Thursday, April 20, 2017

Church engaged in Westbard cemetery dispute to launch "Justice Tuesdays" against MoCo government

Update: The first protest will be held Tuesday, April 25
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.


Anonymous said...

Cheap use of the race card. Do what we want when we want or else we will waste more time protesting. Professional protestors.... lol

Anonymous said...

Montgomery County has treated Macedonia Baptist Church extremely shabbily. The County has held out the prospect of mediation to the Church while failing to advise them that a contract had been signed for archaeological work on the cemetery site and the work begun. This raises a question that no one has answered: "Mediate about what?"

Similarly,in 2015 and 2016, the County suppressed historical evidence about the cemetery until the Westbard sector plan had been approved.

As this pattern of conduct demonstrates, the County has been anything but "transparent" (Planning Director Gwen Wright's term) about the cemetery review process. This cuts to the heart of how Montgomery County land use officials view citizens: as inconveniences to be manipulated.

Macedonia Baptist Church has every right to protest how it has been treated on the matter of the cemetery. Other residents should be concerned about the County's dishonesty.

Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

The suppression of information regarding the cemetery is astonishing. Is there no one at the planning board with a moral backbone -- no one willing to challenge the group-think that suppressing information about an historic African-American cemetery in Bethesda is probably a bad idea?

We know the truth -- that is, the planners never imagined that the public would uncover this scandal. Well, so be it. Now, they can take responsibility for their disastrous, racist decision.

The planners suppressed the cemetery information because its existence is an inconvenience to their overall grand plan to urbanize a suburban community against the community's wishes.

The Planning Board has zero credibility and no ability to "plan"; if they did, Justice Tuesdays would not be on the horizon.

Did Mr. Berliner know about the cemetery? Or was he kept in the dark as well? Is Gwen Wright the source of the suppression of information, or was she following orders from higher-ups? I hope more facts are uncovered very soon.

Anonymous said...

You have to wonder who is so debased as to refer to these concerns as a race card ploy. Of course, there is no suggestion that the protestors have actually been paid, because there is no basis for the charge. Think about it. Citizen activists with sufficient resources to hire protestors? Some kind of parallel universe, perhaps, but not in this one. The bucks are with the developers, whose side 7:37 has taken, for reasons one can only speculate on. There would be grounds for outrage if the cemetery were related to a white church and the planning board had disregarded their interest. The only difference is that a black church being involved draws the trolls out of the woodwork. They have no principled argument for accepting planning board violations, or their effects on constituents, so they resort to invoking the 'race card.' Who has actually sought to
racialize the issue here?

Anonymous said...

@7.37: What would you say if it was a *white* church? Your comment is insulting and itself racist.

Anonymous said...

It is incredible that the Montgomery County Planning Department and Planning Board have not been able to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement with the Macedonia Baptist Church.

Aren't planners supposed to represent the community? Apparently not in MoCc.

Anonymous said...

The conduct of the Planning Department appears underhanded and, I'm sorry to say, reprehensible. My tax dollars are supporting this?

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but thought I'd remind folks to get in touch with your council person on these issues. In the past week, I've emailed Councilman Reimer twice with issues. Happy to say they were adjudicated and addressed in a timely manner. While I understand that we all have different council members, I've found Mr. Reimer and the Council President to be super responsive. Get in touch with your reps on matters like this.

Anonymous said...

It is incredible that the Montgomery County Planning Department and Planning Board have not been able to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement with the Macedonia Baptist Church.

Aren't planners supposed to represent the community? Apparently not in MoCc.

Anonymous said...

@5:36-- Glad that Councilmembers Reimer and Berliner have been helpful to you. What have they suggested concerning the historic African-American cemetery? I'd be very happy and reassured if they and the entire County Council addressed this subject substantively.

So far, the handling of the cemetery issue makes me feel that we need a big change in County government. The bureaucrats are running over their constituents with impunity.

Robert Dyer said...

5:36: We've been in touch on this issue with Riemer and Berliner for years. In 2011, I brought up the importance of finding the cemetery during the Little Falls Place development approval process. Riemer, Berliner, et al ignored that and approved it.

The cemetery location has been known since November 2014. Riemer and Berliner have done nothing to stop development on the cemetery site, and have even both refused to condemn the disrepectful manner in which the Planning Department and Planning Board have treated Macedonia Baptist Church.

Neither has been "super-responsive" on the cemetery, nor on Westbard in general. Riemer famously lied on the day he voted to appr0ve the Westbard sector plan, and said Westbard was "a mile from two Metros."

In fact, Berliner knew the Planning Department had illegally told Regency Centers to start the unauthorized cemetery investigation when he wrote an impotent letter with Ike Leggett calling for a mediator to resolve the issues.

What is there to resolve, when the developer has already begun the study?

We're not only going to throw the bums of the Council out in November 2018, but we're also going to #LockThemUp via corruption convictions.

Anonymous said...

"He wrote an impotent letter"

This comment says more about Dyer than it does about Berliner.

Robert Dyer said...

11:39: No, it says more about Berliner - he could have hauled the Planning Board and officials before the Council, and reprimanded them for their racist and disrespectful behavior toward Macedonia Baptist Church. He chose to remain silent and complicit. He and his colleagues could have fired the Planning Board. He chose to instead endorse them by his passive inaction.

He then wrote a letter, despite knowing it was too late, and that the Planning Department had already illegally violated the open meeting laws, and given a private go-ahead to Regency Centers to start an illegitimate cemetery study.

Then, to top it off, the Planning Board and department simply crumpled up Berliner's letter, threw it in the trash, and did what they wanted instead.

That is total political impotence, moron. When confronted with racism, such behavior must be unequivocally condemned, not normalized.