Before Tulsa there was Bethesda: The Cover-up of MAAFA (Genocide) and the Continuation of State Sponsored Racial Terror
The Black community in Bethesda and descendants of those buried in Moses Cemetery demand an immediate halt to the destruction of their ancestors’ resting place.
“White supremacists and the racist nature of land use policy in Montgomery County would not permit the community to accumulate wealth through land ownership.”
Moses Macedonia African Cemetery in Bethesda, Maryland is the formal name given to the sacred space where kidnapped, tortured, raped and brutalized Africans were buried from the late 1700’s to 1864. At the end of the Trans-Atlantic-Slave Trade African girls on River Road were forced into sexual violence and breeding to supply the requirements of a system, particularly in the deep South dependent and built on Black bodies. In 1911, African Americans under the auspices of the White Tabernacle benevolent society established proper cemeteries where loved ones could be buried with dignity. The River Road African American community, similar to the Tulsa Black community, flourished after enduring centuries of barbaric Euro-American kidnapping and torture (called by European-American historians’ slavery), bought property, created businesses, established churches, a school, and other institutions. While the River Road Black community and the ancestors were not bombed by the US government it faced a terrorist ground attack that eventually wiped out the community and its ability to transfer intergenerational wealth and security to their posterity. Amazon/Whole Foods and other companies now occupy the land that was watered by Black blood while the descendants scratch the earth to survive. Sadly, the Bethesda and Tulsa experiences were repeated throughout the US.
“Amazon/Whole Foods and other companies now occupy the land that was watered by Black blood.”
Within a five-minute walk from Moses Macedonia African Cemetery is the Milton Loughborough "mansion." A house considered a national treasure by white preservationists, but a space of torture and terror for Africans and their descendants. This is the place where kidnapped Africans were locked into a steel enclosed room on their way to the tobacco plantation outside the "big house" or as a trafficking point to another death work camp in the deep south. The "overseers'" -- the sadists entrusted with inflicting unrelenting torture and death -- resided directly beneath the kidnapped victims above, presumably to prevent their escape. The smoke house located outside the kitchen served, according to oral history, a dual function of preserving meats for the winter and cremating alive Africans who fought for their freedom. There is blood under the soil in Bethesda, a suburb of Washington, DC that prides itself as one of the most liberal and wealthiest communities in the world. A Washington Post article revealed that the ancestors of the founders of Macedonia Baptist Church were the victims of torture and terror at Milton mansion.
The River Road Black community, like the Tulsa community, built a “safe” spiritual, independent and social space for their families in Bethesda. But white supremacists and the racist nature of land use policy in Montgomery County would not permit the community to accumulate wealth through land ownership. In the 1950s, Montgomery County in collusion with real estate speculators, state-sponsored agents of terror, such as the KKK and private citizens developed “the Plan” to “scatter the Negroes” as Chevy Chase’s founder and US Senator Frances Newlands, (1904- 1917) wrote. Newland, a rabid white supremacist, would advocate confiscating the hard won land from the scarred hands of the River Road Black community as well as repealing the 15th Amendment.
“There is blood under the soil in Bethesda.”
These stolen lands and dreams were sold in 1958 to white developers. Oral histories recount construction workers finding human remains while building the Westwood Towers. In coordination with the County, the builder ordered bulldozers to scatter the remains throughout what is now called Moses Macedonia African Cemetery. All of the tombstones and funerary objects were destroyed. There are burn marks on the structures of excavated homes, indicating that many of the residents were forced to leave under threat of death or that their homes were burned down. Moses Macedonia African Cemetery is the scene of state sponsored terror and crimes that Montgomery County has covered-up for nearly 100 years.
Similar to the violence against the African American community in Tulsa, the racial violence against the Black community in Bethesda is now being exposed. Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition is a registered 501©3 organization dedicated to stopping the on-going desecration of this site and preserving the history, memory, and sacred space of Moses Cemetery despite vile opposition from nearly every political office in the County. In 2015, the Montgomery County Planning Board acknowledged that a parcel of land that was being proposed for development was part of a historic Black cemetery. A portion of Moses Macedonia African Cemetery remains under a parking lot owned by the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC.)
The County has refused to work with the Macedonia descendant community, BACC and its allies to stop the racist on-going desecration. In fact, during the summer of 2020, the desecration was escalated with tons of unscreened soils dumped into the bellies of trucks and carted off to a private landfill. Steam and crush machines awaited these funerary objects and assumed human remains, thus attempting to destroy any potential criminal evidence. Marc Elrich, Montgomery County Executive, John McCarthy, Montgomery County State’s Attorney and Elizabeth Hughes (State Historic Preservation Officer – SHPO) were contacted and asked to intervene and stop the desecration. None of these public officials replied to the community’s plea or from our attorneys. It was recently discovered that a member of the Montgomery County Council accepted money from the developer for his upcoming campaign.
“Steam and crush machines awaited these funerary objects and assumed human remains, thus attempting to destroy any potential criminal evidence.”
One is reminded of the recent story of the bones of Black children, killed in the 1985 bombing of the MOVE liberation group home in Philadelphia, that were being used, without the knowledge or permission of their families in an Ivy League anthropology course. This is the nature of structural racism, hatred and white supremacy experienced in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Bethesda, Maryland.
The Black community in Bethesda and descendants of those buried in Moses Cemetery demand an immediate halt to the destruction of this culturally, historically, and spiritually important site; the land is conveyed to Macedonia Baptist Church, the sole surviving Black institution so that the community can build a befitting memorial and museum to celebrate and commemorate the resilience, courage and strength of the ancestors.
1. The Bethesda African Cemetery protests outside 5204 River Road, Bethesda, MD every Wednesday at 5pm.
2. Please join BACC on June 19th from 12- 4pm for JUNETEENTH celebration where the organization will unveil its River Road Table-Top Exhibit commissioned by the US 400 Years of African-American History Commission
3. In September 2021, The BACC will convene a conference on Saving Black Cemeteries and Black Lands
Photos, video, and digital versions of this and other documents available here: https://bit.ly/BACC_8_12_2020
Photography Credit: Gail Rebhan and Nicholas Gregoryhttps://www.bethesdaafricancemetery.net
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: The Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). Marsha was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, March 2017. She is one of the hosts of Pacifica’s WPFW fm – What’s at Stake radio show.
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