“The remains of our ancestors do not belong to anyone.” Debate continues over land believed to be historic cemetery

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BETHESDA, Md. — Members of Macedonia Baptist Church, a historic black church on River Road, are still fighting to stop developers from building where their ancestors were buried.

Thursday, the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission met with developers, and community members showed up to weigh in on the issue.

The board ultimately approved of the developer’s sketch plan with certain staff conditions as amended, excluding the land that is believed to have been burial ground.  As for the future of that space, the commission announced a two-month deadline for an archaeological study to be done to determine where people were buried and if the remains are still in the ground. County officials said the preliminary plan cannot proceed to public hearing until issues related to the cemetery are resolved and a sketch plan amendment is filed and approved.

From marching in the streets, to meeting with the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission, community members that support the small African American church on River Road are trying to make sure Bethesda’s black history is not forgotten and the area’s first black cemetery is not disrupted by developers, again.

“It happened in the 40’s, and it is not going to happen in 2017,” said Segun Adebayo, interim pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.

In the meeting, maps were presented showing the plans that the developing company, Equity One, has for the Westbard neighborhood.

The yellow shaded section of the map represented the land that is being debated.  Currently, it is a parking lot, but developers want to turn it into a parking garage.  Meanwhile, Macedonia Baptist Church goers say in the early 1900’s, their ancestors were buried there, so the land should be deemed sacred.

“Our hope is that the land will be dedicated so we can build a small museum there to represent the people,” explained Pastor Adebayo.

In the meeting, community members begged the county and developers not to move forward without first finding out exactly where the historic graveyard sits.

“It would never be suggested that a parking garage be built on Arlington National Cemetery,” said one outraged resident.

“The existence of an African American community in Bethesda is too important to put under a parking garage,” exclaimed an 8th grade Montgomery County student.

And the names of the freed slaves who are believed to have been laid to rest on river road were read out loud, saying they were someone’s father – someone’s daughter, someone’s family.

A representative from Equity One told DCW50, the developers plan to follow whatever orders they receive from the county.

County Officials said the issue would be revisited in two months.