Maryland Supreme Court to hear case on desecration of African cemetery
Rev. Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Baptist Church speaking at a press conference after the Appellate Court hearing on the sale of Moses Cemetery by HOC | via Gail Rebhan

BETHESDA, MD – The desecration of Black burial grounds has received increased attention in recent years. Thanks to the organizing of descendants and community members in the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC), the issue will soon be addressed by the state of Maryland’s top judges.

Last month the Supreme Court of Maryland granted the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) to hear its appeal to preserve this critical part of U.S. history. Moses Macedonia African Cemetery is partially located under the parking lot of an apartment complex owned by a quasi-governmental organization, the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC).

Describing the origins of this case, BACC member Robert Stubblefield said, “In July of 2021 BACC caught wind that HOC was planning to sell to Charger Ventures in the amount of 50 million dollars. We found out on their website that they were selling the land. In August, our attorneys had filed for and received in the Circuit Court a temporary injunction, and in October 2021, the Circuit Court ruled in our favor saying that HOC did not follow the law.”

Since then, the Appellate Court of Maryland has granted an appeal filed by HOC, thereby nullifying the ruling of the Circuit Court.

BACC’s pro-bono attorney, Steve Lieberman, describes the importance of this case going to the Supreme Court, stating “It is critical for the Supreme Court of Maryland to address head-on how the laws of Maryland protect, or do not protect, the sepulchers of the dead and to determine whether our society’s obligations to the dead apply only to beautiful fenced in, well-marked and well-preserved cemeteries, or whether they apply equally to the burial grounds of all Americans.”

A portion of the cemetery owned by HOC, directly adjacent to Westwood Towers in Bethesda | Courtesy of Gail Rebhan

Lieberman’s encouragement to the general public seeking to support BACC is, “Write to the Governor. Write to your Congressman. Come to the argument at the Supreme Court of Maryland in Annapolis when the case is argued in January.” The exact date for the argument has yet to be set.

On the heels of this Supreme Court announcement, BACC organized an action at a public forum put on by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich to, again, demand the return of over 200 bones found at the site of a self-storage development which is adjacent to the land owned by HOC. BACC members symbolically laid bones at his feet to represent their grief and loss.

The day after the action, BACC issued a press release which stated, “Mr. Elrich has not lifted a finger to ensure proper testing is conducted. Instead, he slandered Dr. Marsha Adebayo, President of BACC, publicly calling her a liar during yesterday’s meeting when she spoke about the remains and demanded the return of the bones to the descendant community.”

After standing up to speak to Elrich, BACC member Rev. Dr. Julianne Robertson, Esq. was approached by police. Recounting the moment, Robertson said “I pointed out that the desecration of a historic cemetery is a violation of both equity, justice, and spirituality. I told him that we respectfully asked to be heard on this issue. He argued, saying that I was being disrespectful.”

BACC president, Dr. Marsha Adebayo, further elaborated saying, “The police formed a perimeter around us and threatened us with arrest. There is always the threat of violence when confronted by the police. We had every right to exercise our First Amendment right of freedom of speech without intimidation and fear of physical assault.”

BACC is continuing to appeal to elected officials for the return of remains found at Moses Macedonia African Cemetery and hopes for a ruling at the Maryland Supreme Court which will protect burial grounds across the state.

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Krista Chan
Krista Chan

Krista Chan resides in Oakland, California, where she is a member of the Nitty Gritty Club.