Reverend William P. Newman had an expansive vision. He was pastor of Union Baptist Church in 1864, when they purchased a new church building. Next, the church bought and renovated a parsonage. Then the church acquired 16 acres of ground in Price Hill for the creation of a cemetery.
That cemetery – Union Baptist Cemetery – was dedicated on September 19, 1865. The dedication service included a special hymn written by William P. Newman for the occasion.
A month later, Reverend Newman delivered a Thanksgiving sermon at the church that was published in the Cincinnati Commercial, along with the sermons of several other local pastors. Reverend Newman’s sermon stood out from the others, because it was a highly political message, critical of President Andrew Johnsonfor his weak record on Civil Rights.
Newman stated, “[I]f this nation does not do justice to all its people, I feel that God may so entangle it with foreign powers as to destroy it.” At this time, there were growing tensions between the United States and England, and some believed that war with England might be imminent. Reverend Newman suggested in his sermon that if such a war took place, African Americans should fight on the side of England.
Many white Cincinnatians were outraged by the publication of Newman’s Thanksgiving sermon. The Journal and Messenger newspaper called Newman’s speech “atrocious and treasonable.” Even the Cincinnati Commercial, which had published Newman’s sermon, carped that the sermon was “not pervaded with thankfulness.”
Newman responded with a letter to the editor as fiery as his original sermon. “I am a Democrat,” he stated, “and loyal to our Democratic government, but not to its abuses.” He further stated that if the Confederate States of America had been willing to guarantee equal rights for all, while the US government was not, hewould have fought for the Confederacy; and if England was willing to guarantee equal rights, he would be willing to fight for England. “If that is treason,” he contended, “Let the Government hang me.”
Newman then made a comparison to the Boston Tea Party: “White men believed that they did their Christianduty in taking up arms against their country because of a tea tax, but black men are traitors if they take up arms against their country for their liberty and life.”
Reverend William P. Newman died of cholera in August 1866, less than a year after writing that letter. He was buried in the cemetery he had founded. But he did not get a tombstone: four years later, a Baptistminister named Rufus Lewis Perry, an officer of the Free Mission Society, visited Newman’s grave:
“I came directly from New York to Cincinnati, and there spent a day with our good Brother Fossett. … Sister F. ordered a carriage and took us out to the ‘Union Baptist cemetery’ which is about four miles fromthe center or the city. This cemetery has a fine location and is beautifully laid out. It contains the material remains of our beloved brother Wm. P. Newman. We went to his grave and gazed through tears we could not suppress upon the sacred spot where his body lies crumbling into dust. No tomb stone marks the place. Boards at the head and foot of the grave, rotten and ready to fall, and a rose bush planed by Sister Fossett, are the only monuments that tell where the resting place of this once faithful minister may befound.”
In the American Baptist newspaper, Perry issued a fervent appeal to the Free Mission Society, his fellowpastors, and the sisters in the ministry, for donations “to get a good, plain tombstone to be placed over the grave that contains [Newman’s] once manly, moving body.”
Perry’s appeal seems to have worked. Some of Cincinnati’s prominent Black civic leaders got involved, andjust a year later, in June 1871, a fine, stone monument was erected over the body of Reverend William P. Newman.