Thursday, February 09, 2017
Bethesda church, supporters to protest Westbard developer plan to build atop African-American cemetery
The proposed structure would be within the footprint of a historic African-American cemetery, which has been covered over with asphalt and fill. Eyewitnesses say the cemetery was desecrated by construction workers building Westwood Tower in the late 1960s. According to an eyewitness I spoke to, after halting construction 12 times as they encountered 12 individual graves, someone gave the order to illegally relocate an unknown number of remains to land adjacent to the cemetery plot. The perpetrators "hoped that this crime against humanity would never be discovered," MBC said in a press release announcing Sunday's march.
There has been concern during the Westbard sector plan process that the cemetery not be further disturbed. MBC church leaders have also said the desecration should be investigated, and the appropriate parties be held accountable for their actions. This would require completion of a cemetery delineation, which likely will employ ground-penetrating radar and excavation.
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance last week announced that Equity One had hired local firm Ottery Group to complete a cemetery delineation, and that Macedonia Baptist Church would be a party to that effort. However, MBC officials are now saying they were tricked by County planners and Equity One, who had assured them the Sketch Plan would not be ruled on before the cemetery delineation was complete.
With the Sketch Plan instead remaining on-schedule for the 23rd, MBC members - many of whom are descendants of the African-American community that once thrived on River Road before developers moved in - say they will now march in protest. "We are aware of the challenges that we face and we are not
fearful," MBC Interim Pastor the Rev. Segun Adebayo said yesterday. Noting that Equity One is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and is worth about $3.1 billion, Adebayo added, "As a community of faith, we know who won the fight between David and Goliath."
MBC will be supported by numerous community organizations and residents in their protest and fight, including the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Save Westbard, and the Montgomery County NAACP.
Rev. Nancy Ladd, Senior Minister of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, yesterday called the past and currently-proposed desecration of the cemetery site "the continuation of the march of white supremacy. It illuminates once again our society’s blatant disregard for Black life, even Black life in the grave." "Black Lives Matter in life as well as death," MoCo NAACP President Linda Plummer said in a separate statement Wednesday. "The continued plunder of the River Road African burial ground is indefensible and against all norms of civilization."
Harvey Matthews, an MBC trustee who grew up playing amongst the graves in the cemetery, said his family members "were disrespected in life, and now desecrated in death." His family's home once stood where Whole Foods Market is today on River Road. The protest march will pause in front of Whole Foods on Sunday to pay respects to the Matthews family.
Come on out Sunday, and pass along the word to everyone you know. Share this on social media. Let's have a massive turnout. Parking could be an issue, so keep in mind the T2 Metrobus goes right past the church on River Road from the Friendship Heights and Rockville Metro stations (although look for a Ride On bus, because they are often used in place of WMATA buses on weekends). The Capital Crescent Trail crosses River Road near the church, for those arriving by bike or on foot.