Thursday, June 07, 2018

Religious leaders decry HOC inaction on Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda

Advocates for the Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda had arguably their best lineup of speakers yet before the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission yesterday, in their ongoing struggle to restore sanctity to the hidden, desecrated graveyard on the Westwood Tower property. Religious leaders from Macedonia Baptist Church, several other area churches, and the Archdiocese of Washington joined candidates and residents in criticizing the HOC's ongoing inaction and silence on the cemetery.

"I want to thank you for turning your back on small groups of citizens who came month after month [to HOC meetings]," Bethesda resident Lynn Pekkanen told commissioners. "You have formed the great civil rights action going on in Montgomery County right now." She noted that cemetery advocates have had great difficulty getting responses to their information queries from HOC. "I was given not one page," she said, but predicted that formal public information requests will soon bear fruit in revealing the inner workings of the HOC. "The veil of secrecy is finally being pierced."

In a powerful speech, Emmanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Derek Solberg expressed surprise that such an injustice could be happening in a wealthy county with a progressive reputation. He placed the Moses African Cemetery fight in the context of his previous ministry in a Northern Philadelphia community "isolated by local government, steeped in oppression, and locked in despair. On a daily basis, I heard and saw the impact of systemic oppression and injustices on the community there, and witnessed the day to day suffering of the community...It changed my outlook on life and the world."

"I was surprised that this is an issue," Solberg continued, "in a county that has more and more recent trend toward progressive thinking...that this request to honor an ancestral cemetery would even be in question. But here we are. And it strikes me that there are similarities between what I experienced in Northern Philadelphia, and what is happening here. Rather than embracing and supporting Macedonia as one community - one that is rich, unique and diverse - it seems instead that the County seeks to isolate them, to themselves, while prohibiting them from sharing the church's story."

Like many speakers, Solberg emphasized that Macedonia and the descendants of those buried in the cemetery have a strong and growing community support. "Whatever the decision is, this community is not alone."

County Council candidate Lorna Phillips Forde declared the cemetery fight has exposed a "diversity deficit" in Montgomery County. "We are duty-bound to uncover, discover, and protect places that tell the story of African-American history. The truth of the past needs to be known, needs to be accessible, and needs to be shared."

That truth currently lies under up to 60 feet of fill dirt and asphalt, alongside and behind Westwood Tower in Bethesda. "Our movement continues to grow," Macedonia Baptist Church's Social Justice Ministry Director Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said. "We are hoping at some point the HOC will find its moral core. It is immoral to allow a parking lot to sit atop a burial ground." Her husband, MBC Pastor Segun Adebayo, told the commission that "my culture teaches me that there is no division between life in this realm and the other. These people [buried in the cemetery] are living there. If you don't have a plan, give it to us. We have a plan."

Council candidate Jim McGee said the HOC's inaction renders them "complicit" with the racial injustices that have led to the cemetery crisis. He drew a comparison with the possibly-deliberate obscuring of the final resting place of Nance Legins-Costley, the first American slave to legally win her freedom (her attorney was future Republican president Abraham Lincoln).

At-Large Council candidate Hoan Dang said commemoration of the cemetery and the lost River Road community are relevant to the current time. "The story of their perseverance is vital to inspiring" those facing similar obstacles today, he said.

"I stand here to decry this County, and this nation's white supremacy," said the Rev. Claire Matheny of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington, adding her support for the establishment of "a memorial and a museum."

Will Jawando, running for an at-large seat on the Council, observed that councilmembers appoint the HOC. "So I hope to see you all real soon," he added, drawing laughter from the crowd. As the son of a Nigerian immigrant, Jawando noted he comes from the same part of Africa as the slaves buried in the Moses cemetery. "Those that rest under that parking lot may be related to me. So this is personal." He noted that Loudoun County is doing a better job of actively protecting its historic cemeteries. "We failed here on that."

Resident Patricia Kolesar simply asked the commissioners to consider, "What would Jesus do?"

Pastor Segun Adebayo thanked faith leaders and community members in the HOC lobby after the public comment portion of the meeting concluded. The ever-growing turnout of supporters gives "credence to the fact that we are not alone," he said. "God promised us He would never leave us or forsake us. We will prevail because our cause is just, and we are doing the right thing."


Anonymous said...

"Emmanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Derek Solberg...placed the Moses African Cemetery fight in the context of his previous ministry in a Northern Philadelphia community."

