Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Consensus on MoCo Council burial sites bill: Too little, too late

Speakers testifying yesterday on a proposed Montgomery County Council bill to better inventory burial sites almost uniformly agreed the weak measure is merely a starting point. Bill 24-17, Land Use Information - Burial Sites, would not have prevented the horrific desecration of the African-American cemetery behind Westwood Tower in Bethesda nor the current controversy over a proposal to build a parking garage atop its graves, will not resolve that issue, nor would it prevent a case like it from occurring in the future.

Even one of the bill's lead sponsors, Councilmember Craig Rice (D - District 2) acknowledged that reality in remarks that followed citizen testimony. "We're starting from zero," Rice said. "This bill was never intended to address the Westbard cemetery." The problem is, the Council's PR office made the Westbard cemetery the dominant talking point when the bill was introduced, giving a false impression to residents who might not be following the drama closely that the Council was rushing to the rescue of the hidden black cemetery.

Resident David Kathan, part of a group of researchers who will soon publish a report on the history of the Westbard cemetery, said the bill needed many revisions and improvements to be effective. He noted that his team had identified several cemeteries currently not on the County's inventory. Kathan said cemetery inventories should be taken at all stages of development, not simply annually or at the point of subdivision.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Social Justice Director for Macedonia Baptist Church (whose past members are among those buried in the Westbard cemetery), criticized the provision in the accompanying Subdivision Regulation Amendment that would give the Montgomery County Planning Board the sole power to decide whether graves should be moved to benefit a private developer. She said a citizen board would need to oversee such a decision, due to the "long history of the Planning Board favoring development over community interests."

Coleman-Adebayo also called for the County to purchase the cemetery land from development partners Regency Centers and the County Housing Opportunities Commission, to allow for construction of a museum and memorial on it. Rice said he would support a "monument, grounds and a structure," without specifying a museum. She also advised that protection be given to whistieblowers in the County.

In my own testimony, I suggested that regulations and penalties are needed to protect cemeteries from development and desecration. Cemetery disclosures during land sales need to be examined, as well. "Changes are needed," I said, "because our community is horrified that the first free generation of Africans - whose bodies were bought and sold at slave markets - could 140 years later be bought again by a $4 billion corporation."

At a later point in the hearing, advocates for the Waters family cemetery in Germantown squared off against the developer who owns it. The developer, who owns a site between I-270 and Century Boulevard, said that a proposed bridge retaining wall near the cemetery would impact her ability to develop the northern portion of the site, which is where the Corridor Cities Transitway stop will be. The current location of the Waters cemetery also precludes north-south road access through the site, she said.

The landowner said she would have no problem relocating the cemetery to a park or public plaza in her future development, "just not where it currently is." A Maryland burial sites advocate disagreed with that sentiment. "A final resting place is exactly what it should be: final."

A Council worksession on the bill and amendment is tentatively scheduled for early October. Cemetery advocates have launched a petition demanding HOC scrap its plan to build the garage on the cemetery, and allow an archaeological survey of the cemetery site.


Anonymous said...

Why should the county purchase the land? If this was where the church had their cemetery, shouldn't they purchase it?

Are other church cemeteries in MoCo publicly-owned?

Anonymous said...

MoCo HOC (Housing Opportunities Commission) is already slated to buy this particular parcel of land for $5 million LESS than what Regency/Equity One paid for it. Nothing about this particular parcel of land has even been on the "up and up."

Didn't Mr. Dyer report not that long ago that the developer and HOC have a Joint Development Agreement regarding the HOC site -- but HOC and Regency would not provide that JDA to the public? I'm thinking of an article sometime in July, perhaps.

If MoCo is already going to own the land anyway - then what is needed is a change in its use to respect the historic African-American cemetery.

Anonymous said...

Whose consensus?

Anonymous said...

This is so silly. This group of activists is so aimless and has no clear goals other than "this is wrong. do what we say." Get outta here. Where have you been all these years? Gimme a break. They are just grandstanding and trying to be morally superior. No one thinks it's nice that the previous owner built a lot over these people, but it's NOT a cemetery any longer and to keep saying this is dishonest and exaggerating the real situation. The land is already used as a lot and NOT a cemetery. Just stop this nonsense and find a more clever, creative, and appropriate way to memorialize these people than USE them to stop a development you don't like or demand a museum which is so dumb given that there is an african american museum only a few miles away.

Anonymous said...

