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Historic Black cemetery in Dublin rededicated after years lost to history

A handful of people stand in a small fenced-in cemetery. They look toward an obelisk-shaped memorial landscaped with bushy flowers.
Allie Vugrincic
Descendants of the Brown and Harris families visit the newly dedicated Brown-Harris cemetery on Shier Rings Road, Dublin. The historic Black cemetery was lost for years before it was rediscovered and a memorial was built.

A historic Black cemetery in Dublin was dedicated Friday morning after years of being lost to time.

Brown-Harris Cemetery is tucked in a former farm field near Ohio State’s Wexner Outpatient Care Dublin off University Boulevard.

Today, it’s surrounded by a wrought-iron fence with stone pillars. In the center is an obelisk monument to the Brown and Harris families, who once owned the land. It’s landscaped and has an informational plaque.

But for a long time, the cemetery was buried under farmland.


Dublin City Council Member Amy Kramb said the significance of the land was first realized in 2004 when local historian Bill Likens found a headstone for a 12-year-old boy named Joshua. It was dated to 1854.

The property owners at the time told Likens they had bought the land from descendants of Mary Harris Brown, and that they believed it was once a cemetery.

Kramb says without Likens’ discovery and that knowledge, “The cemetery may never have been rediscovered, and the story may have been lost.”

Two stone monuments stand in the middle of a landscaped cemetery. It's surrounded by an iron fence with stone pillars at the corners.
Allie Vugrincic
A monument stands in the Brown-Harris Cemetery at 6540 Shier Rings Road, Dublin.

The site was left untouched until the city of Dublin acquired it in 2016. Four years later, a geophysical survey was done.

“Actually, the geophysical survey did not turn up any burial shafts,” said Krista Horrocks, manager of education and support services at the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office.

Horrocks said Likens' discovery, family legend and even documents pointed to the existence of the cemetery.

“We just had to find it,” Horrocks said.

While using survey equipment, they discovered a fragment of another footstone. Horrocks said that was the “smoking gun.”

The ancestors

Eventually, archeologists determined that at least 22 people were buried there. Horrocks said more people may be buried further north of what is now the cemetery boundary, but a gas line in that area made it too dangerous to excavate. She said historically, cemeteries like Brown-Harris were located at the corner boundaries of properties.

Horrocks said it’s hard to exactly date the cemetery, but the best guess is that the latest it could have been established was the 1840s or 1850s.

Two women and two young girls look at a plaque outside a cemetery surrounded by an iron fence.
Allie Vugrincic
Jean Howard, second from left, talks with Trinity Thomas, Sovi Wingard, and Chantelle Hill, who are descendants of the Harris family, before the dedication ceremony for Brown-Harris historic cemetery on Friday.

“We know when the when the Brown and the Harris families moved here. And we know when they sold the land,” Horrocks said. “But we don't exactly know who was buried in the cemetery.”

Dublin Mayor Chris Amorose Groomes said one other family that may have ancestors buried in the cemetery is the Depp family. Dublin’s newest elementary school was named for Abraham Depp, a blacksmith whose farm was a stop on the underground railroad, she said.


Friday morning, more than a dozen descendants of the James and Mary Brown family and the Jeremiah and Jane Harris family laid white carnations at the memorial in the cemetery.

Stella Howard, a member of the Brown family, said the families were grateful.

“I think this is helpful, even just having a place now that we can come to, just to talk to them, whether you know, by yourself or whatever. But it's just nice having this resting place,” Howard said.

Howard didn’t know the cemetery was there before getting involved in the memorial project. She and other family members helped pick out the design and materials.

Two well-dressed Black men play electric guitars outside the iron fence of a cemetery.
Allie Vugrincic
Musicians play during the dedication of Brown-Harris Cemetery in Dublin on Friday.

A history of erasure

Diamond Crowder, survey and national register manager at Ohio's State Historic Preservation Office, said it’s not unusual for Black cemeteries like this one to be lost.

“When we look at African American cemeteries, it's a history in the United States of the erasure of these sites,” Crowder said. “It's very common to find them. But again, it takes the work and the knowledge to properly, you know, use this land in the right way.”

Last year, the federal government passed the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act. It was backed by Senator Sherrod Brown.

The act creates grants and technical assistance to research and preserve African American cemeteries.

Horrocks said that lead the state historic preservation office to identify more than 100 African American burial grounds around Ohio. Some are established and well-known.

“Some are lost to time, much like this cemetery was. Some are definitely endangered,” Horrocks said.

The goal is to protect them all before they’re lost, just as the Brown-Harris cemetery has been protected for generations to come.

The dedication of the Brown-Harris Cemetery was done in June to correspond with Juneteenth, which marks the day that the last enslaved Africans were freed in Galveston, Texas, in 1865.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.