Descendants of kidnapped Africans (who were called slaves) and members of the Black community that were the victims of land thief by both developers and Montgomery County in Bethesda, filed suit today to save their ancient burial ground from sale to yet another developer - ChargerVentures.

The suit asks the Montgomery County District Court to stop the County’s Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) from selling the Moses Macedonia African Cemetery, before the commission consults with descendants of kidnapped Africans and others buried in the cemetery. HOC expects to complete the sale within a month.

The suit is being pursued by descendants Darold Cuba, Nanette Hunter and Montani Wallace, the Rev. Olusegun Adebayo, Pastor, Macedonia Baptist Church and the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC). Many of those buried at Moses Macedonia African Cemetery were funeralized as members of Macedonia Baptist Church.

“It is immoral, disrespectful and unconscionable for the County to allow the sale of remains of kidnapped Africans or freed African-Americans” said Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, President of the BACC. “The County is participating in the trafficking of human remains in Moses Macedonia African Cemetery.”  The proposed “sale” of the bodies of our ancestors, along with a building, is being treated as though they were just other inanimate objects. Our ancestors were human and they deserve dignity. This proposed “sale” continues the County’s long history of not considering Black people as human.”

Mr. Cuba is the great, great grandson of Nelson Warren, Jr., who was a member of the River Road freed African-American community and was buried in Moses Macedonia African Cemetery in 1903. 

Ms. Hunter is the twice-great niece of Cora Botts. She and her husband, Jeremiah Botts, were buried in the Moses African Cemetery in 1935 and 1910, respectively. 

And Montani Wallace is related to Rosa Mason buried in Moses Macedonia African Cemetery on January 6, 1946. Ms. Wallace is also related to the founding pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, Reverend William Mason, and to Geneva Mason, a member of Macedonia Baptist Church and a legendary figure in Montgomery County, where a street was recently named in her honor.

According to Steven Lieberman, co-lead counsel for Plaintiffs: “HOC’s actions are outrageous.  There is a Maryland statute that specifically requires any person or entity selling property that is or was used as a cemetery to approach the court for permission to make such a sale.  The statute empowers the court to determine whether the sale and proposed use of the property is appropriate and, if so, to impose conditions on the sale.  Here, HOC, despite being fully aware that the property was used for more than a century as a cemetery, ignored the Maryland statute and is planning to move forward with the sale in violation of the law.  That misbehavior by officials of the HOC cannot stand unchallenged.”

“One of my most sacred duties,” according to the Rev. Dr. Segun Adebayo, Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, “is committing the souls of the deceased and ensuring the sanctity of their burial ground. Across cultures, one common thread that ties humanity together is the social contract that burials are sacred and inviolable. I am confounded that the people and leaders of Montgomery County would allow the desecration of the resting place of our ancestors and the potential sale of their bodies.” Adebayo said. “This is uncivilized and immoral.”

The buying and selling of Black bodies in the 16th through the 19th centuries was called slavery. The continued indifference to the selling of Black people, their legacies, their memorials that is the Moses Macedonia African Cemetery is atrocious and an affront to civilized people.  We must all resist this modern-day auction block merchandizing of people’s ancestors and the erasure of the critical lessons of history their lives can teach us. This sale must be stopped immediately in the interest of descendants so they might reclaim the land that holds their ancestors, said David Mott, Montgomery County Poor People’s Campaign.

In a beloved community where many profess to be liberal and progressive, the sale of human bodies, dead or alive is reprehensible and must be resisted by all those who believe in justice and truth.  For this to be happening in Montgomery County in the 21st century flies in the face of who we claim to be said David Ward, convenor of the Engage Beloved Communities Pathway to Racial Justice at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

At a time when our community is grappling with the unending killings of young Black people, the inordinate number of young black men incarcerated in Maryland prisons, the proposed sale of our ancestors in a trigger for trauma that began during the period of enslavement.  This proposed sale, if it materializes will create trauma and terror in our community that will adversely impact our health said Dr. Lucy Perez, MD

The earth has been polluted by the construction at Moses Macedonia Cemetery and the soul of our County is now exposed for the world to see. How can Montgomery County, with its long history of kidnapping and enslaving African people actually consider the buying and selling of African remains? This is an act of shame and cowardice. It’s time to prove that we’re better than this said Dr. Timothy Willard, historian.

Plaintiffs are represented by Steven Lieberman, Jenny Colgate, D. Lawson Allen and Kristen Logan of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst &Manbeck, P.C. and Jennifer Semko of Baker & McKenzie.

 

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