Thursday, April 20, 2017
Church engaged in Westbard cemetery dispute to launch "Justice Tuesdays" against MoCo government
at 10:00 AM at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building at
101 Monroe Street in Rockville
After being steamrolled by Montgomery County in the dispute over an African-American cemetery on the site of Westwood Tower in Bethesda, Macedonia Baptist Church announced it will continue its fight with "Justice Tuesdays" beginning next week. These weekly protests will take place at County buildings and offices related to land-use, to highlight and protest the County's complicity with the planned further desecration of the historic graveyard, which was tied to the black community that existed on River Road for about 100 years from the end of slavery.
The months-old rift has further exposed and underlined the institutional racism of Montgomery County government toward black landowners, particularly in the historic black communities founded by freed slaves from county plantations. Farm Road is another high-profile example, and the actions of the Planning Department to defraud black landowners in that case have yet to be independently investigated.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission - which along with developer Regency Centers, wants to build a parking garage atop the graves in the Westbard cemetery - was found to have neglected an African-American graveyard it owns in Tobytown. One source told me that the HOC allegedly built homes on top of some of the graves in that cemetery in the past.
Rather than acknowledge the documented existence of the Westbard cemetery, and the lack of evidence that its graves were ever legally relocated, County officials have continually used conditional language when discussing the subject. “The County’s use of phrases like ‘alleged cemetery,’ and ‘where church members believe their ancestors are buried,’ are designed to impugn our integrity and cast doubt on what the county’s own documents confirm,” said the church's social justice director, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. “Director Gwen Wright also likes to use the word ‘transparent’ to describe this process, but it has been about as transparent as the asphalt that is over the graves of our ancestors.” The cemetery was largely paved over after parts of it were desecrated by workers constructing Westwood Tower in the late 1960s.
Harvey Matthews is not only a trustee and deacon at the church, but was also an actual resident of the historic River Road community, until his family was forced out by developers. He remembers playing with friends in the cemetery when he was growing up. “I can’t help but believe that County Executive [Ike] Leggett and Council President Roger Berliner are either using Ms. Wright as a human shield to protect themselves from political fallout, or she is doing their dirty work," Matthews said. "Otherwise, they would have demanded her resignation long ago.”
Documents obtained from the Planning Department recently showed that the department withheld information about the cemetery from both the public, and the Planning Board. “The Planning Department has concealed information from the public and from other agencies within Montgomery County,” said the Rev. Dr. Segun Adebayo, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church. “Its director is given to lying on camera, lying on the radio, and lying through the press about what she knows concerning the African cemetery. She has played a lead role in disappearing information that was provided to her by the County’s own historic preservation people. Worse, her department actively suppressed this information from other County departments that govern land use policy.”
This coming Tuesday, April 25, will be the first Justice Tuesday. Protesters will gather at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building at 101 Monroe Street in Rockville at 10:00 AM that day.