Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition Continues Fight to Preserve Moses Cemetery

Joined by members of the community, the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) gathered at a rally on March 5 to protest developments that would lead to further desecration of one of the oldest African cemeteries.

“It feels wonderful that the community is so supportive that particularly in the face of such little support, I suppose, from the elected officials in Montgomery County,” President of the BACC Marsha Coleman-Adebayo told MyMCM. “This community, West Bethesda, has always been very supportive of the Moses movement.”

While speakers shared their sentiments and echoed the call to action, Ben & Jerry’s provided the comfort of free ice cream. As a corporate sponsor, the company has been using its influence to support the fight against developers.

River Road in Bethesda is home to the Moses Macedonia Cemetery and once a thriving African American community after the Civil War. Since disputes began several years ago, the BACC has been demanding the land be returned to its descendants so a memorial and museum can be built as a sacred space. The organization seeks to educate the public and expose the everyday cruelties of structural racism and hate crimes as well.

“How are we supposed to say ‘never again,’ and call out hypocrisy when it’s happening elsewhere, but once in our own backyards, it’s crickets,” Robert Stubblefield, a member of BACC who was a speaker and emcee at the protest, told MyMCM.

Sunday’s protest took place behind McDonald’s on River Road, where the development company 1784 Holdings has been excavating. The company intends to develop a self-storage facility between April and June just yards away from the cemetery. The BACC wants to ensure that development does not happen, Stubblefield said.

The fate of another parcel of land is still being weighed after the state appeals court placed a temporary injunction on the Housing Opportunities Commission’s deal to sell it. The court has now asked both sides of the case, the BACC being one of them, to file a rebrief of the issues, Coleman-Adebayo said. Though the BACC is disappointed in the latest decision, Coleman-Adebayo said she is optimistic that they can win the case since the issues of desecration are clear.

Meanwhile, the BACC is running an initiative called 100 for Moses where residents are asked to write letters to the county executive, members of the county council and to the governor’s office. According to Coleman-Adebayo, there is also a campaign being formed around the loss of possible human remains during excavation and emails obtained by the BACC from county officials planning to cover up crimes at the cemetery.

This time, she said, the BACC has a goal “…to see a level of accountability that we’ve not seen before in the past.” Members are hoping to call out corruption and achieve justice for the community through appropriate investigations and charges against those involved.

“So it’s an incredible story from the beginning to end at this point. And we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the story because it was a story that Montgomery County took great pains to erase,” Coleman-Adebayo said. “And so we’ve literally had to piece this story together one chapter at a time so that we have a sense of what happened on River Road.”

(Featured photo courtesy of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition @BethAfrCemetery)

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