activities.
United American Cemetery, located along Duck Creek Road, is a historic site for Madisonville, and is in the national registry. Black historical figures including writers, politicians, and leaders from the Underground Railroad have been laid to rest here. More than 50 African American veterans from the civil war are buried at the site.
"We thank God for their sacrifices,” said Dr. Orlando B. Yates, the senior pastor of Union Baptist Church. “We thank God that in the midst of segregation, we thank God that in the midst of Jim Crowism, they put their nation ahead of themselves."
The ceremony didn't go without a hitch, though.
Monday’s Memorial Day service was the first event in the cemetery since it's been closed off from the public due to flooding issues. The flooding was caused by construction of a Fifth Third Bank office nearby. Complications with the office's water pathways underground caused water to pour into the cemetery.
The church's Memorial Day ceremony was supposed to happen at the top of the hill at the burial grounds, but that part of the cemetery is practically inaccessible due to all of the flooding damage. The Fifth Third Bank is at the top of the hill as well, just next door to the cemetery.
The church's lawyer, John Stillpass, explained that even after pouring 60 tons of gravel to compensate for the flooding, they were still unsuccessful in stopping the ongoing flooding issues.
“It’s gut-wrenching, literally. As we’re standing right here, you can smell the sewage and what it’s doing and the reason why people can’t be walking through here," said Stillpass.
Despite the damages and complications, dozens of speakers and attendees came out to pay their respects. Stillpass says the cemetery will next be open for visitors on Father’s Day.
In response to a request for comment, Fifth Third Bank issued the following statement:
The water drainage and upkeep issues in the United American Cemetery long predate Fifth Third’s presence at its current Madisonville campus. Fifth Third has met in good faith with United Baptist Church representatives regarding the Church’s concerns about water runoff and Fifth Third’s adjacent Madisonville property. Fifth Third has voluntarily undertaken work to mitigate any water runoff from its property.
In 2021, Fifth Third completed a more than $600,000 project to assist Union Baptist Church with water issues in the Cemetery. Work was already underway to redirect stormwater drains to a municipal sewer system, the plans for which were shared with the Church. None of the rooftops on Fifth Third’s property in Madisonville drain toward the Cemetery and in fact drain away from it.
According to the Church’s own records, there have been a natural “stream” and “marsh grasses” in the Cemetery since its founding in the 1880s, and for “generations, there were problems with management and maintenance” in the Cemetery.
Fifth Third remains ready and willing to discuss a reasonable resolution to this matter.
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
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