Above photo: Worker at the excavation site with a possible mortuary marker that was dug up and later buried in a pile of rubble. Gail Rebhan and Nicholas Gregory.
Bethesda, MD — Over 100 dump trucks removed hundreds of cubic feet of soil containing evidence of burials in Moses Cemetery from the disputed site along River Road. Photographs were taken of site managers removing bottles and other glass features, common in African and African American burials, from the cemetery and ignoring objects shaped like headstones (see below.) The community maintains that the company is out of compliance in several essential areas. The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) has been protesting Bethesda Self-Storage Company’s excavation to build a large storage facility on top of Moses Cemetery. The desecration has been blatant and ongoing since June.
The removal of possible evidence of human remains, funerary objects, and biomass is particularly concerning because on August 21, 2020, Bethesda Self-Storage sent a formal letter declaring that renowned archeologist selected by the descendent community – Dr. Michael Blakey – will not be allowed to enter the site and examine the evidence. They are destroying evidence and refusing to allow experts to examine it. What are the company and county trying to hide?
Protesters have been singing, “This is the scene of a crime,” at the site for weeks.
As Marsha Coleman-Adebayo put it, “William Warren had purchased the land in 1873. There is a high probability that Warren Family members were buried on parcel 242, adjacent to parcels 175 and 177 that are within the scope of the construction work.”
The Montgomery County Planning Board and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich should be concerned that historic artifacts and grave sites are being plundered by private companies who fail to follow the requirements set by them. The companies involved did not follow the requirements of the building permit: namely, having a qualified human remains archeologist on site and screening all the dirt displaced and removed. National archeology laws have also been broken. The developer has locked the community and its expert out of the process and the County government has not provided leadership that inspires confidence from the descendant community.
Archeologist Tammy Hilburn stipulates, “No liaison activity between the Descendant Community and the contract archeological firm, Thunderbird Archeology, has been conducted per the Standards and Guidelines for Archeological Investigations in the State of Maryland. No memorandum of agreement has been in effect with the Descendant Community.”
Security guards hired by R.W. Murray have consistently tried to intimidate the protesters by using physical contact, mocking actions, and demeaning talk. One security guard pushed two demonstrators into the path of an on-coming truck; only the driver’s quick action to brake the truck prevented injury. The foreman for the project directed another delivery truck to drive directly at protesters, forcing the protesters to flee for their lives.
The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition is pressing county and state officials to enforce the laws and permit requirements regarding the remains and to protect the first amendment rights of citizens to safely protest. Bethesda Self Storage and 1784 must be investigated for possible civil and criminal activities. From the start, the community has complained that the County refused to acknowledge that land was stolen from the Black community after emancipation and the likelihood of burials on the property.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo explained, “We bear witness to the genocide of Black people, from African nation-states, that was perpetrated throughout the period of active slavery, continued through Jim Crow, instituted through the theft of land from Black property owners in the River Road community, and installed in perpetuity by the annihilation of the rich history of this once thriving community that was displaced by developers in collusion with the county government.”
National media are starting to pay closer attention. BACC President Marsha Coleman-Adebayo was interviewed by both National Geographic magazine and the HumbleBragg podcast. BACC has appeared in over 450 media mentions across many platforms.