Montgomery County officials thought no one would care about a “bunch of dead black folks.”
“Our demands are quite simple and grounded in justice. Give the land back!”
Beneath my feet lies—not so quietly—MosesAfrican Cemetery in genetically engineered white Bethesda, Maryland. Hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, kidnapped Africans, bodies broken by years of barbaric servitude on the altar of American capitalism are interred. Later, after emancipation, the descendants of these Africans would purchase the land and call it White's Tabernacle No. 39 lodge of the Ancient United Order of the Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses.
From kidnapping to Jim Crow this community would rile from brutality.We now know that industrial-scale pedophilia, rape and breeding of small African girls took place on a number of “plantations” on River Road and many of those remains would have been “dumped” in Moses. Later, from the Jim Crow era to the early 60’s, white developers took over the once-thriving African American communities brick by brick and yard by yard, fleecing them, then forcing the black families to flee, one last shameful, painful reminder of Montgomery County Maryland’s barbaric;treatment of its black population.
Macedonia Baptist Church has succeeded, so far, in preventing further desecration through a strong and passionate social justice movement. Two multinational corporations have decided in response to a strong activist movement to either sell the property or work cooperatively with the church.
After nearly three long years of hand-to-hand combat, the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) continues to fight and make astonishing progress. Montgomery County government first denied Moses Cemetery existed under a parking lot, then lied when shown proof; it continues to obfuscate and gaslight as necessary, and ultimately hopes to prevail by running out the clock.
“Two multinational corporations have decided to either sell the property or work cooperatively with the church.”
After multinational corporations succumbed to pressure from the socialjustice movementMoses African Cemetery and the adjunct apartment building was bought by the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) for over $20 million dollars with a mortgagefrom United Bank- despite having learned through oral history that Moses Cemetery was there. HOC probably knew of Moses Cemetery in 1997. It certainly knew of it in 2017—when BACC started talking to HOC about Moses Cemetery. Thus, the HOC expanded its long sordid history of mistreatment of a significant number of its low-income residence by now denying dignity to the Africans buried underneath its parking lot. HOC like Montgomery County officials thought no one would care about a “bunch of dead black folks,” like no one cared about a group of “Negroes” who were kidnapped, sold and forced to labor in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
As three years have dragged by, the grim legacy of Moses Cemetery emerged. The dense muddy clay area, not thought useful for agricultural production such as tobacco, was used to dump African bodies after they had been worked to death on what European historians like to refer to as “plantations.” In actual fact, these ”romanticized plantations” were spaces where death sentences were imposed: they were death camps. Afteremancipation, African bodies were relocated from Tenleytown in 1912 when the local black community could not prevent white takeover of their cemetery. White’s Tabernacle #39 purchased less than an acre of land next to Rock Creek Baptist Church (since demolished) to re-inter the bodies. The barbaric nature of white colonialists informed their perspective that even in death African bodies were to be segregated from Europeans.
These gravesfirst came to light in the 1960’s with the building of HOC Westwood Tower. As the backhoes roared, bones would sometimes come flying out with the dirt and debris.
Harvey Matthews, like all other black kids growing up along River Road in the 20thcentury, was not allowed to step foot on the all-white playgrounds, so he and his friends improvised: they played in Moses Cemetery. His story has been told many timesin public fora.
“Even in death African bodies were to be segregated from Europeans.”
Montgomery County Executive Marc Erlich and Montgomery County President Nancy Navarro are starting a “Racial Equity and Social Justice” project to develop laws and policies to eliminate inherent racism in county practices. Despite their rhetoric, they refuse to stop the carnage that Moses African Cemetery represents. There are always excuses for not doing the right thing. In 1619, European colonialist justified their barbarism of kidnapping, raping, starving Africans because of the labor demands of tobacco. Today in 2019, Montgomery County and HOC justifies its uncivilized desecration of Moses African cemetery because it does not want to inconvenience residents who park on top of the ancient African burial ground. Whether it is 1619 or 2019 the same arguments are used to justify the economic demands of white supremacy.
On-going research has uncovered that Macedonia Baptist Church now stands where the Counselman tobacco“ plantation” once thrived on the backs and blood of Africans. In fact, the footprints of Macedonia Baptist Church is located in the area called by Euro-Americans “slave quarters.” It was in this space where Africans could raise their hands, without immediate fear of torture, and plead with their God to grant them liberation from the horror of the barbarism of enslavement. This is the origin of Macedonia Baptist Church. BACC’s demands are quite simple and grounded in justice. Give the land back! Give Moses Cemetery back to the sole remaining representative of the African and African-American community, Macedonia Baptist Church. Return land acquired through kidnapping, terror of lynching anddisplacementby white greed to the only community that has not betrayed and exploited them. "A luta continua, vitória é certa!" (The struggle continues, victory is certain!)
This article is dedicated to Bruce Dixon – rest in power!
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is President of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) and Chair of the Macedonia Baptist Church, Social Justice Ministry. Marsha is the author of: No FEAR: A Whistleblower's Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She was the EPA/White House representative to the Nelson Mandela government and worked to reconstruct the Mandela Environment Department. She provided the leadership for the passage of the first Civil Rights and Whistleblower law of the 21st Century: No FEAR. In 2017, she was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.
Chris Rigaux works as part of the communications committee of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition; he may be contacted at [email protected]. A resident of Bethesda since 1993, he is descended from the 11thPresident, James K. Polk, who was the penultimate president to own and actively buy slaves while occupying the White House.
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