David vs. Goliath standoff over lost African-American cemetery in Bethesda

It's about the last little African-American church in the Westwood section of Bethesda off River Road --- and a huge New York developer with big plans.

BETHESDA, MD. (WUSA9) - Mediation is scheduled for late August to attempt to resolve a David vs. Goliath standoff in Bethesda.

Members of one of the last historic African-American congregations in Bethesda say they want a New York based developer to include a small monument and provide space for a museum to acknowledge the loss of an African-American grave yard that was bulldozed sometime before 1968 to make way for an apartment building, according to Macedonia Baptist Church board of trustees member Harvey Matthews Sr.

The property is part of a proposed 1.8 million square foot residential and retail re-development of the Westbard area just off River Road which includes the Giant grocery store and the Westwood Towers.

RELATED: WANTED: Person who vandalized Md. cemetery

The lost grave yard was bulldozed more than 40-years ago to make way for the Westwood Towers, which is proposed to be integrated into the new development proposed by Equity One Inc. of New York.

Matthews says the site is now covered with shrubs and a parking lot.

Protestors turned out to demand a delay in preliminary development approvals in February.

Historic records dating back to 1911 indicate one parcel in the development area was the site of a graveyard, according to a Montgomery County Department of Planning report.  However, “no official records for the removal of graves can be found,” the report says.

Records show that many African-Americans disinterred from a Tenleytown cemetery that was developed over were moved to the lost River Road site, the report says.

Matthews, who says he used to roam the property as a child playing hide-and-seek, believes it is unlikely that evidence of graves will be found because the property was buried under deep fill during grading for development decades ago.

Even so, he says the River Road corridor’s history as a once-thriving African-American Community should not be forgotten.

“I don’t want that history to be completely wiped away,” Matthews said.

Representatives of Equity One declined to comment while mediation discussions are planned.

Preliminary plans call for a restoration of a stream in the area, public open space, and pedestrian paths.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment