Thanksgiving hope: How a broken business deal could build a Black memorial in Md.

Montani Wallace and many descendants of the Moses Cemetery are hoping for a memorial in the future. (Courtesy BACC)

This Thanksgiving, a Maryland woman said she is thankful for a developer’s decision to hopefully open the door to a place to visit with her ancestors.

Montani Wallace’s deceased husband Henry had family buried at the Moses Cemetery in Montgomery County. His great aunt Rosa Mason, who, Wallace said, was raised on Seven Locks Road, where she lived a small home in a community that had some 100 homes, one church and one school.

“Our family on that side was Christian people. They were slaves. They worked in the field, they died in the field, and they were buried in the same place, in the same neighborhood they worked and played and died in,” Wallace said.

 

Wallace thinks of a cemetery as a place where you can remember who you are, and where you came from.



“It’s a connection. It’s a connection to your ancestors. It’s a connection to your family,“ she said, “A lot of people want to know who their ancestors was, what they did, where they are, how did they live. That is history.”

But the land where she believed the cemetery was located was turned into a parking lot. Any resemblance to a cemetery was destroyed in the last century, when the Westwood Tower Apartments was built, and the area thought to be the cemetery was paved over and turned into parking spaces.

“Some people go to the graveyards and talk to their family, but if the graveyard has been destroyed, where can they go?” she said. “As a family, we lost a piece of our history connection.”

Recent concerns that the connection was going to be even more deeply severed rose.

Until last week, the property was up for sale to a developer, Charger Ventures, in an agreement with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.

Montani Wallace, one of many descendants of people buried in Moses Cemetery, hoping for a memorial in the future. (Courtesy BACC)

A lawsuit filed by the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition, an organization that has been trying to turn part of the land into a memorial for those who were originally buried there, put the brakes on the sale. The argument in court was that the county broke a law that states a landowner cannot sell a piece of land which contains a cemetery without working closely with the community.

Charger Ventures decided to back out of the agreement with the county, a move the BACC and Wallace considered a win.

“It’s a good situation because victory has been won, and I am so elated that we have the victory,” Wallace said.

Wallace explained that she and the families who were buried in that cemetery shared a strong Christian faith in God. She said that this court case against the HOC felt like being part of a Bible story.

“This wasn’t an easy case,” Wallace said, “They’re like Goliath and we’re like little David. But the difference in Goliath and David was David had faith in God, and God told him to use the rock. One little small rock knocked the head off the giant.”

She said she hoped this little victory will open the door to more victories and eventually the property returning to the ownership of the community and the descendants of those who may be buried there.

“We would like to set up a memorial,” she said, “We pray every month that God will bring us through this so we have a memory and a place to go and visit our ancestors.”

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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