Open Letter to Montgomery County Officials

Dear Elected Officials and Public Agency Leaders of Montgomery County:

As a member of Bethesda United Methodist Church at 8300 Old Georgetown Rd, I urge you to meet with the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) and negotiate with them to stop the desecration and ultimately create a museum and memorial as a lasting tribute to the Moses African Cemetery. Located in a triangular area bounded by River Road, Little Falls Parkway, and Westbard Avenue, the cemetery is the burial ground of enslaved African Americans and subsequent generations.

In 2021, Circuit Court Judge Karla Smith issued an injunction halting the sale by the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) of Westwood Towers and the surrounding land. The HOC appealed her decision in the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, the construction in this corridor continues unabated, threatening the erasure of history and the complete desecration of the Moses African Cemetery. To stop the desecration, we call on the HOC to negotiate with the BACC with the aim of establishing a museum and a memorial on the land near Westwood Towers.

You have an opportunity to exert real leadership and demonstrate a commitment to racial and restorative justice. If you meet with the BACC and negotiate a solution that includes a memorial and museum, you will preserve history and provide invaluable educational opportunities for future generations. Future atrocities can only be avoided if we remember and teach.

Imagine all the field trips that school classes could take to a memorial located at the Moses African Cemetery. Imagine the lectures that could be given by descendants of the original African American community. 

Instead of sanctifying sacred ground, the County has dismissed the community and its ancestors. Dr. Michael Blakey, a renowned anthropologist, advised County Executive Marc Elrich to stop the excavation of Moses Cemetery and return unearthed bones, primarily believed to be of enslaved children, to the descendant community. Mr. Elrich has not followed this advice, nor did he report the finding of potential human remains to the police. I insist that the county must follow proper anthropological procedures including returning the remains and funerary objects to the descendant community, now!

If the leadership of Montgomery County shirks its responsibility to preserve Moses Cemetery, it would be a most shameful action that would lead to the erasure of one more African American cemetery and local African American history in Bethesda.

The time to act is now. Any further delay risks permanent damage. Montgomery County has a reputation as a progressive and inclusive place. This status is endangered if our leadership allows desecration of cemeteries and continues using taxpayer dollars to support the HOC’s appeal. We ask you to uphold our best values and act now to preserve the Moses Cemetery. 

Here are the officials to which your letter should be sent and their email addresses. You can send your letter to all the recipients in one email since the letter is addressed to elected officials and public agency leaders: 

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