Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Originally posted on Black Agenda Report
Much of the nation may be repudiating white supremacy, but not Montgomery County, Maryland, which is paving over sacred Black ground in an attempt to bury its own racist history.
“Scattered pieces of ‘light-colored elongated material consistent with skeletal material’ may be our ancestors.”
“The treatment which Macedonia Baptist Church have received as they attempt to uphold the dignity of their sacred space, in my professional opinion, is simply another spelling of the n-word, as those who believe everything belongs to them attempt to have their way over the blacks they dismiss.” -- Dr. Michael Blakey, Professor of Anthropology, The College of William and Mary – Scientific Director, New York Burial Ground Project, NY.
On Tuesday, June 23rd, Bethesda Self-Storage Partners, the so-called owners of the Black bodies that lie in Moses African Cemetery, called Montgomery County police on peaceful protesters who refused to allow concrete trucks to pour their “final solution” on the remains of Africans buried in Moses African Cemetery. Arriving shortly after Montgomery County police came the federal Secret Service and US Park Police. Moses African Cemetery’s sacred sanctuary – a resting place for African bodies that had been routinely tortured, raped, murdered and worked to death -- is among the largest mass graves in the United States. Moses is now in CODE RED: the highest warning for extinction.
All of these facts are now routinely ignored by the current county executive, Marc Elrich. He is the latest in a long lineup of officials whose dirty hands perpetuate the county’s sordid history of human trafficking, sexual predation and pedophilia that was rampant since the county’s inception in 1776— a year hallowed in white supremacist history, with its white supremacist Founding Father pedophiles.
“Moses African Cemetery is among the largest mass graves in the United States.”
Moses is the burial ground where little girls, kidnapped/enslaved from their homes in Africa were brought to be used in Bethesda, Maryland in the most violent, vile and depraved European industrial-scale sex trafficking operations.
With the end of the European Human Trafficking, most commonly called the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, “little girls” were forced into breeding to supply the next generation of Africans to be worked and raped to death in the Deep South. The bodies of those “little girls,” many of who bled out in childbirth, are in Moses African Cemetery. In fact, one archaeologist calls Moses an international site of genocide. Montgomery County, Maryland, unable to stand its own stench, tries to pave over the odor. But, our ancestors will not lie in peace, but rest in power.
The community has been confined to the back of the bus. One must go to the parking lot of McDonalds to view the burial ground with its scattered pieces of “light-colored elongated material consistent with skeletal material.” These materials may be our ancestors.
If Mr. Elrich maintains his approval of the genocide still underway at Moses, he would do well to name this facility “Bethesda Self Storage and Mausoleum.”
Think of the marketing advantages that would allow: They could name each “storage space” a crypt after a savaged black person—say, a little black girl who was forced into breeding by the age of 12 -- and on Halloween they could host haunted house parties where, for a nominal fee attendees could dress up in period costumes as white “slave owners” and reenact the merriments, complete with little burlap sacks they could put over their own little Karens while they pretended they were being raped.
Because, ultimately, that is what this is all about: white profit and the proliferation of white supremacy.
“Montgomery County, unable to stand its own stench, tries to pave over the odor.”
It is the nation-state that owns the Black body -- today as before the 13th Amendment. The State chokes, rapes, murders, decides not to knock, surveils, lynches, kidnaps, incarcerates, zones, interferes with voting privileges, special immunizes murderous police and lackey district attorneys, and desecrates Black bodies because it, and it alone, owns Black bodies -- dead or alive. This is why a private business, blessed by Montgomery County, called the police when Black people showed up to claim ownership of their ancestors, their history, their very place on earth.
A young Black man was accosted by the US Park police for having tapped his knuckles on the police cruiser. The officer jumped out of the car, without a face covering, and yelled, expelling millions of possible COVID cells, “Get the fuck out of my way I have official business here!” This is the depth of white contempt for Black people.
County Executive Marc Elrich, responding to our demand to stop the desecration and genocidal destruction of Moses on June 17th, wrote:
“The property owner has hired a firm to do archaeological monitoring at the site per the instructions above. 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.”
One will note, that the County Executive consulted the white “property owner” and considered his statement as unbiased and credible as opposed to consulting the descendant Black community. There was never consideration that there might be a conflict of interest for the business to admit that human remains had been found. Afterall, even a corrupt County would have to shut down this multi-million dollar operation in the face of a truthful reporting of skeletal remains!
Elrich, in this pathetic narrative fails to disclose that the Planning Department provided Bethesda Self-Storage with a “sweet heart” deal that included a land swap, in exchange for allowing the Self-storage to “self-police” itself in reporting any evidence human remains -- and that was just the beginning.
