A group of Maryland activists is demanding more safeguards to prevent further displacement and to honor the hundreds of Black bodies buried on the land where a local hospital now stands.
The Frederick Health Hospital that purchased grounds once home to an African-American graveyard has reburied the remains of someone it recently found while expanding its facility.
Family members and advocates have applauded the move, but some say additional measures must be implemented to stop further disruptions. One group is considering a lawsuit.
“I can’t see anything honorable about desecrating hundreds of bodies like that,” said community activist Watu Mwariama at a re-interment ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 25. “We don’t treat our deceased people that way.”
About 900 people were buried in the Greenmount Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland, a century ago until Frederick Health Hospital purchased the land. In 1923, the bodies were moved to Fairview Cemetery so the hospital could break ground. However, reports show that additional remains, artifacts and headstones have been discovered during construction in the last 20 years.
A person’s remains recovered in April were reburied Tuesday, Oct. 25 at the Fairview Cemetery, a burial ground purchased by a committee of Black people in the 1920s. The African American Resources – Cultural and Heritage Society partnered with the hospital to reinter the body.
“A lot of people do not know about this history, and we want to make sure it’s out there,” ARCCH Society president Protein Jabril told DC News Now. “I felt really good about today because key people from the community were here that can go back and talk about this.”
However, Mwariama expressed anger over the burial grounds being disrupted by the hospital’s construction. He believes several of his ancestors were buried at Greenmount.
Mwariama and a group of other community members, Suns of Reawakening, are demanding a moratorium on new construction at the hospital “to protect the desecration of further Black bodies buried within its confines.”
The group also wants Frederick Health to use ground-penetrating radar to find other bodies and employ an archaeologist to oversee any other work that could disrupt the burial grounds. They also want a map highlighting all original gravesites at Greenmount and where they were moved to at the new cemetery. Suns of Reawakening is also considering legal action to bar additional construction at the former African-American cemetery.
“We can’t touch dirt without finding a remain,” said Frederick’s CEO, Tom Kleinhanzl, who also spoke during the ceremony. “And it’s hard. It’s hard when you uncover it. It’s hard to recognize that that was there.”
Officials said the hospital does not have any additional building plans after its current construction project, and they used a ground-penetrating radar when they broke ground last. However, the radar did not detect the remains because they had been buried for a century.
According to Michael McLane, vice president of support services at Frederick Health, “We took painstaking measures to make sure that anytime we put a shovel in the ground, as soon as we uncovered remains, we stopped the project, and we began to dig with hand shovels to make sure that every remain we came across, we were able to preserve as much as possible.”
AARCH vice president Seavan Gordon called on elected officials to push forward laws to prevent cemeteries from being sold for other use. He doesn’t want what happened at Greenmount to be replicated at Fairview.
Maryland does not prohibit the purchase of cemeteries for development, however, Frederick County councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater said she believes there are already rules regulating the activity on a county level.