Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Macedonia Baptist Church presses Berliner on cemetery at NAACP meeting

Montgomery County Council
President Roger Berliner speaks
to the MoCo NAACP general
meeting last night in Rockville
"This is awkward"

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner faced tough questioning about his role in an ongoing controversy over the African-American cemetery on the Westwood Tower property in Bethesda, at last night's county NAACP meeting. Leaders of Macedonia Baptist Church are scheduled to attend their first mediation meeting with the Planning Department and developer Regency Centers today, the beginning of a process Berliner and County Executive Ike Leggett had suggested two months ago. But the Planning Board ignored the letter and gave Regency a green light to conduct a private study of the cemetery. That plan was unacceptable to church officials, who noted that such a study would be inherently biased toward Regency, which was paying the firm conducting it.
Rev. Segun Adebayo, pastor of
Macedonia Baptist Church
Berliner, like virtually every County official who has spoken about the cemetery, has used conditional language to discuss it. That continues to upset church officials, who point out there is no evidence disputing the graveyard's existence. While even the Planning Department's historical expert for the Westbard sector plan acknowledged there is no evidence the graves were ever relocated (an admission then stricken from the final Planning Board draft of the plan, part of a Planning Department cover-up of the cemetery), Berliner and others have taken a more skeptical approach.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo,
social justice director at MBC
"There is no shred of evidence that the bodies were ever removed," MBC Pastor Rev. Segun Adebayo told Berliner last night. "Respect that ground as a sacred ground. That land must be preserved as sacred land. Build a museum on that plot of land. That's what justice looks like, and that's what justice ought to be. Anything short of that will be unacceptable."
Harvey Matthews, who was
a resident of the historic River Road
African-American community, before
it was wiped out by developers
Berliner demurred on the museum idea, focusing on the letters he had written, and promising a positive outcome to the controversy. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo disputed Berliner's version of events, saying the church's weekly protests caused a previously-scheduled cemetery agenda item to be removed from the Planning Board's June 9 agenda, and made mediation possible on better terms. "It's not letters by Mr. Berliner, or letters by somebody else. It's because people have taken to the streets." She referred to the "massive cover-up" of the cemetery, and questioned Planning Director Gwen Wright's record of interactions with African-American communities in Montgomery County and Alexandria.

While saying he disagreed with Coleman-Adebayo on Wright, Berliner did move further toward acknowledging the cemetery exists. "There is an extraordinary amount of evidence. I concede that." He also apologized to Harvey Matthews, who was a resident of the black community on River Road, until his family was forced out by developers.

Matthews also pressed Berliner on the skeptical language officials keep using, despite Matthews himself having given firsthand accounts of the cemetery to County officials. He said he told Wright that construction workers who desecrated the cemetery while building Westwood Tower in the late 1960s spoke of having dug a "trench" on the site. Using a bulldozer, he said, they plowed remains into that mass grave, an illegal act. But an act that proves the bodies are still there.

Snowden Funeral Home, with vast knowledge of African-American burials in the county, has no record of the cemetery being relocated, Matthews noted. No documents have been found to suggest a removal. He himself used to play among the graves when he was a child growing up on River Road. "This is the real deal," he said of the graveyard. Having officials continue to express skepticism about the cemetery is "very disgusting, with me being born and raised there," he said.

"To the extent to which you feel disrespected, or you feel your ancestors were disrespected, I apologize," Berliner replied.

Matthews recalled how Wright dismissed the two anthropologists the church had wanted to monitor the cemetery investigation. "Wright kicked them to the curb. Why did they kick our people to the curb," Matthews asked Berliner.

Wright remains a controversial figure at the center of the cemetery scandal. When Berliner dashed out the door before the meeting was over, some from the church followed him outside the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. Wright "is a racist, and we all know it," Coleman-Adebayo said as Berliner walked to his car. "I don't believe that to be true," Berliner responded. "I don't believe Gwen Wright is a racist." "She wanted an all-white staff," Coleman-Adebayo countered, referring to the archaeological investigation of the cemetery. "That's the reality of it. And that's who you're supporting."

The two anthropologists dismissed by Wright were African-Americans, with extensive experience and peer acclaim in site studies of historic black cemeteries.

