Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Segregated Soldiers in Hillcrest Cemetery

original crude hand-made gravemarker
Geocaching sometimes takes me to interesting and forgotten places that pique my curiosity after scratching the surface a bit. Hillcrest Cemetery, a Cincinnati OH cemetery on Sutton Road in Anderson Township is one of those places.
Its 14 acres were established as a resting place for the remains of African-American US veterans and members of their families. Most of these men served in the Civil War, the Plains Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World War I & II, and Korea.

The bodies of nearly 1,000 African-American veterans rest in this ground and most fought for their country despite not having equal rights at home under the law. Upon returning from their sacrifices they were still met with segregation and racism. These men came to be here because Jim Crow laws even applied to burials in many places in the US prior to the 1960's. Cincinnati was no different. There are several other segregated cemeteries with African-American veterans in the area including United American Cemetery and Beech Grove Cemetery.

Sadly, over the years, Hillcrest's private ownership fell into dispute. With no one caring for the grounds, the cemetery became vandalized and run down. Erosion had even exposed some graves and vaults to the point where bones were visible and groundhogs had taken up residence. No one wanted to assume responsibility for its maintenance. In 2002, the Ohio National Guard with assistance and funds from private, local and state organizations helped with the restoration of the property and replaced or restored many missing headstones for these forgotten men and their families.

Buffalo Soldier
I am sure there are many forgotten stories to tell in this graveyard. Being an aficionado of local ties to Native American history, one marker, in particular, caught my eye on my 2nd visit here.

Pvt Nelson Morrow of the US 24th Infantry Regiment was one of the "Buffalo Soldier" units organized of black men to fight in one of the many hundreds of confrontations with Native Americans. The US Army dubbed them the "Indian Wars" which occurred west of the Mississippi from the Civil War up until 1898. The Cheyenne supposedly came up with the term Buffalo Soldier because the curly black hair reminded them of buffalo fur. The Lakota called them black wasichu which meant "black white person".
Here also rests an American paradox. Morrow is a young post Civil War "free" black man sent off by his country to kill or force another group of individuals into Indian reservations only to return home and live out his days in segregation even upon his death. Pvt Morrow probably felt he was doing the right thing to get his share of the American Dream and improve his own lot in life or perhaps he had no real choice in the matter, but nonetheless his story still represents the struggle of two ethnic groups of Americans that certainly didn't get their piece of the freedom pie as easily as others... or at all. At any rate, it is good to see that the men buried here have at long last been given some respect and recognition by the local community in the country they served.


  1. Thanks for the great information about Hillcrest. My property borders the cemetery and i have explored it many times and continue to be fascinated by the variety of gravestones and wonder about those who are buried there.

  2. Thank you for writing about this. I recently discovered that my great-great grand aunt's husband, who was injured in WWI, was buried at Hillcrest in 1936. I read that this cemetery is a "U.S veterans gravesite", so I googled Hillcrest expecting to a see a beautiful cemetery with fitting tributes to its many veterans who are buried there, only to read about neglect and exposed remains. This is all too familiar to me, since my grand uncle, a WWII veteran, is buried in a cemetery here in IL that had issues with exposed/misplaced remains and desecrated graves. (The state of that cemetery was actually much worse and made national news, since management was purposefully unearthing remains and moving them to "dumping grounds" within the cemetery for the purpose of reselling plots).

    I have no idea what state my 2nd great grand aunt's husband's grave is in, but can only hope that it was unaffected. Very sad, but good to see that something has been done about it.

  3. Nice read!
    I was at Hill Crest today getting photos for Find A Grave.
    After decades of neglect it does appear to be rising from the ashes.

    It is currently closed for more grounds work.
    We did though spend a pleasant couple of hours there learning the layout.

  4. My husband & I were traveling up Sutton, and I yelled for him to stop so we could visit & pay respects to those who died. It was autumn of 1988, and the grounds and surrounding area were peaceful and beautiful.....lovely fall day. We knew of no one buried there. I just have a special interest in old cemeteries and need to stop out of respect for those who passed on. Thank you for the history and for having a caring interest in what you do and write about. Clare (born in Cincy; live in Calif)

  5. Thanks for reading Clare. I was born in CA and live in OH!

  6. Thanks for your response. Happily we get to visit Cincy every once in awhile. Next see Union Terminal (where you volunteer, I read). Best wishes there; love that it is now also considered a museum. CA Clare

  7. My volunteers duties are on hold for the summer but it's a great museum and building.

  8. My grandmother is buried in the cemetery her name is George and Spratley

  9. My grandmother is buried in the cemetery her name is George and Spratley

  10. I first of all would like to say that I appreciate the research that was done.I was 18 years old when my dad, Webster Warner, died and was buried in Hillcrest. Until this year through did I found out the name and place. It saddens me to realize how we as a race of people or mistreated by the so-call established society. He served 6 years as a soldier during WWI and received an Honorable Discharge. We lived poor but through the grace of God we survived. At the age of 71 he died and was buried here as if that was a reminder "you are still not accepted in this society whether living or dead." Did we forget something? Christ died on the cross for all of us on this earth. There is no segregation for those that have have faith and believe in Him. We will all be together one day.

    1. Just curious if he ended up living here in Cincy? I just spent about an hour and a half walking around this cemitary and noticed lots of guys from alabama,South Carolina, Kentucky. Was this cemitary developed specifically for Soldiers whose families could not or would not pay to have them buried? Most of the stones would indicate that they had passed years after returning from service. Anderson is a predominately white neighborhood however these fine Men are sure welcome here.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I have discovered my great-great-great Uncle Clay Goode from Wilocox County, Al is buried there. No idea if a headstone exists, but at least I have found his final resting place. Your work is much appreciated - A California lady

  12. Thanks for reading and also for the kind comment

  13. Hello, my Great Great mother is buried there also her husband and it is still neglected with trees. We want to move them but cannot find them. Who can show me the direction to find their site?

  14. Also just FYI it was not just for Veterans it's for Black people period that was thrown away. My Great Great Grandparents are there and was not veterans they was not allowed to be buried with the Caucasian race. I would like to have them moved if someone can please send me to the right direction to have them moved.