Saturday, December 4

Judge Blocks Sale of Apartment Complex Built Over Historic Black Cemetery | Maryland

A judge has blocked the sale of a suburban apartment complex in Maryland that was previously used as a cemetery for freed black slaves, arguing that “there are likely to be many bodies still on the property.”

The potential $ 50 million sale of Westwood Tower in Bethesda, Maryland, 30 minutes outside of Washington DC, to investment firm Charger Ventures was halted after local activists opposed the deal. reported NBC and Bethesda Magazine.

Activists had argued that the complex was built over a historic grave called the African Cemetery of Moses Macedonia in the 1960s.

“These are people who were so oppressed and so discarded and so disrespected in life, and now, even in death, they face the same fate,” said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, president of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition. in an earlier interview with NBC.

The BACC filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Housing Opportunity Commission (HOC), saying the commission did not obtain court approval to sell the apartment complex, a procedure normally required with cemetery property.

On Monday, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Karla Smith granted a preliminary injunction against the sale of Westwood Tower and also denied a request from the HOC to dismiss the lawsuit. after an 11 hour hearing in circuit court.

Smith’s decision allows the sale to be halted until the lawsuit is fully resolved. In his decision, Smith wrote that there was a public interest in preserving the grave and that the current contract between the HOC and Charger Ventures did nothing to ensure the protection of the cemetery.

“Regardless of whether Charger decides to keep the parking lot, build in it or dig in it, the bodies of African Americans remain there.” Smith wrote, also pointing out that “the court has the obligation to ensure that said resting place is respected.”

On September 1, Smith had temporarily halted the sale of the apartment complex by granting the plaintiffs a temporary restraining order. A restraining order has a similar effect to a court order, but is often used as a more emergency intervention. according to Bethesda magazine.

The group, made up mostly of members of the Macedonian Baptist Church and descendants of those buried, has been working for years to get the cemetery commemorated. A 2017 archaeological study of the cemetery by Ottery Group, an archaeological consulting firm, concluded that the burials they were probably still intact and recommended that no soil disturbances be made at the site.

The cemetery is also what remains of Bethesda’s River Road Community, a historically black area in Bethesda that existed until the 1960s when white developers evicted the remaining black families.

Harvey Matthews Sr speaks at the place where he says an African American cemetery used to be, in February 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland.
Harvey Matthews Sr speaks at the place where he says an African American cemetery used to be, in February 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland. Photograph: The Washington Post / Getty Images

I call River Road the ‘lost colony,’ ”said Harvey Matthews Sr., 72, who grew up on River Road. “I lived there, I grew up there, I went to school there, but it’s gone and it’s been forgotten. All the whites who live in the vicinity have no knowledge of the blacks who lived there, and people need to know. “

Matthews ‘testimony of seeing many graves in Moses’ cemetery as a child was used in the preliminary court order hearing.

“They were finding body parts, arms, legs,” Harvey testified, also noting that if the grave were dug today, “body parts will pop out like popcorn.”

Steven Lieberman, an attorney for the BACC, said the county could choose to appeal Smith’s decision or seek judicial approval of the cemetery sale, but also noted that this victory could influence decisions elsewhere regarding the sale of the cemetery. sale of cemeteries.

“Very often these cemeteries are under a road detour, or have been plowed for other uses, and this really gives people a roadmap on how to tackle these issues,” Lieberman told NBC.

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