Plans to Build Parking Garage Atop African-American Cemetery Sparks Protests

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Members of Macedonia Baptist Church and community supporters rallied Sunday, Nov. 12, to protest the construction of a parking garage atop a historic African-American burial site in Bethesda, Md.

Church leaders said the land was once home to the historically Black River Road African Cemetery, and existed until the 1960s when it was covered to create the parking lot for what’s now the Westwood Towers apartment complex. Bethesda historian David Kathan told local station Fox 5 that crews discovered human remains during excavation for the lot, but decided to pave over it anyway.

“They uncovered human remains,” Kathan said. “And then there’s also reports that a bulldozer pushed them down to the end of this property.”

With new plans to build a parking garage on the lot, community leaders are doing all they can to ensure the burial site won’t be obscured yet again.

“We have an incredible amount of people here who just really do not want to see a further desecration of an African burial ground,” Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, the head of Macedonia Baptist Church’s social justice ministry told Fox 5. “We’ve been met with a lot of disrespect and disregard — but nevertheless, we’ll continue to go back and we continue to plead our case.”

In a statement, land owners with the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County who own the area where the cemetery once stood said it has no plans to develop the property — for now.

“While the Commission is sympathetic to the concerns raised [by the church], it can’t make any statements on the matter at this time due to a pending lawsuit involving the property, — except to explain that at present, and for the foreseeable future, the Commission has no plan to develop the property,” the statement read.

“The Commission intends to purchase Westwood Tower and operate it in its current state.  In keeping with the master plan process for this property, the Commission will conduct a study should it decide to move forward with any development on the site,” it concluded.

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