Monday, August 17, 2020

Moses African Cemetery

The Macedonia Baptist Church Community has been waging a fight to reclaim the area on River Road in Bethesda, MD that was the first the burial grounds for slaves, runaway slaves and African Americans who settled there post Civil War and post Reconstruction. Over time as the dominant White power structure sought to develop this land, the African American residents were pushed out and/or bought out. The cemetery was buried under commercial development, including a parking lot. Now an Arizona developer is digging in the area again in order to build a storage facility. There is great concern that this activity is again disrespecting the memory of this important historical community and disturbing the remains of African Americans buried there.

On behalf of the Maryland Poor Peoples Campaign I spoke at a press conference earlier this month (August, 2020). This is what I said.  

– David Mott


“The Poor Peoples Campaign is grounded in confronting what we call the Five Interlocking Injustices:

  • Systemic Racism
  • Poverty
  • Militarism and the War Economy
  • Ecological Devastation
  • The prevailing Distorted Moral Narrative

All of these injustices have created the situation that brings us together here today and forces us to speak out against an injustice to the memory of the African American River Road Community, the Macedonia Baptist Church and the Moses African Cemetery.

Therefore We, the Poor Peoples Campaign, stand in solidarity with the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition in calling on county leaders, especially County Executive Marc Elrich to:

  1. Demand a halt to the digging now; 
  2. Facilitate and support a thorough archeological survey and investigation of this historical site led by renowned archeologist Michael Blakey; 
  3. Based on those findings, insure that no harm, no future damage be done to the memory and historical significance of the former African American Community, its Church and Cemetery;
  4. And Work with the Church and Community to establish a fitting memorial and educational site that can serve as a lodestone to the citizens of the Montgomery County, Maryland, indeed, the country as we continue to struggle to build a more perfect Union and a more humane society.

This is a Fight to Preserve the Memory of what Truly Was.

We Can’t Know How to Get to Where We Want to Go, if We Do Not Know Where We Have Been.


We are here today because of a “Distorted Moral Narrative,” a perverse conventional wisdom that has been allowed to operate without challenge for far too long.

It is a narrative that says rights of developers are superior to the needs of the community.

It is a narrative that says that Economic Development is the all consuming new God.

It is a narrative that approves of paving over, digging up and disposing of bones, community, culture, and history like so much troublesome refuse – all in the pursuit of profit.

It is a narrative that is sanctioned by County leaders, and in particular, the County Parks and Planning Board.

The history of this community is that since Reconstruction land and wealth has been expropriated, stolen, from it and its residents by the dominant white power structure. That has been a recurring historical fact.


I have to take a moment to riff on what I see. Behind us is a storage facility. Up the street is another storage facility. Now construction is underway for a third… I just want to know – how many storage facilities does one intersection need?


And what is a storage facility. Empty Space. Empty space for people with hollow lives who bought stuff they didn’t need but were told to buy to fill their empty spaces. All that stuff to fill empty space, and now they don’t want it anymore, can’t use, but can’t bring themselves to throw it away. So we build more empty spaces for them to put stuff in.


That is not Development. That is Depressing.


Community Planning and Development should not be first and foremost about economic interests and the self interests of developers driven by profit. Rather it must be first and foremost grounded in the goal of creating a healthy community with well developed, educated and informed citizens who can make humane decisions for the common good. Helping us all to make those good, informed decisions requires we hold up for inspection and reflection our history – the good, the bad, and the ugly – not

Bury it or pave it over into obscurity.



Given that, the prime directive of the Planning Board should have been from the start, before any construction took place, to insure that no harm is done, insure no damage is done.


There should have been first completed a thorough and objective archeological assessment of the construction site.


That was not done. 


Everyone seems to agree that the The Macedonia Baptist Church community has been historically excluded from the process. County Executive Marc Elrich put that fact to writing in a letter to the Planning Commission.


Yet nothing is done affirmatively to rectify this omission. The digging goes on; the damage piles up.


The community is left in the position of having to play catch-up to decisions made without their involvement. This akin to closing the barn door after the horse and carriage are long gone, down the road, past the woodshed and up the creek. 


The Board needs to rectify this injustice immediately and aggressively.


So, again, we call on County Officials and the County Planning Board to:


  1. Halt the Digging Now;
  2. Underwrite a thorough and objective archeological survey and investigation led by Dr. William Blakey;
  3. Make all findings public, and insure that no further damage is done to this historical site;
  4. Work with the community to create a memorial worthy of the lives led, community built and history made by slaves, decedents of slaves, African Americans all – who persevered in fighting for a better life when all around them a dominant white power structure conspired to crush that dream. Through that struggle they have left us a legacy we should not allowed to be buried, but that we should shine a light on.

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