Monday, July 31, 2017

Westbard cemetery supporters launch fundraising campaign

Showing Up for Racial Justice Montgomery County has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Macedonia Baptist Church's effort to save the historic African-American cemetery hidden on the Westwood Tower property in Bethesda. Developer Regency Centers and the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission are seeking to build a parking garage and apartments on top of the graveyard, which was already desecrated during construction of Westwood Tower in the late 1960s.

Currently, the church, Regency, the HOC and Montgomery County are in mediation over the fate of the cemetery, and the question of who will conduct an archaeological investigation of the site. The next mediation session is approaching, but the money previously raised to pay for the church's legal representation has run out, according to the GoFundMe page.

In 10 hours, the page has already raised $550 of its $50,000 goal. Legal help is essential, as the other parties are - in Regency's case - flying in executives and attorneys to represent the developer and HOC's interests. In other words, they mean business, and are not simply going to seek a resolution because the political optics are bad.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

why not use the money from the sale of the cemetery in the first place?

Anonymous said...

@5:40am Exactly. Where did the money go when they sold it off?

I have things I like and want to keep. Guess what I do? I don't sell them to others!

Robert Dyer said...

5:40: The Church never owned the cemetery, but members of its congregation are buried there. The cemetery was created by an African-American fraternal organization, which sold it for unknown reasons in the 1950s. It's more accurate to say it changed hands, as the group certainly did not sell it with the idea it would be built on. It's unclear what happened after that, and who bulldozed the gravestones in the 1950s.

Anonymous said...

why would someone buy a plot of land with no intention of developing it unless it was a preservation society?

So this means either the buyer had no idea about the secret cemetery or some Bond villain bought it with the intention of holding it for 60 years and then selling it to develop Westbard (which would have taken quite the foresight in the 1950s).

If the fraternal org sold it to someone and didn't disclose the cemetery and didn't have an outcry when it was bulldozed, why should I care now 60 years later? Seems a little hypocritical to sell it and then tie the owner's hands with it now.

Robert Dyer said...

6:01: It wasn't the fraternal order that "didn't disclose." It was one of the later owners, Dr. Tauber or earlier. One of the dead giveaways that Tauber knew the cemetery was there, is that the few remains his architect relocated were reburied at Howard Chapel Cemetery - a black cemetery. How did he know they were black, unless someone knew it was a black cemetery?

The fraternal organization doesn't exist anymore. They would be as upset as anyone if they were still around to know this was happening.

The big question is, which owner failed to disclose that there was a cemetery - was it the Tauber family when selling it to Capital Properties, or was it Capital Properties when they sold it to Equity One/Regency Centers? Or did Regency know, and that's why the Westwood Tower documents were shredded in 2015?

We need answers to so many questions on this issue.

Anonymous said...

If it's a legal matter, precedent should be taken into account. It's not fair to penalize Regency for Tauber's behavior or misrepresentations. Also, this group needs to figure out what they want and be fair. A museum sounds ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

So it sounds like Tauber relocated the remains they were able to find (using the gravestones and such) and then prepared the property for development by bulldozing the site. Perhaps it had to have some bulldozing to prepare the land after an exhumation effort had finished.

Couldn't development proceed with the understanding that any remains that are found should be respectfully relocated? What's the church's ideal scenario here? Do they want the developer to just give them the land for free or to just sit on it in perpetuity and pay property taxes on it? If the church just wants the remains respectfully relocated I can't see how the two projects can't go forward together.

If its just to halt development then it sounds a little Johnny come lately...

Robert Dyer said...

6:20: More lies. Your defamatory comment has again been deleted.

6:18: It's actually a little more complicated. From what I have pieced together of the two or three accounts, it sounds like initially they tried to relocate a few remains to Howard Chapel. When they infamously reached the 12th grave (and work stoppage), according to the second account, the crew was told not to stop work, and instead relocate any remains encountered downward from the rear of the building footprint. A third account says that this relocation may have been into one mass grave back there.

What parts of the cemetery were not disturbed by excavation were simply paved over for the parking lot around the back, as the Park and Planning notes indicate Dr. Tauber suggested.

I'll let the church speak for themselves, but I believe they want the graves to remain in this sacred ground. The cemetery and church are the only remaining physical representations of the lost African-American community. It also is a powerful teaching tool, of the "original sin of Westbard," as a commenter put it so well. These are the graves of many of the slaves who worked the Loughborough plantation.

Robert Dyer said...

6:46: Where have I ever expressed "nostalgia for slavery?"

You're the guy arguing that a $4 billion company can buy the bodies of the first generation of free blacks in Maryland, and you're calling *me* racist? Give me a break.

I'm the one who brought the history of the River Road African-American community, and the need to locate the cemetery, to the attention of the Planning Board, County Council and NCPC in 2011. It had been - surprise - totally covered up and erased from history. All 3 bodies ignored me at that time, and they probably wish they hadn't now.

