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Historical Black cemetery in Madisonville is getting money for much-needed repairs

A headstone at United American Cemetery in Madisonville.
Nick Swartsell
A headstone at United American Cemetery in Madisonville.

United American Cemetery — one of Ohio's oldest Black cemeteries — is getting $750,000 from the National Park Service to make improvements to the historical cemetery and grounds in Madisonville. The funding comes from the Historic Preservation Fund's History of Equal Rights grant program.

The funding will go toward structural repairs to burial vaults, monument cleaning and repair, and accessibility and security improvements, according to a release.

The cemetery, which is maintained by Union Baptist Church, was founded in 1883. As WVXU previously reported, it includes graves moved from an earlier Black cemetery in Avondale, dating to 1844.

RELATED: Sewage-contaminated water is seeping into an African American cemetery. Who is responsible remains a mystery

"It took more than one year to transfer the tombstones, coffins, and remains, but damage to coffins and tombstone misplacements were common," states the NPS. "Moreover, a lack of security during the long removal and reburial process left both locations vulnerable to vandalism, looting, and destruction by outside parties."

The cemetery had been closed to the public since 2021 when, in July 2022, WVXU reported human sewage had been seeping up from the ground in the cemetery. The church had also sued Fifth Third Bank, which built a corporate complex just up the hill from the cemetery, for stormwater runoff damage.

RELATED: Federal act inspired by Cincinnati cemetery means funding for Black burial grounds across the nation

The NPS funding is separate from the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act inspired by Cincinnati's Union Baptist Cemetery in Price Hill.

The act was included in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending plan passed by Congress in late December and signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29, 2022. It established a program within the National Park Service "to provide grant opportunities and technical assistance to local partners to research, identify, survey and preserve these cemeteries," according to bill sponsor Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. His office said the bill authorizes that $3 million can be appropriated per year for preservation efforts.

The act was inspired after vandals overturned monuments and splashed graffiti throughout Union Baptist Cemetery in 2019. Brown visited the cemetery several months later to announce the first iteration of the act.

This story may be updated.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.