“Even a corrupt County would have to shut down this multi-million dollar operation in the face of a truthful reporting of skeletal remains!”
There are no archaeologists on site to identify human remains. That’s why the business and the County have locked out the descendant community. The goal for the County and the Self- Storage Company is to pour concrete as quickly as possible
to cover-up the heinous crimes against African people. That is why we placed our bodies in front of concrete trucks to prevent this travesty of justice.
This is Montgomery County’s dog whistle now that they can no longer get away with overtly referring to African-Americans as Niggers! This level of disrespect and disregard of Black people is epidemic and, as we found out in the case of George Floyd and hundreds of others, fatal. People rising up and asserting their humanity is the only antidote for structural white supremacy.
Thankfully, the most highly regarded and esteemed anthropologist, Dr. Michael Blakey, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology at William and Mary, has voiced his professional outrage of the racist attacks by Montgomery County and the developer who have refused to provide the descendant community the ability to “verify” possible human remains, both skeletal and biomass, that have become available as a result of the desecration. Dr. Blakey writing to Maryland government officials, urging them to: “stop construction on the Moses Cemetery
“The photograph I was shown on June 25th taken by Tammy Hilburn shows fragments of light-colored elongated material consistent with skeletal material, but is not currently verifiable as such. Also, a suspicious flagged area of possibly organically rich soil (a unique area of vegetation is growing there) recently covered with gravel, could represent a burial… There is no reason for public confidence in the County’s reliability given what I know to be a history of deaf intransigence on the County’s part relative to a sincerely-expressed desire to protect an ancestral sacred space.”
Dr. Blakey concludes his letter to the State of Maryland by stating:
“The treatment which Macedonia Baptist Church members have received as they attempt to uphold the dignity of their sacred space, in my professional opinion, is simply another spelling of the n-word, as those who believe everything belongs to them attempt to have their way over the blacks they dismiss. “
“The treatment which Macedonia Baptist Church members is simply another spelling of the n-word.”
Archaeologist Tammy Hilburn, who regularly visits Moses African Cemetery has written:
“There is a strong possibility, based on photographic review by African American stakeholders of site disturbance at the location in question that burials are being destroyed by the current activity at the site of the county-permitted project for Bethesda Self Storage Partners…
“African American human remains are not the property of the nation-state nor are they the property of a private owner. Equality in historic preservation is mandated.”
Moses is a war trophy: a symbol of white conquest of Africa and its people. Our bones are to be used as ornaments, as keepsakes to be worn around the conqueror’s necks and adorn their homes, like Nat Turner’s skin that was used for lamp shades. Moses’ annihilation is a dogwhistle monument to white supremacy, just as the statues of Robert E. Lee, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and so many others.
If reading the above has made you absolutely ill, please act before its too late:
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!"
Call Marc at Phone: 240-777-2550
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA . She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). Marsha was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, March 2017. Currently, she is working to stop HOC from its continue desecration of an African burial ground in Bethesda, Maryland.
Open Letter to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich The Destruction of Moses African Cemetery: Building a Monument to White Supremacy
Be advised that while you are graciously pushing off meeting with the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) until mid-July, at this very moment there is heavy equipment that you authorized
destroying irretrievable remains of our ancestors on the sacred ground in Moses African Cemetery at your Bethesda Self Storage Genocide site. Heavy equipment is crushing the bones, sacred remains, and funerary objects of our ancestors who were murdered, raped, worked to death on River Road. In particular, the little girls who were forced into sex breeding slavery to produce Africans for the deep south. They are not resting in peace but rather they are resting in power!
We hold you responsible for this act of genocide.
While you have been dismissive of the fact that the current portion of Moses Cemetery under attack is even part of the cemetery, esteemed archeologist Michael Blakey, Scientific Director of the renowned New York Burial Ground Project has reviewed photographs of material being destroyed at your Bethesda Self Storage Genocide site and will be advising you in writing that there is credible reason to believe that human remains and funerary artifacts are being destroyed. Archaeologists and Anthropologists are now calling Moses African Cemetery an international site of genocide, demanding a work stoppage to protect scientific knowledge that will inform the study of African history and medical investigations for generations.
Further, we take extreme offense that while you managed to contact the white developer and white owner of your Bethesda Self Storage Genocide enterprise, as you wrote in your recent email to the Coalition, you did not bother yourself with contacting the descendant community. While BACC, indeed all of Maryland was required to observe the pandemic shutdown, you took advantage of that mandated inactivity to permit the heavy equipment assault on our ancestors in earnest.
We are not naive enough to believe that you were unaware of the urgency of this situation to the descendant community that we have already repeatedly contacted your office about in the immediate past weeks.