Dyer's Divide & Conquer strategy:

-Tears for black cemetery on Bethesda blog.

-Tears for Confederate soldier on Rockville blog.

-MS-13/Sanctuary hysteria on East MoCo blog.

Anonymous said...

"Colma[, California] became the site for numerous cemeteries after San Francisco, in 1900 outlawed new interments within city limits, then in 1912 evicted all existing cemeteries (though the actual process of removal was delayed until after World War II).

"The San Francisco de Asís cemetery, which adjoins the property [of the church] on the south side, was originally much larger than its present boundaries, running west almost to Church Street and north into what is today 16th Street. It was reduced in various stages, starting with the extension of 16th Street through the former mission grounds in 1889, and later by the construction of the Mission Dolores Basilica Center and the Chancery Building of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the 1950s. Some remains were reburied on-site in a mass grave, while others were relocated to various Bay Area cemeteries. Today, most of the former cemetery grounds are covered by a paved playground behind the Mission Dolores School."

Anonymous said...

What was the name of the "Maryland burial sites advocate"?

Are you attributing your own opinions to anonymous sources again?

Anonymous said...

glad we're getting up to the moment coverage of something half the readers are against but 0 coverage on the new hair salon opening across from the recently closed Tastee Diner on a street that causes much debate...

consider this a tip robert.

Anonymous said...

Dyer reported on the salon weeks ago. Refresh your browser!

Anonymous said...

5:45: This land was a cemetery whose graves were paved over when HOC's Woodmont Towers (then privately owned) was built. There is nothing "silly" or "aimless" about wanting the burial site, which served the families of freed slaves. commemorated.

Fine if you disagree, 5:45, but don't mischaracterize.

5:19: While Macedonia Baptist Church includes descendants of those buried at Westbard among its congregants, the cemetery was never owned by the church. The cemetery was owned by an African-American burial society that no longer exists. You might disagree with the church's position, but get the facts straight before criticizing.

5:35 is correct. HOC has stated in official documents that HOC and Equity One (now Regency Centers) have a joint development agreement. On the other hand, Regency Centers has stated to counsel for the Westbard lawsuit that no written joint development agreement exists. But Regency Centers also proposed that much of its affordable housing requirement for Westbard be placed in a building that it was developing with HOC.
There are three possible outcomes here: 1)There is a joint development agreement or similar documents that Regency/HOC need to turn over; or 2)the Westbard sector plan serves as the joint development agreement; or 3)HOC and Regency have been lying to the County and the public about the joint development venture. I think that Door Number 3 is unlikely.

Boyce Bowles said...

My take is we now know the cemetery is there. Let's respect this final resting place and build a memorial on the site lest we forget the sins of the past.

A museum would be a brilliant addition to the "New Westwood"! A wonderful way to connect to our past and would prove that, working together, we can unite for a bright future.

I hold out hope that some councilmembers will break ranks and join the Bethesda community in wanting to preserve our history. It's the right thing to do!

Anonymous said...

Move the site to the church. Bring them back home and give them the respect they deserve. The poor souls were buried away from their sacred grounds of the church. Peace is within the open minds of individuals who put money aside and do what is right, and just. Give them a proper burial site on the grounds of where they worshiped. Honor them, and open your doors to everyone. JESUS saves.

Anonymous said...

@12:16 Your "satire" is inappropriate. The original Church was located at Talbert's and the cemetery was behind it - so the church/cemetery were linked back then. In the 1920s, the Church moved to its current location across the street.

On your premise, I guess MoCo will find peace when they do the right thing and buy the land (for the bargain basement, pre-arranged, price of $5 million less than what Regency paid) and construct a memorial to the freed Africans and allow them to rest in peace - a final resting place should be final, not an interim measure.

Anonymous said...

So I guess you were just a passionate about the Standing Rock Sioux sacred burial grounds being decimated by the Dakota Pipeline?

Anonymous said...

@5:25 your analogy to Standing Rock is inapposite. If locals care about a local issue, and they fight against a local injustice, then I guess the adage that "all politics is local" is still relevant and true. Did you stand up for the Standing Rock Sioux? Do you live near the Dakota Pipeline; is that your community? What is your personal interest and attachment to the SRS local burial grounds? We're eager to know the answer; and we want to know what you did to fight against the desecration. Did the locals fight for the Standing Rock Sioux; did YOU fight for the SRS? Since most of us did not follow that local issue of a local burial ground, enlighten us. If the SRS local burial grounds were decimated, then that's a shame; you should have worked harder to prevent it.

