Activists rally to prevent development on African American burial site

BETHESDA, MD. -- Sunday, members and supporters of Macedonia Baptist Church marched to the Moses Cemetery, an African American burial ground which is now a paved over lot sitting next to Westwood Towers on River Road.

“I’m so grateful for to all of you for what you have done in picking up the fight on behalf of my ancestors.”, said Nanette Hunter to a crowd of activists.

Hunter is the great, great niece of Cora Parker Botts who was buried at the site in 1935.

The community has been fighting for months with the Housing Opportunities Commission for the right to investigate the property to prove to Montgomery County officials that people are buried beneath the pavement.

During the rally, once confidential emails dating back to 2015, were read aloud, suggesting the County knew of the remains, one said to have been written by Sandra Youla of the Montgomery County Planning Department, which read, “I mentioned, there was, slash, is a Black cemetery no longer visible in Westbard. The status of the remains is unclear. Some may have been removed, some may have been disturbed and “pushed down the hill by construction teams”. Most of the remains were probably buried on parcel 175, now a paved parking lot for Westwood Towers.”

Siki Langa from South Africa, said she felt compelled to join the church’s movement and called to mind her own country’s struggles over stolen land.

She said, “I found that it was extremely powerful to fight for the dead, because when you’re fighting for the dead you’re fighting for the living. Because, if you can just destroy somebody’s grave and not care about it, it means you don’t value their lives.”

Macedonia Baptist Church Social Justice Chair, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said they will continue to fight until justice is served.

“We don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have corporate power. But, what we have is community support, and here in Montgomery County, the community supports building a museum in this cemetery.”, she said.

In a meeting earlier this month, the HOC said they do not have any plans to develop the area as of now.

We also reached out to the Montgomery County Planning Department for comment, but have not heard back yet.