From ‘The Little Church on the Hill’...
...To the unstoppable force.
Africans Settled in Bethesda by 1879 According to historical accounts provided by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, following the Civil War, freed African captives bought land on both sides of River Road between what is now Little Falls Parkway and Brookside Drive.
The subsequent African community thrived, with around 30 families by the 1950s. A 1879 map of the area shows clearly where these families lived. According to oral histories and census data, these Africans were involved in building local roads and homes in surrounding communities.
Many were employed on the C&O Canal and the Bethesda Blue Granite Company. They raised money to build the colored wing at the Suburban Hospital. They formed a semi-pro baseball team called the River Road Lions. Macedonia Baptist Church was founded in 1920 in part to meet the spiritual needs of this vibrant community.
Moses Cemetery Established
The White’s Tabernacle Cemetery (Moses Cemetery) was created in 1911 by the Ancient United Order of the Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses, an African fraternal society. (There is evidence that Moses Cemetery was originally founded in Tenleytown and subsequently moved in 1911.) Macedonia Baptist Church was originally located next to the cemetery before moving to the east side of River Road. The graveyard was located along the west bank of the Willett Branch where the parking area for the Westwood Tower is today. Harvey Matthew, a trustee of Macedonia Baptist Church, and other former residents recall playing among the gravestones as children in the 1950s. It is believed that the cemetery land served as a burial ground for freed African captives before the Civil War. It is possible that hundreds of souls are buried beneath the parking lot of the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC).
Moses Cemetery Desecrated
The cemetery land was “sold” in 1958 and the record pertaining to the transfer of this hallowed ground is lost. The land may have been taken during the forced dislocation of original African residents of River Road. All that remains of this historic once thriving community is the Macedonia Baptist Church.
The cemetery land was desecrated in the 1950s for the construction of the Westwood Tower apartments. There are no records that the graves were moved. When human remains were unearthed, witnesses clearly remember a whistle would blow, work would stop, and the remains would be shifted several dozen yards closer to Willett Branch, and unceremoniously dumped.The whistle would blow again, and work would resume as if nothing had happened. In fact, first-hand accounts report that fill dirt was dumped on top of the graves in the cemetery so that these historic graves would be lost to history forever.
Duplicity at the Housing Opportunities Commission
The road has been rough, but the courage and persistence of our ancestors
Macedonia Baptist Church, Bethesda, Maryland.
Photo: Gail Rebhan gailrebhan.com
continue to run through our veins. Those we consider to be our natural allies have been silent in the face of this struggle, and more odious is the behind-the-scene efforts of some to disparage us and compromise our plans.
We offer this website to set the record straight in light of the misinformation and information gaps that currently exist. We are using this medium to update our community on the role played by HOC and its management. The plain truth is that HOC has been the major clog in the wheel of our progress.
Their actions and that of Mr. Spann have been duplicitous. We have made it clear to HOC that any effort to make a deal with the County or any entity without the participation of our Coalition will be fiercely resisted.