Burial grounds of any kind should be treated with the utmost respect, especially if those resting in eternal peace underneath it are of a special group of people like, for instance, freed slaves.
Sadly, one historic Black cemetery in Maryland is at the center of such a controversy, first after it was turned into an apartment complex parking lot and currently due to a property firm that may be looking to exploit the grounds even further.
According to NBC, members in Montgomery County, Maryland are fighting to preserve what was once considered to be Moses Cemetery during the early 20th century. Since 1968, the land has served as a parking lot for the 15-story Westwood Tower Apartments complex in Bethesda and could get built over pending a $50 million sale to investment firm Charger Ventures.
Here’s some more info on the timeline of how the cemetery was unfortunately forgotten over time, via NBC:
“The cemetery is what’s left of a historic Black community in Bethesda’s River Road enclave. The chapter of a Black fraternal society, White’s Tabernacle No. 39, bought the 1-acre parcel in 1911.
The chapter had operated a cemetery, which historical records indicate included about 200 graves, and members planned to relocate them to its new property. Many of those interred at Moses Cemetery were described as freed slaves and people who once worked among the farms and tobacco plantations in the area before the Civil War.
In 1958, as Black families along River Road were squeezed out by development, White’s Tabernacle sold the cemetery property. Part of the land became the home of the parking lot for Westwood Tower, built in 1968.
While records about what was done to the graves are murky, people have recalled stories of construction workers’ unearthing bones and dumping the remains dozens of yards away near a storm sewer.
For decades, the former cemetery site was lost to history. In 2016, Macedonia Baptist Church, the ‘sole surviving cultural institution’ of the local Black community, began an advocacy campaign to commemorate the parcel, according to a historical report in 2018.”
A lawsuit filed by the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition last month is what’s blocking the property sale, citing violation on behalf of the Housing Opportunities Commission for failing to get the required court approval when it comes to a cemetery property sale. They were successful after a Montgomery County judge issued a temporary restraining order on the purchase, pending another scheduled hearing that will determine whether an injunction is granted or the deal is allowed to move forward.
Coalition attorney Steven Lieberman told the judge, “The developer is not buying that property to leave a parking lot in place,” also adding, “He’s not buying that property to build a museum.”
Let’s hope the right thing is done, although with $50 million on the line the end result might not be so favorable. Let us know what you think should be done by sounding off over on social media.
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