Historic Black church gets $1M gift ahead of Juneteenth celebration

Scotland African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church welcomes members of the community to the Phase I Groundbreaking for the restoration of its historic worship site and the building of a new space for worship. (Courtesy Paul Tukey)

LaTisha Gasaway-Paul’s ancestors were the founders of “Scotland,” a historic Black community in Montgomery County that dates back to 1880.

Gasaway-Paul had been working on making sure this year’s Juneteenth celebration in Scotland is the biggest and best in the D.C. region when she got the news that the 100-year-old Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church would be getting a donation of $1 million from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.

Gasaway-Paul said of the gift, “Oh, the Marriotts came through in a major way!”

The church, built in 1924, had suffered catastrophic damage in a flood in 2019. The basement and foundation took the brunt of the flooding that left the building unsafe for the congregation to gather or hold services.

Last week, Gasaway-Paul said the community was told that there was a surprise for them, “But we were, by far, not expecting that surprise!” she told WTOP.

Mieka Wick, the CEO of the Marriott Foundation, explained the connection.

Wick said Marriott International’s Board Chairman David Marriott and his wife Carrie learned about the Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church through their own church community, and then discovered a link. It turns out that the landscaper for Marriott’s grandfather had been a Scotland resident.

So when the Marriotts learned about the ongoing efforts to restore the church and add a larger worship space, Wick said, “It just seems like it’s been a wonderful, deserving community to help rebuild and have space for all of those important community elements to come together.”

“It’s really our privilege to get to know communities and learn from them,” Wick said.

The Scotland community was founded by William Dove in 1880 when he bought 36 acres of land in Potomac for $210. Gasaway-Paul, who is a direct descendant of Dove, said Montgomery County was home to 80 other historic Black communities.

“And right now, we have less than 10 (communities) left,” she said.

That’s why the gift from the Marriotts is so important, Gasaway-Paul explained, so that the church, which had been in active use until the 2019 flood, can once again be a living focal point of the community and the history of the area can be preserved.

Gasaway-Paul said of the Marriott’s gift, “It just tells you a whole lot about their character and giving back to the community.”

The timing, she said, just makes the upcoming Juneteenth celebration that much more exciting. Juneteenth refers to the date when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay in Texas in 1865, and announced that the enslaved Black residents of the state were free by executive decree.

The Scotland Juneteenth celebration kicks off Saturday, June 15, and events are scheduled through Wednesday, June 19. The finale will be a fireworks “extravaganza” at Cabin John Park on the evening of June 19.

“We have the fireworks happening Freedom Day itself, on June 19!” Gasaway-Paul said.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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