Berliner appeared to know he was in for a tough night early on, noting, "this is awkward." To his credit, he did not surround himself with police or security guards to have a civil conversation with his constituents, unlike Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and others. He is also literally the only person to apologize to anyone from the church so far, regarding the disastrous way County officials have handled this matter. Of course, none of that guarantees - yet - that we are going to have a full and fair investigation of this cemetery, on which Regency Centers and Montgomery County want to build a parking garage.

The Council President wasn't just feeling the pressure from the audience in front of him. From the executive officers' table behind Berliner, Montgomery County NAACP President Linda Plummer made clear the organization stands with the church on the cemetery issue. "I want everyone to know the NAACP supports Macedonia Baptist Church, and their [pursuit] of justice."


Anonymous said...

Return of Tarnation Bob And The Ungrateful Deads.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for Robert to show his true colors if he takes office, deal with protesters and freak out on them and not listen to anything they say, refuse to deal with them and use security to escort himself out. Then we can continue to spam his blog with links of him making fun of other people doing this.

Robert Dyer said...

6:56: Why would a County elected official need security? They have an incredibly delusional and inflated sense of their own importance.

Anonymous said...

It must really anger the likes of Berliner and baldy Leventhal that these older black folks with really nothing to do keep showing up and questioning this process. They then play the "race card" when things aren't quite going their way. Maybe Berliner should pull out his checkbook and write them a check for $50, it'll be $50 more than they'll get from anyone. This is going to end very badly for the church when the councilmembers side 100% with their close Potomac pool party friends and business partners the rich white developers.

I Care said...

Thank you for covering this important issue!!!

Anonymous said...

8:36 and 9:15: your comments are nasty, racist and ageist. Too bad that Dyer hasn't deleted them.

Unfortunate that Roger Berliner is "all in" on supporting Planning Director Gwen Wright. I doubt that Wright's a racist, but I do think that the Planning Department covered up the existence of the cemetery during the approval process for the Westbard sector plan. I also think that Wright did her best to prevent mediation and the hiring of the two anthropologists favored by Macedonia Baptist Church to supervise the cemetery investigation. Summary: Gwen Wright is not the person whom Roger Berliner should be supporting.

Questions for Robert Dyer: my understanding is that the Planning Department never reached an agreement to hire the two anthropologists favored by the church. The anthropologists stated that the Planning Department's proposed budget ($34,000) was insufficient for a meaningful review, and the negotiations broke down.
1)Is the hiring of the anthropologists a subject for the mediation process?
2)Isn't it inaccurate to contend that the anthropologists were "dismissed" by Wright, given that they were never hired in the first place?
3)At one point, I believe that Ike Leggett suggested that the County take over and pay for the cemetery study. Why wasn't this done?

I Don't Care said...

Please stop covering this unimportant issue!!!

Roald said...

11:03 AM I agree that those "anonymous" comments are nasty & racist.
However, it is instructive to see them and see what we're up against.

Anonymous said...

"They have an incredibly delusional and inflated sense of their own importance."
You took the words right out of my mouth about yourself...

Robert Dyer said...

5:34: Do I walk around with a posse of armed security or police surrounding me? Then, no, it doesn't apply to me. No one has threatened the Council, and their fortification of their building reflects their delusional state.

Anonymous said...

Roald @12:09:
"However, it is instructive to see them and see what we're up against."

We? Are you part of Robert's staff? I thought he didn't have staff. Do you mean we Republicans? Because I'm one and don't agree. Do you mean we Bethesdans? Again, I'm one and don't agree. Do you mean we Macedonia Baptist supporters? I'm one and still not agreeing.

So which we is your we or is it a different we?

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post's article was excellent!

Anonymous said...

Roald? You usually reply within 5 minutes.

You ok, bro?

Anonymous said...

Roald? Still with us? Push the LifeLine button. Someone will come help.

Anonymous said...

all the talk of wee-ing has me needing to pee. damn you 7:27.

it was funny. it disappeared. hope i remembered it right.

Anonymous said...

Dyer is sadly using this Cemetery issue to forward his own NIMBY agenda with regards to the Westbard development. He's deleted several posts today commenting on this. Sad!

Roald said...

@10:11pm, my apologies, I was waiting in line at the starbucks bathroom for my morning poop, and was unable to access my cell phone to reply.

Anonymous said...

COMPROMISE: create a residential settlement at Westbard for members of the Macedonia Baptist Church who can prove a historic link. Imagine the wonderful boost to community diversity.