You know exactly what you are doing. You know that Moses genocide is a monument to white supremacy. You know that with your inaction in stopping this abomination you are dogwhistling white supremacists that they need not worry about Black people getting too uppity. The annihilation of Moses African Cemetery is the equivalent of the KKK burning a cross inside our ancestors' final resting place or the humiliation felt by the black race in the incarceration of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid regime. You could not show more indifference to whatever landfill our ancestors get dumped in-indeed, the escalation of the desecration is ongoing with your blessings.
We understand that your inaction is calling us the n-word!
You need to stop all of your other important pressing affairs long enough to consider the long-term, genocide reinforcing impact of your cowardice in this matter.
We will never tolerate the continuation of the racist, white supremacist heritage you are intent on continuing in the long ugly heritage of every man who has held your office since the inception of Montgomery County in 1776. It was incumbent upon everyday citizens to place their bodies in front of concrete trucks, to prevent them from delivering their "final solution to Moses last week. The developers called the police on peaceful protestors who were exercising their first amendment rights: we were accosted by Montgomery County police, US Secret Service and the US Park police. Our ancestors are once again on the auction block with gun toting white "slave patrollers" daring anyone to challenge their authority.
A Park Police officer harassed and literally spit in the face of a young Black man during our demonstration - using profanity and shouting at him without wearing a face mask during a deadly pandemic. It is our sincere hope that your dereliction of duty does not result in further Black deaths while you sip coffee in your air conditioned office.
Very Truly Yours,
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo President, BACC
Tim Bonds first heard the stories about the bones in the late 1960s, from construction workers who came to his father’s gas station in Bethesda for a cold drink or a quick game of craps.
Change was stirring along this quiet stretch of River Road, home to a century-old community founded by freed slaves and known today as Westbard. The crews were excavating the future site of a 15-story apartment and office tower across from the new Westwood Shopping Center.
“When they found a body,” recalled Bonds, 57, “they’d blow a whistle and they’d shut the job down.”
It seemed to him that the whistle blew pretty often. He remembers the men talking about human remains being pushed back under the dirt, down a steep slope toward a storm sewer, so excavation could resume more quickly. He and his pals sometimes slipped over to the site hoping for a glimpse of something ghoulish. But they never saw anything.
For a half-century, such stories were mostly forgotten. Then plans for new construction led to fresh details about the cemetery that historians say once stood on land behind the high-rise, and painful questions about what may have happened to the remains buried there.
The issue has pitted Montgomery County officials and the prospective developer against a tiny Baptist church whose members fear history will once again be bulldozed, this time to make way for an aboveground parking garage near proposed high-rises, townhouses and a revamped shopping center.
The county and the developer, New York-based Equity One, have promised to work with the community and say no plans will be approved for the site until an archaeological investigation is complete. But members of Macedonia Baptist Church, the last standing vestige of the former black enclave, want to halt the process until Equity One agrees to include a museum about the former African American enclave in its project.
“It should be a place of reflection and a place for people to meditate about how important it is to preserve human rights,” said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, head of Macedonia’s social justice ministry. “We need to memorialize this experience so that our children have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.”
‘Like a lost colony’
The neighborhood that would become Westbard was home in the late 19th century to African Americans who had worked on Montgomery County’s farms and tobacco plantations since before the Civil War.
By the 1950s, according to research by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, about 30 families lived on the sloping terrain by the old Georgetown branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which would later become the Capital Crescent Trail. They farmed, worked as laborers or domestics in the nearby white neighborhood of Somerset, or toiled at Bethesda Blue Granite Co.’s quarry near Willett Branch.
“What I tell my grandkids, it was just like a lost colony,” said Harvey M. Matthews Sr., 72, whose family farm was located on the site of what is now the Kenwood Station Shopping Center, home to a Whole Foods, Bethesda Bagels and other upscale staples.
“When I travel around the country and people ask where I was born, I tell them, ‘Bethesda,’ ” added Matthews, who recalls playing hide-and-seek at the cemetery as a boy. “And they say, ‘There were black people in Bethesda?’ ”
There were also ballfields, a segregated elementary school and a tavern called the Sugar Bowl. And, according to research conducted by the county in preparing a new land-use plan for Westbard — deeds, state archives, the Congressional Record and old newspaper accounts — there was, at one time, a cemetery.
Historians with the Montgomery County Parks and Planning departments cite a 1911 tax assessment that shows the purchase of a one-acre parcel west of River Road, which includes what is now the parking lot behind Westwood Tower.
The buyer was White’s Tabernacle No. 39, a chapter of a black fraternal society called the Ancient Order of the Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses. A notation on the assessment says “used as a graveyard,” and newspaper clippings say that James Loughborough, a prominent land owner and Confederate veteran, presented the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in 1911 with a petition opposing a black burial ground at River Road.
