Monday, February 20, 2017

As Bethesda cemetery protests continue, church asking for museum on site (Video + Photos)

Protesters gathered again in front of the Macedonia Baptist Church yesterday, as the Montgomery County Planning Board continues to press ahead with a review and vote on Equity One's Westbard sketch plan before even beginning an investigation into a desecrated cemetery on their property, much less completing it. Church leaders, members and their supporters in the community vowed to keep fighting at the scheduled hearing this Thursday, February 23, at 12:45 PM at planning headquarters, located at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Video from
Macedonia Baptist Church
Cemetery Protest #3


"What a beautiful day to fight for justice," said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo in greeting the crowd, as bright sun and 70-degree temperatures made for ideal march conditions. She said the cemetery has become a "battlefield," as the church fights "for our integrity, and our dignity. The lives of the people buried across the street have meaning...We were not born yesterday, and we understand corporate power."

One theme addressed by several speakers at the rally was that "black lives matter, in life and in death." Three mothers whose young sons had been killed in recent years, and who did not find justice in the legal system, compared their efforts to speak for their sons today with the struggle to find justice for the deceased buried in the cemetery here.

The Planning Department has released several statements with aspirational language about hiring independent professors to monitor the cemetery search. Church leaders say that is not true. "Despite [Planning Director] Gwen Wright's assurances and her statement, that they've hired the anthropologist, that they've hired the archaeologist, it's all lies," Coleman-Adebayo said. "They haven't hired a single person."

Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation scoffed at planners' skepticism of a cemetery former residents of the historic black community vividly recall. "It does not 'appear,' it is so," she said. "It is the lived experience of this community. It is the lived experience of this church. It is the lived experience of people of color standing here to proclaim that black lives matter, in life and in death. Every single life under that 60 feet of fill under that parking lot was a human life, with a human story worth celebrating, worth loving, and worth mourning."

MBC's interim pastor Segun Adebayo said he would not be deterred even if a search finds no remains. "We know that there are bodies there...We know that that is a sacred ground, and there are bodies lying there beneath the ground." He and other church officials say they want the cemetery land to be given to the public to create a museum and monument to those buried in the graveyard, and to teach visitors about the vanished black community that once thrived along River Road. They envision school buses bringing classes to visit the museum, and a quiet space on the cemetery site where people can relax and enjoy the view of the future naturalized Willett Branch stream.

"We know that God is on our side, and we know that victory is assured us," Adebayo said.

The need for such a museum was illustrated by the next speaker, Laurel Hoa, of Showing Up for Racial Justice Montgomery County. "I was raised in Montgomery County, and went to Montgomery County Public Schools. But I was never taught that River Road was the home of a community of formerly-enslaved persons who saved money, bought land, built homes, churches and a cemetery," Hoa recalled. "The people who are buried in that ground deserve respect, especially if they were denied it in life. People would never accept a parking garage being built on Arlington National Cemetery, because it is accepted that those dead bodies deserve respect."

"The fact that these plans keep moving forward despite vigorous objections from the community," Hoa said, "it's clearly indicative of the fact that at an institutional level in this country, even in a very liberal county like our own, black lives don't matter as much as other lives. This is unacceptable. We must demand that this change. Because black lives do matter, in life and in death. And black history matters, because it is our history. We cannot be a great nation if we continue to deny the humanity of some of our people, and continue to disregard history that many would rather not contemplate...We demand that the County do the right thing, and build a museum to teach about our local history, not a parking garage."

"There was never any record that [the remains] were moved somewhere else in the county," said Harvey Matthews, who used to play in the cemetery when he grew up in the original black community. "As far as I'm concerned, they're still over there in that clay hill, over by the high-rise, down under about 70 to 80 feet of fill dirt."

Once again, protesters marched down River Road, behind the McDonald's, and to the site of the cemetery at Westwood Tower. The names of some of those known to be buried there were read, along with the ritual pouring libation, before marching along Westbard Avenue and River Road back to the church.

"We've got a planning [board] basically fighting us every step of the way," Coleman-Adebayo told the crowd at the cemetery site. "So at some point people need to understand they have to have a moral core. They have to do the right thing. And we're going to teach them, if they don't know how, we will teach them how to do the right thing."

To join the effort this Thursday, February 23, the plan as of right now is to arrive at noon; the "Westwood Shopping Center" agenda item will be taken up sometime in the afternoon session after 12:45. Sign up online to testify on that agenda item.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

Luci Murphy



Three mothers whose sons
were killed, representing the
Coalition of Concerned Mothers
















At the cemetery
site at Westwood Tower

















34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like about 30 turned out, with 10 of them from MBC?

Robert Dyer said...

6:41: Can we chip in and buy you a calculator, so you can count more accurately?

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the "against everything" naysayer at 6:41, it does appear from the pictures that about 30-ish people were there.

I'm not saying 6:41 is wrong or right because I wasn't there. And this is not saying anything about the issue, except that it's wonderful to see people involved in things they are passionate about.

Look at the pictures. Thirty or so distinct people. If we're wrong, explain and educate.

Why insult someone asking a question?

Anonymous said...

I just heard the developers are protesting next week their slogan is "rich white guys wallets matter" hey why not... Where was all this outrage 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago? What a PR disaster this is for the MOCO government too it's a lose lose for them but hell they've already given Westbard the FU.. At this rate Westbard will never get a new restaurant and we'll all be dead...

