Coalition fights self-storage company’s desecration of Bethesda’s Moses African Cemetery
Protesting construction of Bethesda Self-Storage. | BACC

During the Jim Crow era, many statues were erected to “remind the Black community who was really in charge” by extreme-right groups such as the Daughters of the Confederacy, who are also responsible for historical revisionism of U.S. history textbooks pertaining to the Civil War. And, while many of those statues are being torn down across this country and around the world, extreme-right corporate leaders and their puppet politicians are not wasting any time erecting new monuments to white supremacy in their place. Monuments that really showcase the artistic genius of the backwards sections of the ruling class.

The latest of these monuments proposed for the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area is a piece known as “Bethesda Self-Storage,” set to be built over the historic Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda, Md., among the largest mass graves in the United States and an international site of genocide, according to a number of local historians and anthropologists.

Opponents of the storage construction project argue that the cemetery is the final resting place for many who suffered from the most sinister crimes committed during the period of terror that was Antebellum America. Young girls, some as young as seven and eight years old, brought to the U.S. after the Trans-Atlantic slave trade ended for the sole purpose of breeding future slaves. These children were raped and tortured by their white owners, and many of those who survived would go on to die in childbirth.

In an area that has been heavily gentrified, a portion of the cemetery was already paved over (and subsequently desecrated) during the development of high rises and other buildings in the 1960s. Historical documentation states that the remaining burial site is located where an adjacent apartment building and parking lot currently stand, near a McDonald’s in the area.

Macedonia Baptist Church, the one-time owner of the cemetery, has been sounding the alarm and putting their bodies on the line to protect the remains of their ancestors for months and the County Executive Marc Elrich still won’t budge to reverse his decision allowing the self-storage company to move ahead with construction.

Over the past few months, organizers from all over have come out to protest the desecration of the burial site, also leading to a work stoppage for a day in August. They have been calling for a moratorium to halt the construction of the self-storage and to return the property to the Church, which is one of the last standing institutions of a once vibrant Black community in this part of Bethesda.

BACC

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, one of the leaders of this struggle who is involved with the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC), has been trying to find ways to stop the development and to allow archaeologists and anthropologists to survey the site for the presence of human remains. Construction workers for the self-storage company have reportedly been finding artifacts and possible pieces of remains during their digging and destruction of the sacred grounds.

Representatives of the self-storage company say that BACC is spreading misinformation about the construction on top of the burial site but have failed to consult with an archeologist to conduct their own investigation. They’ve ignored evidence that Parcel 177, the site of their construction, was used as a burial ground, according to a 2017 review by The Ottery Group. This review recommended no further desecration of the site until further archaeological investigation could be carried out.

When asked to comment on the paving of a mass grave for something as tacky as a self-storage facility, Elrich had this to say:

“The property owner has hired a firm to do archaeological monitoring at the site per the instructions [in the Ottery Group review]. They have submitted two reports about their monitoring and have not yet detected human remains or funerary objects. I spoke with the project manager at the firm, and he explained that the work had not yet reached the subsoil; they had only been digging out the fill and looking at the materials.  He said that there was no evidence of human remains.”

It should go without saying that the descendants of the children buried in Moses African Cemetery were not given the opportunity to do “archaeological monitoring” of their own.

Elrich doesn’t need the opinions or research of the Macedonia Baptist community. Because for people like him, it doesn’t matter. Black lives don’t matter, Black history doesn’t matter, and Black futures don’t matter.

As mentioned, many consider Moses African Cemetery to be a site of international genocide, and one of the largest mass graves in the U.S. “Historical buildings” are fought for all the time in this country. We need to fight for historical resting places as well.

Black Lives Matter. In life and in death.

How to help:

Sign the petition.

Contact County Executive Marc Elrich and tell him: “Stop the genocide on Moses African Cemetery, return that land to its rightful owner—Macedonia Baptist Church!”

Phone:  240-777-2550

Email: marc.elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov

Tweet:  @marc_elrich

Further reading information on this long going struggle can be found here and here.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mari E. Shields
Mari E. Shields

Mari Shields is an organizer with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education based in Washington, D.C.

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