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Union Baptist Church needs help preserving 155-year-old cemetery

Posted at 12:13 AM, Aug 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-15 07:28:33-04

CINCINNATI — There were few places for black Cincinnatians to bury their dead in 1864, when Union Baptist Cemetery interred its first bodies. Most cemeteries in the United States, in fact, would remain racially segregated — either open to only one race or separating the graves of different-colored people — for the next 90-odd years.

In that time, Union Baptist’s 15 acres became the final resting place of black Civil War veterans, former slaves and civil rights activists. It houses the remains of Jennie Porter, the first-ever black person to receive a PhD from the University of Cincinnati, and Medal of Honor recipient Powhatan Beaty.

That’s why it’s so difficult to see the tipped-over headstones and graffiti marking its grounds in 2019, Union Baptist chairwoman Angelita Jones said Wednesday.

“You wonder what they had to go through just to get that monument in place,” she said of her church’s 19th-century members. “What did they have to sacrifice just to make sure their loved one had a headstone?”

And how can a Price Hill congregation of 200 continue to honor that sacrifice as they battle vandalism and search for funding to maintain the grounds?

Members of the church pay for basic upkeep like grass-trimming, but the rest is out of their financial reach. Jones and the rest of the board started a GoFundMe in 2017, hoping to collect $150,000 to raise and restore the knocked-over monuments, level the uneven grounds and cut back the overgrown greenery. Signs with a link to the campaign border the cemetery entrance.

By Wednesday, two full years later, it had raised fewer than $200.

“It’s really sad,” said Karrah Holman, who takes regular walks through the cemetery. “It’s beyond me. I just don’t even have words for that. I don’t.”

Jones understands, she said.

"GoFundMe is great for some, but when you don't really push it and people aren't interested in cemeteries they don't typically give,” she said.

For her, it’s personal. Like many living members of the congregation, she counts relatives — a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle — among the dead buried at Union Baptist.

But people who drive by and see the signs at the gates might not know how badly their help is needed or how much history is housed inside. She hopes talking publicly about it will be the push others need to consider giving, she added.

"If we don't take care of what we have,” she said, “how can we possibly move forward?"

Anyone wishing to donate to the GoFundMe can do so online. Anyone wishing to make another donation or volunteer on the grounds can contact the church at 513-381-3858.