Community fights to find historic cemetery, preserve black history in Bethesda

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BETHESDA, Md. --  Big changes are potentially coming to the Westbard neighborhood in Bethesda, but some community members are fighting to make sure Bethesda’s black history is not forgotten in the process.

Sunday, dozens marched from Macedonia Baptist, a historic African American church on River Road, to a parking lot across the street, where a high rise sits.

Macedonia Baptist Church-goers told DCW50, up until the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was an African American cemetery where the parking lot is now located.

Sunday, community members paused to remember and acknowledge the people and families that were believed to have been laid to rest there.

According to Montgomery County’s website, developers have plans to build parking structures, apartment buildings, and retail space in the area that is believed, by Sunday’s protestors, to be a historic graveyard.

Something that feels all too familiar for 72-year-old Harvey Matthews, who was born and raised on River Road.

“I think it’s a shame for the county to allow that to go on back then in the 50’s and 60s, and for it to happen in 2017, it is very disturbing,” Matthews said.

“That was my yard, my address on River Road was 5263 River Road.  I went to school here, where you see the TV tower there, that was the Black school, then when they passed desegregation laws, we went to the white schools,” explained Matthews.

Matthews said decades ago Westbard was a flourishing black community.

“This was our home, and then the developers came in and weeded us out until there was no more black community on River Road,” Matthews said.

Now, community members are fighting to preserve the area’s Black history.

The county’s website shows there are plans for developers, to meet with the Planning Board during the month of February.

Community members who were protesting, Sunday, said they want an assessment done to find out exactly where the historic cemetery is located and they want that area to be deemed sacred ground.