By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

A Montgomery County, Md. community and its students are pushing for a state appeals court to help preserve a Black cemetery that bears historic significance. 

As Black History Month gets underway, the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) said it wants to protect the final remains of an estimated 500 to 1,000 Black slaves and their descendants.

The October 2021 ruling by Circuit Judge Karla N. Smith is being challenged by the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission. The BACC staged a demonstration in Annapolis recently to buttress their claim that the land is sacred. 

“Black people’s humanity meant enough to people in the 1960s to put their bodies on the line in the Freedom Bus Rides,” said students in a released statement. “In this tradition, Montgomery County, Md. students will stand with BACC during these hearings.”

Marsha Coleman, BACC president, voiced concern about the progress of the case.

“We want a positive and favorable decision of the appeal,” Coleman said. “We are surprised that we still have not heard back from the special court of appeals. We expected to hear back from them by the end of 2022.”

Community members and BACC activists gather together in celebration of Black lives and their collective desire to stop the disturbance of Black graves. (Courtesy Photo)

Coleman said if the court rules in favor of the HOC and other developers, they will take this case to a higher court.

“We know there are Black bodies under the land,” said Ari Gutman, a BACC employee. “There are county records of the HOC finding human remains, chopping them up and pushing them around. There’s a layer of filling between the cement and the bodies.”

Gutman continues, “To the HOC, it’s about money. To us, it’s about dignity.”

In the circuit court ruling, Smith said, “American Jurisprudence recognizes that when a tract of land has been dedicated as a cemetery, it is perpetually devoted to the burial of the dead,” said Smith in October 2021. “This court agrees with Plaintiffs that there is overwhelming evidence, supported by historical records, that Lot 175 contains a cemetery where former slaves and their descendants were laid to rest.”

Elizabeth Dorokhina, 16, is a Walt Whitman High School student in Bethesda, Md. She attended the rally and works at BACC.

“BACC’s initiative is grounded in community,” she said. “Community is where our power lies as our organization does not typically find help in the legal system.”

Tashi McQueen is Report For America Corps Member.

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