Supporters of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BAAC) chose to hold their own Juneteenth celebrations Monday rather than attend any events sponsored by a county government they believe continues to disrespect their ancestors who were buried at the Moses Macedonia Cemetery.
The once thriving African-American community along River Road in Bethesda consisted of 262 homes, one of which was the boyhood home of Harvey Matthews.
“We had a happy community. Everybody was one,” he said yesterday to supporters gathered across the street from the Macedonia Baptist Church for BACC’s “What Does Juneteenth Mean in the Context of Desecration” event.
Then developers “trickled in,” marking the end of their community. “One by one, they kind of did away with the homes there,” Matthews said.
BACC members have been fighting to preserve the land where the cemetery was located. In the 1960s, part of the cemetery was paved over and is beneath a Westwood Tower Apartments parking lot on Westbard Avenue.
Through multiple Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County meetings and court appearances, BACC members have made their voices heard. As Matthews said, “I am not afraid. I am not afraid at all. I will stand there as long as I have a breath in my body,” adding.” I stand for my grandparents. Injustice was done back then. I figure it’s not too late.”
BACC believes there were once 200 buried remains of African Americans, many of whom were slaves, at Moses Cemetery.
Amid drumming, dancing and face painting, those attending the Juneteenth event celebrated while strongly criticizing Executive Marc Elrich and the county council.
“The people in this county pretend to care, but in actuality they are desecrating the same people they are celebrating [on Juneteenth,]” said BACC President Marsha Coleman-Adebyo.
For several years, the BACC has been demanding the land be returned to its descendants so a memorial and museum could be built as a sacred space.
In a short speech during, Coleman-Adebyo said, “Moses Cemetery is holy ground.” She noted, “We have communications showing” that not only were people buried beneath what is now a parking lot but also that the county found bones that “have been trafficked to Virginia.”
She called for a stop order on all work at the site, a federal investigation on how the incident was handled and “a criminal investigation on everyone who signed off on the desecration.”
She asked U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin to help with those demands. However, during his address Monday, Raskin spoke only about the history and significance of Juneteenth. He later told MCM, “There is litigation, and I cannot comment when there is litigation.” However, he added, “I’m following the litigation closely.”
Maryland Sen. Will Smith, who attended but did not speak, said he planned to look into the matter further. “It kind of shows you the disregard for African life.”