Historic Union Baptist Cemetery Persists Despite Vandalism, Funding Woes

Aug 16, 2019

Recent vandalism at Union Baptist Cemetery in Covedale is putting a spotlight back on the historic resting place.

It's the oldest Baptist African American cemetery in Cincinnati and is maintained by Union Baptist Church.

"Our vision is that the monuments would all be back in place, any trees that are overhanging would be removed, and the building would be restored," says Angelita Jones, chair of the board of trustees.

Monuments have been overturned and graffiti splashed across headstones, the historical marker and the maintenance building.

Union Baptist Church has a vision to restore fallen and knocked over monuments and beautify the cemetery grounds.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

"It hurts our hearts," she says.

Jones says the congregation is committed to taking care of the cemetery, but cutting the grass and other expenses keep going up and any endowment money the cemetery once had is long gone. She estimates the annual upkeep at about $40,000.

The church started a GoFundMe two years ago but it hasn't raised much money, though our news partner WCPO's recent report did spur an increase in giving. The church is also applying for a state grant of about $1000.

The cemetery's historical marker shows signs of vandalism.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

"There's a lot of history," Jones says. "There's a lot of families that are still alive here in Cincinnati today that have family in there. I think this historic place where all these veterans are buried and loved ones ... I think they need a better resting place."

As WVXU's Howard Wilkinson reported in 2013, Union Baptist Cemetery "is a monument to about 120 free black men. During the Civil War, they took up arms and fought as soldiers against a Confederate army that would have kept their people in bondage."

The most famous of the African American soldiers is Powhatan Beaty. He was born a slave in Virginia, came to Cincinnati at a young age, and was a free man by the time the Civil War started in 1861.

The grave of Powhatan Beaty, who earned the Medal of Honor in the Civil War.
Credit Michael E. Keating

"When the Union Army began forming all-black regiments in 1863, Beaty was eager to join," Wilkinson writes. "He became a first sergeant in the 5th U.S. Colored Troops."

For his bravery, he was awarded the highest honor a soldier can attain, the Medal of Honor.

Michael E. Keating produced this video about Beaty for WVXU in 2013.

There are other noteworthy individuals interred at Union Baptist Cemetery.

Privates Leander Howard and Charles Goff were" combat-wounded veterans of a legendary all-black unit, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass founded the regiment, which became the subject of a major motion picture in 1989," Wilkinson reports.