For you to claim I'm a racist makes you sound like a complete moron, idiot.

Anonymous said...

Why not move any graves the find to the church's current property? Would that be a viable solution?

Anonymous said...

But is the ground sacred anymore? It sounds like three second hand accounts most of the remains were relocated, there may or may not be some that were paved over that the church now parks over or Bank of America customers do.

It sounds like the church has been parking on top of this place for decades and now is looking for a way to block the development. It's like that Up house in Seattle except they don't own the property. If it wasn't already so built up I could see their point but at this point it seems like a case should have been made a dozen times before now.
I'm just not sure if I can get behind them on this. If they want to honor the graveyard with a plaque or a historical shadowbox or something at their church I'd be happy to support them but I don't know about this one.

Thanks for explaining the situation though.

Anonymous said...

@7:00 I read their Gofundme page and it says they only want to "stop development" which doesn't seem like a reasonable solution. How about having the graves moved or a memorial like you suggest?

Also their timing is very suspect, if all these people knew about it before this year. Why not bring it up then?

Anonymous said...

Any update on Day 12 of the MoCo Cartel Crime Blackout?

Anonymous said...

From the GoFundMe page: "Save Bethesda African Cemetery"

Why not "African-American Cemetery"?

Roald said...

I'm holding out for a museum documenting the history of the community there. Would be a great addition to the development.

Anonymous said...

Roald an entire museum seems a little much doesn't it? Especially as we have the national AfAm museum downtown? Seems like an enormous expense for a small audience.

Who would take up this cost? Not the church, they are GoFunding lawyers I don't think they can GoFund an entire museum. Plus putting a museum there where would we park if they make the parking lot a museum?

Anonymous said...

A museum is not a practical solution. Mo County has lots of history and its aspects aren't due a museum either. Sheesh. A museum needs staffing and lots of resources to keep it up. Maybe the church can house some history or something. This is nuts. That's the role of churches, not just to pray, but also do discuss history.

Anonymous said...

6:57 PM - I doubt that there is enough room for a graveyard on the church property, but a mausoleum might work. Or a charnel house.

Robert Dyer said...

8:09: Why not just leave the sacred ground of the current cemetery undisturbed?

Anonymous said...

Rule #143: "Robert Dyer always signs his comments. Baaaaa!"

Anonymous said...

who said he didn't? i said roald was a sheepshill.

Anonymous said...

How about them optics?

Anonymous said...

Rule #17 - No fact-checking

Anonymous said...

Dyer @ 8:15 AM - You think leaving the "sacred ground" buried under a parking lot is respectful?

SaveWestbard said...

Good idea 12:13; I'll check with the Justice Tuesday organizers. We will be sure to advertise it, if and when it is organized.

Anonymous said...

Hi SaveWestbard, what did 12:13 say?

Robert Dyer said...

8:18: Understandable that you would be in favor of whitewashing Montgomery County's support for the Confederacy, and legacy of slavery. You can hide the statues and change the names, but not the history.

Anonymous said...

I actually 100% agree with you Robert. Maryland has been trying to hide its history from its residents.

Anonymous said...

Answering a few comments here:

1. Suggestion that any remains found be buried at the Macedonia Baptist Church: the Church's site is very small, so this might not be feasible. It is also unlikely that the Church has the funds required to operate a cemetery.

2. Suggestion that the bodies are buried under a parking lot owned by Macedonia Baptist Church: the cemetery is located on the other side of River Road on the site of the parking lot of Westwood Towers, an affordable apartment building leased to Montgomery County's Housing Opportunities Commission and owned by Regency Centers, the developer of the Westbard project.

3. Question as to why there was no public comment on the cemetery before approval of the Westbard sector plan: There was no public comment because the Planning Department did not advise the public about the possible existence of the cemetery on the Westbard site. The Planning Department did not mention the possible existence of the cemetery during public meetings and hearings on Westbard, although its own research had uncovered credible information on the cemetery's existence as early as February 2015. (Source: internal Planning Department documents uncovered during legal discovery.)

The only mention of the cemetery in the body of the final Westbard sector plan was contained in two sentences stating that land had been purchased for use as a cemetery and that the cemetery was no longer extant. (Source: Westbard sector plan adopted in May 2016.)

The Planning Department did not inform the general public about the cemetery until *after* the May 2016 approval of the Westbard sector plan. Information was contained in the Appendix to the Westbard sector plan, released to the public in the summer of 2016. In approximately August 2016 (roughly 3 months after approval of the sector plan), the Planning Department began to discuss the cemetery in meetings with citizens' stakeholder groups on the developer's sketch plan for the site.

The Planning Department's suppression of information about the cemetery during the development of the Westbard sector plan raises disturbing questions about the ethics and objectivity of the Planning Department, and the extent to which it acts in the interest of the public. Records uncovered during legal discovery show that Planning Department officials deliberately decided not to mention the cemetery during an official September 2015 tour of the Westbard site.