Anonymous said...

6:06AM What a nasty reply.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was/is national news. What you're implying is that the destruction of a Native American sacred burial ground is only a concern to Native Americans or to those local. Ridiculous. Burial grounds are burial grounds.

Even though the pipeline is flowing, the legal battle is still in Federal District court in DC. DC is local.

As a Lakota Sioux friend from Rosebud, SD says: "It doesn't matter what background you come from or where you're from. We've united as people," "We've recognized that human spirit within each other. Because that human spirit doesn't have a color."

I completely reject your claim that if the burial grounds in Bethesda aren't dealt with respectfully, then the Macedonia Baptist Church folks should have worked harder to prevent it.

Anonymous said...

What was nasty about 6:06's comment?

Anonymous said...

Satire? I guess you can not open your mind. You are stuck with "one way" thinking and need to bring the people back home to the congregation. It does not matter where the original church location was... which, actually proves my point. You can move a church and still worship. God follows. sacred ground is all around you. All land is sacred. You are not a believer. You only care about money. Move the graves to the parking lot behind the church. It's the right and just thing to do.

Anonymous said...

@7:02 Well, you seem to know quite a bit about the Native American burial grounds, but you're still projecting your angst about a separate project onto our local African-American burial grounds. You may certainly fight for the SDS burial grounds (although, unless you answer the questions previously posited, we will never know if you're just fulminating about it (useless) or actually working to right the wrong). Likewise, locals may fight for the African-American cemetery (which they're doing, in actuality). Everyone does not need to be involved in every single project, right? With your presumed work on the SDS desecration, perhaps you might offer suggestions to locals as to how to proceed?

I expect that most people have not followed this particular desecration of Native American burial grounds (they may know about the Dakota Pipeline, but not about the desecration); but since you have followed the issue (and worked on it, too, right?), keep up the good fight! Your prior note seemed to indicate (my bad, if I misread that) that the Native American burial ground desecration was a done deal. Is it or is it not? Since you're "on it" -- let us know as news becomes available.

I presume that you have a group with whom you're working? If you advertise this news locally, maybe that will encourage more local Bethesda support for the Native American burial grounds. I have not seen anything about it in the local news, have you? Everyone isn't following every single piece of news, nationally -- but since you are following that important news, you should definitely continue to work to protect the Native American burial grounds. If we spread our activist talents around, we will get more done. Deal?

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Let's see whether the Moses Cemetery is saved or not before assigning blame. Locals are working (hard) to save the Moses Cemetery; let's see if they're successful. It sounds like some group (but not you, personally?) is working hard on a federal case for the Native American burial grounds, so let's see what happens there, too. Those most interested in saving the burial grounds, either in Bethesda or nationally, are all working diligently to do so; that's great news.

Be that as it may ... 7:02 likes to point fingers at locals who've not heard about that Native American cemetery desecration and have not personally fought against it; but remember, when you point a finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Stop blaming others for not doing enough, and start working to right the injustice yourself. That's what Macedonia Baptist Church is doing currently -- they're working to correct the injustice. Join the cause -- since you're interested in cemeteries -- and then you, too, may be part of the solution. Or was your interest in saving cemeteries just simply not sincere?

Anonymous said...

Both the causes of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Moses Cemetery advocates are just. Don't pit them against each other.

I stand with both groups and have contributed to both. I have also supported the Moses Cemetery cause at marches.

Kudos to all who have helped these causes.

Anonymous said...

12:16 AM: I don't think that the MBC site is large enough to accommodate the Westbard graves and a memorial. There is considerably more land available on the parcels assembled by Regency Centers.

Anonymous said...

Hypothetical: If this was the Berliner family plot, I doubt the county would be so eager to dig up the remains and treat them like property.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Take my statement, twist it, conflate it, and attack me with it.

Why react so strongly when I wondered if those supporting the local issue also supported the Native Americans with the same issue of burial grounds being disturbed.

Why you feel I need to explain myself is confounding. I'm a registered Native American, but not Sioux. Spent 4 years in Rosebud working as a nurse. Have many friends involved with the pipeline issue. My tribe kept ashes in earthenware jugs. The funeral pyre allowed the spirit to depart to start it's next journey.

I've supported MBC since the beginning. Burial grounds are burial grounds.

Anonymous said...

Sacred burial grounds not on reservation land/sacred burial grounds not on church property. It sounds similar to me.