Story at a glance:

  • The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission saying it ignored the required procedure of acquiring cemetery property.
  • Westwood Tower was built in the 1960s on top of the Moses Macedonia African Cemetery, a historic Black burial ground, mainly consisting of freed slaves.
  • The graveyard is also the last remnant of Bethesda’s River Road community, which was a historically Black area before white developers gentrified the area.

A judge stopped the sale of an apartment complex outside of Washington, D.C., because local activists argued that the property was used as a cemetery for freed Black slaves and “many bodies likely still remain on the property.”

On Monday, Judge Karla Smith of Montgomery County in the Sixth Circuit of Maryland granted a preliminary injunction against the Westwood Tower sale in Bethesda. 

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) has filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), saying the potential $51 million sale of the Westwood Tower would ignore the required procedure of acquiring cemetery property, The Bethesda Magazine reported. 


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An investment firm Charger Ventures is interested in claiming the property.

The judge's temporary order also denied HOC's request to dismiss the case, following an 11-hour hearing in the circuit court.

Westwood Tower was built in the 1960s on top of the Moses Macedonia African Cemetery, a historic Black burial ground, mainly consisting of freed slaves, according to TheGrio

“Regardless of whether Charger decides to keep the parking lot, build on the lot, or dig up the lot, bodies of African Americans remain there,” Smith wrote, also noting that “the court has an obligation to ensure that such resting place is respected."

On Sept. 1, Smith granted BACC a temporary restraining order that halted the sale, providing similar results to a preliminary injunction.

“These are people who were so oppressed and so discarded and so disrespected in life, and now, even in death, they meet the same fate,” said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, president of the BACC, in a previous interview with NBC.

BACC, which consists of church members from Macedonia Baptist church and descendants of those buried, has been actively trying to memorialize the burial ground.

An archeological consulting firm, Ottery Group, said in a 2017 study on the graveyard that burial is probably still intact, recommending that nothing should be made on top of it, The Bethesda Magazine reported.

The graveyard is also the last remnant of Bethesda’s River Road community, which was a historically Black area in Bethesda before white developers gentrified the area.


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Published on Oct 27, 2021