SaveWestbard said...

12:13 asked whether JTs would continue.

Anonymous said...

From Robert Dyer's Rockville blog:

"The SPLC is a highly-questionable organization, unethically declaring organizations they disagree with politically as "hate groups." Ridiculous. I keep waiting for the SPLC to declare Greater Greater Washington a "hate group" for the anti-African-American, racist comments their readers post and the pro-gentrification stance of the website. Interestingly, that doesn't happen. Gee, would it happen to be a political reason?"

And this:

"Big difference - Hitler wasn't French."

Anonymous said...

"Hitler wasn't French."

Thank Heaven for small blessings.

Anonymous said...

Over 3,000 skeletons exhumed at London construction site

Anonymous said...


1)Re the 3,000 skeletons exhumed at the London site, as posted by 5:05: had those skeletons been buried at Westbard, the Planning Department would have first attempted to conceal their existence and then would have failed to have reached agreement on the scope of the archaeological investigation.

2)JTs are Justice Tuesdays.

3)An estimated 3 bodies were reburied at the Howard Chapel cemetery site according to the account of Arnold d'Epagnier, the son of Laszlo Tauber's architect. (Source: Planning Department records.) There is no evidence that any additional bodies were removed from the site.

4)There are a couple of interesting suggestions on this thread, if feasible: (a)Regency Centers, the Westbard developer, could fund an exhibit about the African American community at or adjacent to Macedonia Baptist Church; (b)perhaps the Westbard remains could be reburied at Macedonia Baptist Church. If there is insufficient space on the Church site, the area around the Willett Branch stream could be preserved as a park dedicated to the African American community. This fits well with the County's proposal to develop a greenbelt along the Willett Branch stream.

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be insensitive here, but as civilizations endure, they build upon their past.
Put up a historical marker, celebrating the story of the previous inhabitants and noting their final resting place. Green space and a bench. Put it on all the historical sites maps. Make it the big deal it should have been, and document it into the area's history.

Anonymous said...

So is it really off topic to ask "When will there be another Justice Tuesday?"

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree.

Anonymous said...

Really asking to learn, is it illegal to move or build on a cemetery?

SaveWestbard said...

Why do you ask? If you're on SW distribution, you will find out as soon as it's advertised. Email
Savewestbard@gmail.com and, if you're a Westbard resident, you will be added to distribution and will receive regular updates about the Westbard lawsuit and any announcements about future Justice Tuesdays.

Anonymous said...

Why only Westbard residents? I guess us in eastern Bethesda aren't allowed to care or stay informed. What a shame. I'll stick to only supporting my own side of town.

SaveWestbard said...

Well, you are welcome to like our FB group and we advertise Justice Tuesdays there as well. Or, email us and let us know who you are and your address. We do have have some non-Westbard citizens on the list; and some reporters, too. So, the "rule" is not hard and fast; but you will need to tell us your name to be approved by admin. Thanks for your interest.

Anonymous said...

"your name to be approved by admin"

I'll stick to supporting groups which don't require an approval of whether I fit their mold of who is acceptable to participate in what is essentially county issues.

SaveWestbard said...

Your choice, "anonymous." We simply asked for you to email us with your name; and you've apparently declined. You've also been invited to join the FB group. Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

So is it illegal to build on a cemetery or move the bodies?

Anonymous said...

No, you did not "simply ask." Your text was "you will need to tell us your name to be approved by admin"

Any other group I've participated in has been happy to have another active member, no questions asked. I'm sorry you don't feel the same.

Good luck anyway.

Anonymous said...

So was it ever decided if it's illegal to build on or move a cemetery?

Anonymous said...

7:34

Hey...

I was reading this page and I am not sure if you were aware or not: That whole "approved by administrator" is a common semantic used with online groups that exist for a cause (could be a fan club, Young Democrats, a Gluten-Free Co-Op, any online group). Specific groups with a cause on facebook typically have a person that runs that webpage. It is logistical more than anything. Folks who want to be part or identify send a request to join. The administrator clicks the approve button, and voila! You are now on the member list. I don't think anyone is doing some kind of snooty background search. Perhaps as the topic touches upon activism, it is wise to have folks be non-anonymous, as it carries an inherent accountability not to be worried over by anyone in earnest. A person is less likely to join to stir trouble if they need to sign their name to their actions.

Hope you don't mind my explaining this, as it occurred to me that if I were unfamiliar with facebook and admin approvals online, it could really sound exclusivist. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I was told I could send an email and provide my address to be approved to join.

Anonymous said...

What do they need your address for if you want to stay in the loop?

Anonymous said...

Exactly.

Anonymous said...

Again asking on topic... So was it ever decided if it's illegal to build on or move a cemetery?

Robert Dyer said...

1:46: Illegal unless Maryland attorney general approves a plan to relocate remains. Here there are descendants who are a party to the negotiations, which means Frosh has less leeway than if no one came forward.