Church fears Montgomery Co.’s handling of historic cemetery

WASHINGTON — Questions are being raised again this week about a long-lost African-American graveyard that lies beneath future development in the Westbard neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland.

Worry and concern surround development plans at nearby Macedonia Baptist Church, all that’s left of a once-thriving African-American community on River Road in Bethesda.

As developers prepare their plans, the church is fighting for recognition of its community’s historic cemetery.

Members of the church fear that the county might press ahead with development, further desecrating the cemetery, which they say was paved over into a parking lot amid 1950s development.

But Gwen Wright, director of the Planning Department, expects that the cemetery will eventually be historically marked and commemorated.

“Yes, absolutely. I think that it will be important, as I said, to get the facts, to do the archaeological investigation, to figure out what the most appropriate boundaries might be and what the best commemoration would be of this site,” Wright said.

The Montgomery County Planning Department will provide the County Council with an update on county-wide development plans Tuesday, and the department is prepared for questions about Westbard and the cemetery.

On Thursday, the Planning Board plans to provide an update on the process leading to an archaeological investigation of the site, which could be conducted next month.

The church accuses the Planning Department of hiding evidence of the cemetery.

“We don’t know who’s involved in that cover-up, but there’s a big-time cover-up,” said Kevin Berends, a spokesman for the church.

County officials, however, said it was the Planning Department that called the church’s attention to the long-lost cemetery.

“We have been researching this cemetery for several years now and have gathered a full box of research materials,” Wright said.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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