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Black Graves Matter - Union Baptist Cemetery

This past summer, I visited Union Baptist Cemetery located in Cincinnati, OH. Union Baptist Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Union Baptist Church, formerly known as African Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati, OH)


Union Baptist Cemetery was established in 1864. It is the oldest cemetery in Hamilton County, OH and is still an active cemetery. Union Baptist Church is located on the grounds of the cemetery. The church was founded in 1831 by fourteen black member who left Enon Baptist Church, a white predominately congregation to start their own church. The church was named African Union Baptist Church. In 1845, the church was renamed to Union Baptist Church. The church was founded due to discrimination that may black parishioners endured at white churches.


Elder David Nickens was born enslaved in Virginia in 1794. After attaining his freedom, his family moved to Cincinnati in 1836. Nickens used his home in Cincinnati

as an Underground Railroad to help freedom seekers. Nickens was the first Black ordained minister in Ohio. Nickens was one of the founders of African Union Baptist Church, the first Black church in Cincinnati. He served as past of the church until his death in 1838 and is buried at Union Baptist Cemetery.

(Elder David Nickens)

(Elder David Nickens' grave)


Union Baptist Cemetery is the resting places of several prominent Blacks who were conductors of the Underground Railroad, anti-slavery advocates and formerly enslaved men and women.


The cemetery is also the resting place of several Black men and women were part of an unethical Cincinnati Radiation Experiment. From 1960 to 1971, Cincinnati General Hospital experimented on poor and elderly cancer patients. The experiment was done by Eugene Saenger, who was an radiological health specialist and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. During the experiment, the victims were given doses of radiation and thought they were giving treatment, but unfortunately they didn't receive anything. The treatment was very dangerous that resulted in severe pain and sickness. As a result, its estimated that 90 victims died within weeks from the radiation exposure.

This heinous act reminds me of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. In 1932, 600 men who had/didn't have syphilis were part of the study. The men were told they had "bad blood" and because they took part in the study, the men received free meals, medical exam and burial insurance.


(Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment)


In the mid 1940s, penicillin was available to treat syphilis, but the men never received the treatment. In October 1972, the Associated Press published an article about the study. A month later, the study concluded. In 1973, a class action lawsuit was filed led by Charles Pollard. Attorney Fred Gray represented the men, wives and their children. Th victims and their families received a settlement of $10M. Each received around $37,000.


In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued an apology to the survivors and their families for the study. The last study participant died in January 2004. The last widow receiving THBP benefits died in January 2009. Participants’ children continue to receive medical and health benefits.


In 1994, families of the victims of the radiation experiment filed a lawsuit. According the Associated Press, the defendants argued that they were only trying to ease the suffering to the cancer patients and that they died because they already were terminally ill with other forms of cancer. Researchers acknowledged that the Defense Department paid $651,000 for the test results so it could learn about the effects of radiation exposure. They maintained that they thought radiation still used in treating some cancers would be beneficial. According to the LA Times, "These people were sick," Dr. Saenger said in 1993. "They had far advanced cancer. We gave them this treatment to see . . . whether we could improve their condition. It was called palliative therapy. It was not intended to be curative therapy." The family of the victims said that their loved one was used a guinea pigs.


In 1999, the victims and their families of the Cincinnati Radiation Experiment won a $4.6 million settlement. Each family received an estimate of $50,000. Dr. Eugene Saenger died September 30, 2007.


Below are some of the victims that are buried at Union Baptist Cemetery. Its possible there are more buried there in unmarked graves:


Lillie Wright February 13, 1966

Sill Watkins May 5, 1964

James Tidwell November 29, 1960

Willie Rucker February 6, 1964

Willa Mae Rivers June 22, 1973

Mary Pasley April 16, 1967

Beulah Bentley January 23, 1962

Philip Daniels April 3, 1970

Katie Dennis April 16, 1969

Frank Hale May 9, 1967

Evelyn Jackson May 21, 1962

Albert Johnson October 1, 1963

Minnie Mae Johnson October 11, 1970

Booker T. Law February 25, 1964

Mary Laws September 5, 1964


I was able to find the grave of Willie Rucker. He died at the age of 64 on his 54th day of radiation exposure.

(Gravesite of Willie Rucker)



At the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, there is a plaque dedicated to black cancer patients who lost their lives due to this heinous act. The plaque was installed in 1999. There was criticism of the lack of maintenance of the plaque that is located hidden away and overgrown with bushes. Watch here.

(Photo Credit: Divya Kumar)


To learn more about the Cincinnati Radiation Experiment. go here.


Union Baptist Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery with so much history. I definitely recommend a place to visit located at 405 West 7th Street, Cincinnati, OH.





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