So the Rev. Solberg is another Carpetbagger telling local folks how to run their lives?

Anonymous said...

As a candidate for the County Council, did you make a statement at that meeting? According to your article, at least three other candidates spoke.

Anonymous said...

"As the son of a Nigerian immigrant, [Will] Jawando noted he comes from the same part of Africa as the slaves buried in the Moses cemetery. 'Those that rest under that parking lot may be related to me. So this is personal.'"

Oh, please. Nigeria has a current population of 186 million, more than half that of the United States. And it's just a small part of the region from which African slaves were taken.

Anonymous said...

That said, I am looking forward to both Jawando and Dang, along with Riemer, defeating Dyer in November.

Anonymous said...

Please tell us again why the original owners of the cemetery sold their land, and why they apparently did not move the graves. Did someone steal their property, or did the rightful owners of the land somehow forget or neglect to move the graves? Why is this issue never mentioned in your blog? Maybe I am wrong, but this seems like a crucial issue as to what group is to blame for the construction of a parking lot over the cemetery and a key to any possible resolution to this issue.

This is a genuine question that I would like to hear your response to full understand the issue. What is the history of how this injustice occurred. If the property was rightfully sold, and graves were not removed, do you still believe the current owners should be required move the graves at their expense, or dedicate the land and restore it as a cemetery of museum? Why should the current owners bear this burden? I suppose that it might be the noble thing to do, or at least allow others to finance the removal of the graves to another site if the property is redeveloped.

Please respond.

Anonymous said...

Daily reminder: the alleged cemetery site was owned by a black benevolent society and sold about 50 years ago. The church should take up their issue with the original seller, not the current owner.

Also notice the church hasn't raised any money to offer to buy the site. If they care so much, surely they can raise the money right? They don't expect a landowner to hand it over for free I assume.

Anonymous said...

There has been no injustice. These people are crazy. They are targeting the wrong people. Shame on them for using race to get their way against a developer.

Anonymous said...

7:12 - the church will never spend a penny. The carpetbagger woman who is "leading" that church is determined to have Moco tax payers fund her demands.

Anonymous said...

Daily reminder the county and an out of town corporation wants to build a parking garage on top of an historic African American cemetery.

Anna said...

Daily reminder -The land was originally sold to owners who many years ago built the existing parking lot on top of that cemetery.

Anonymous said...

Also, good to remind folks that the out of town corporation is claiming they own the bodies of the freed slaves.


Baloney Concrete said...

We don’t even know for sure that the cemetery exists. Isn’t that right? We know it WAS there at one time, but we do not have conclusive evidence that it wasn’t moved when the tower & parking lot went in.

Anna said...

Why harp on 'out of town corporation?' Would you accuse differently if it was a local corporation?

They rightfully claim they own the land.
Others claim there are bodies there and shamefully infer it that the owners say they 'own the remains'.

If you can't tell the truth about little things, then you're totally unreliable on big things.

Anonymous said...

Dyer, why don’t you tell the Macedonia Church what you think of the Black Lives Matter movement or affirmative action or your feelings about the Obama presidency? I’m sure they’d be interested to know.

Anonymous said...

Dyer's Little Helper wrote:

"Also, good to remind folks that the out of town corporation is claiming they own the bodies of the freed slaves."

White, black, free, slaves... skeletons don't magically negate property deeds.

Robert Dyer said...

10:15: You seem to make many assumptions on what I think about things based on your own imagination. For example, I as a Republican support the recommendations of Ike Leggett's Tenant Work Group report - but those recommendations are opposed by everyone on the all-Democrat County Council except Marc Elrich.

The Seventh State said I was running to the left of the Council during a 2014 debate.

You can't put me in a box, which is what frustrates your bosses so much.

10:22: Death doesn't change the identity and history of the person.

9:40: There is extensive paper and oral documentation showing the graves are still there. There is absolutely no documentation of the cemetery being relocated. Who has the more credible case in court or public opinion? Think about it.

5:29: I spoke last month. And have been speaking about it since 2011! Long before anyone else was even aware of the issue.

Anna said...

Interesting, but you completely dodged answering 10:15's comment by insulting them and bringing up a different topic.

Robert Dyer said...

2:38: Wrong. No insult, and I gave a direct response.

Anonymous said...

"Why harp on 'out of town corporation?' Would you accuse differently if it was a local corporation?"

Dyer's double standard. He doesn't complain about out-of-town, Carpetbagger ministers.