Anonymous said...

There never was evidence of support among Bethesda residents for the Westbard plan or Equity One (paid online trolls from the developer's PR firm excluded of course).

Meanwhile, residents continue to protest against this insane plan.

Robert Dyer said...

7:07: The comment is clearly trying to put a negative spin on yesterday's protest. I was in the crowd, and trust me, there were more than 30 people. Of course there were less people than during the first one, because it is a 3 day holiday weekend, and many people have plans or are out of town.

But come on, there were more than 30 people there. Hence my offer of the calculator. Clearly a troll and he will be treated as such, although you are probably him, too.

Anonymous said...

You don't use a calculator to count a crowd, Birdbrain.

And if you're so sure that there were "more than 30", then why not give a number of your own?

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Dyer. You have to admit that those two wigs were ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

"Clearly a troll and he will be treated as such, although you are probably him, too."

You're even kookier than SCROTUS.

Anonymous said...

"although you are probably him, too."

Another day, another accusation. I am not the troll. I'm a long term county resident who asks questions. I said nothing offensive, yet you attack. I was trying to be fair because I counted and agreed with the poster.

"Clearly a troll and he will be treated as such" Ok. Your choice. You could have given an informational reply.

The one looking bad here is you
Love & bacon, 7:07

Hokie said...

Thanks for putting together a very fine and well-balanced piece

Anonymous said...

I would have been outraged had I known about this years back. I learned about the cemetery in September and have been challenging the Planning Department about this subject since. I also protested with MBC.

Anonymous said...

7:19 is right!

Anonymous said...

I think that the Church's desire is fair: Do a comprehensive study and consider an alternative use for the area, including the HOC parking lot and the adjacent parcels owned by Equity One.

*The Planning Department never addressed the cemetery issue with the public during charrettes, public meetings and Planning Board hearings.* Had that been done, civic associations and others would have called for studies and possible commemoration of the cemetery during the sector plan review.

*The Planning Department says that it became aware in 2015 that a possible cemetery was located on the Westbard site. *Why was this information 'covered up' in public hearings on the sector plan in 2015-2016?**

Anonymous said...

8:03 - You spelled "Hokum" wrong.

#UnsignedDyer

Anonymous said...

Would be nice to see our Councilmember shoulder to shoulder with the Church and Bethesda community.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad SEAL TEAM 6 was on my protection detail. It clearly was needed. Thanks MoCo!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I agree that it is extremely disappointing that District 1's Councilmember, Roger Berliner, has not attended either of the Macedonia Baptist Church protests. Neither have any of the at-large Councilmembers who include District 1 in their constituencies: Mark Elrich, George Leventhal, Hans Riemer and Nancy Floreen.

For shame.

Anonymous said...

That is a black woman who has a powerful voice and who has led the crowd in chanting and singing.

Try to be a bit more respectful of your fellow citizens.

Anonymous said...

Dumb protest. Lovely seeing people playing race card....

Anonymous said...

The County Council and Planning Board are taking "pro-developer" to new extremes.
Nothing is sacred anymore in pursuit of profit.

Anonymous said...

@2:42 No worries, those council members are out next time due to term limits.

What I don't get is -- Westbard has been on the table since 2013. Why is the church bringing this up now? I agree it should be considered, but why didn't they do it 4 years ago?

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is how building a "museum" on top of the cemetery, won't desecrate it.

Robert Dyer said...

7:18: The church has been totally engaged since they were informed in 2015 about A) the original desecration of the cemetery and B) the proposed further desecration by building on top of it as proposed by HOC/Equity One. While I personally informed the Planning Board about the history of the black community and the likelihood of a cemetery existing in 2011, the location of it hadn't been determined until 2014.

8:18: The building wouldn't be on top of the cemetery.

Anonymous said...

A museum is useless and a waste of our resources. Who do we have to employ to maintain it? Gimme a break. This story gets more and more ridiculous every week.

Anonymous said...

I'll see your ten graves and raise you five amphipods.

Anonymous said...

46

Anonymous said...

So there may have been a cemetery behind the Westwood Towers building and there may be bodies there that weren't exhumed. Fine. Conduct a dig and see what's really there. If there are still bodies there either move them or turn the site into a cemetery again. However, it shouldn't hold up the rest of the Westbard development, including the redevelopment of Westwood Shopping Center.

Anonymous said...

The museum is a great idea.
Who knew Bethesda had such rich history? Let's preserve it!

Anonymous said...

"The church has been totally engaged since they were informed in 2015..."

Who informed the church there may have been a graveyard behind Westwood Towers?

Anonymous said...

How come a church that has been around for over a century didn't know where their own congregants had been buried, until just two years ago?

Charlottesville_Cav said...

This is the story of the year in Bethesda.

Historic African American cemetery stands in the way of massive Bethesda redevelopment plan.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article by Bill Turque:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-battlefield-of-memory-asphalt-where-a-black-cemetery-is-said-to-have-stood/2017/02/23/af01ba42-efa2-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?hpid=hp_local-news_cemetery-1030am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.70313993c5c3

The article doesn't even mention Dyer once.

It also mentions what Dyer doesn't want you to know - that many of the remains there had been previously disinterred from cemeteries in the Tenleytown area.