At around the same time it purchased the River Road land, White’s Tabernacle sold a cemetery it owned in the Fort Reno section of Tenleytown. A 1914 Washington Post article mentioned a bill pending before the House of Representatives to allow disinterment of the Tenleytown graves. A later article said the site contained 192 bodies. In a 2015 report marked “confidential,” county senior planner Sandra Youla said the River Road site “likely contained remains disinterred” from the Tenleytown cemetery.
The society sold the cemetery in 1959, around the time that the African American families of Westbard began to sell their land and scatter. Historians have been unable to document what happened to the graves.
River Road, meanwhile, started to boom. One of the most active builders was Laszlo Tauber, a Hungarian Jewish surgeon and Holocaust survivor who made much of his fortune constructing office space to lease to the federal government. He headed a syndicate of other physician-investors that bought land in Westbard.
In 1966, Tauber developed plans for the high-rise, designed by prominent D.C. architect John d’Epagnier. The upper floors would be apartments, the lower levels the offices of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
D’Epagnier died in 1977. In 2015, county parks department researchers borrowed documents about the Westwood Tower project from his son Arnold, as part of their work on the land-use plan. On the day senior historian Jamie Kuhns and cultural resources manager Joey Lampl returned the materials, Arnold D’Epagnier offered them his own memories of when the high-rise was built.
According to notes written by Kuhns and Lampl after the conversation, d’Epagnier recalled riding a pickup truck with his father and a family priest, “taking burlap bags with bones” from the construction site to Howard Chapel, a historically black cemetery in rural northern Montgomery.
The priest and young Arnold fished in a nearby creek while his father dug a makeshift grave, according to the notes, which are on file at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The architect buried the remains, and the priest blessed them.
D’Epagnier recanted his story a year later, as Macedonia reviewed the county’s historical findings and began pushing to memorialize the cemetery. “I cannot say with any certainty that my vague recollections . . . are in any way accurate,” he said in an email to Lampl. “I recommend that you not consider any of those details as part of your work on this matter.”
In an email to The Post, he wrote, “I truly regret ever casually trying to recall my memories from so long ago.”
Tauber died in 2002, at age 87. A spokesman for the charitable foundation run by his children, Ingrid and Alfred Tauber, said they have no recollection of their father mentioning a gravesite on the land his group had purchased.
All company documents related to Westwood Tower were shredded in 2015, 10 years after Tauber sold the building to a New York real estate investor. Equity One bought it in 2013, for $25 million.
Quiet disposal of remains was illegal but not unusual in the 1960s, experts in cemetery restoration say, especially in places where countryside became suburb and suburb became city.
In Alexandria, the original Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery was first disturbed by 19th-century brickmakers digging for clay. Roads and a gas station were built later. Construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge — a federally funded project subject to preservation laws — led to the restoration of the cemetery and creation of a three-acre memorial dedicated in 2014.
While the Westbard plan does not use federal dollars, it coincides with a surge of interest in recognizing such sacred places, and, perhaps, a new willingness by governments to preserve them.
Equity One Executive Vice President William Brown said the firm stands ready to cooperate with the county and the church: “We’re not trying to do anything to desecrate remains or cover anything up.”
The firm is close to hiring the Ottery Group, a cultural resource consulting firm, to examine the parking lot for evidence of graves. Montgomery Planning Director Gwen Wright said she is speaking with two prominent anthropologists about serving as independent peer reviewers of Ottery’s work.
Officials promise no construction will be approved without a full investigation, including ground-penetrating radar. If remains are located, police will be notified, as state law requires. County leaders say they will do what they can to pay homage to the site, perhaps as part of the proposed restoration of Willett Branch, the creek near the site that was lined with concrete in the 1950s to serve as a storm sewer.
But Macedonia Baptist Church members remain skeptical, saying they have been kept at arms length in their efforts to honor what Coleman-Adebayo calls “a battlefield of memory.”
At a planning board meeting Thursday, the Rev. Segun Adebayo, Macedonia’s interim pastor, said church members want the county to pay for the cemetery study instead of Equity One. “The old saying is still true,” said Adebayo, who is married to Coleman-Adebayo. “ ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’ ”
Wright said her agency has no money to pay for such a study, which could be costly. She added that it is customary for the land owner to foot the bill.
Adebayo also called for a criminal investigation if test results show that graves were disturbed and remains were moved. “Where did they go? Was it legal? Was it moral?”
“Three dogs, two horses, chickens and pigs,” Matthews said, fighting tears. “This is my yard. I was here first.”