Coalition taps DOJ in fight over possible historic cemetery in Prince William Co.

The Department of Justice is being asked to step into a battle over land that one organization says is home to the final resting place of people who lived in the Broad Run, Virginia, community of Thoroughfare.

Frank Washington said his family was buried in a cemetery on the land now owned by a brewery. In a letter to the DOJ’s civil rights division, Washington said the continued development of the land and Prince William County not stepping in to halt the building rises to the level of a hate crime.

“I feel like if this had been any other cemetery in a white community or confederate cemetery, and these things are happening, we would not be at this point two years later. There would be an outrage,” Washington said.

In addition to calling for a federal probe, Washington and his organization, The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare, is suing the brewery and the county after the property was sold in a tax sale two years ago.

According to Washington and Qasim Rashid, the attorney representing the organization, the tax sale should have never happened because burial grounds are exempt from paying taxes and surveys dating back to the ’70s indicate a cemetery existed on the land.

“We’re representing clients who have ancestors who were denied their humanity throughout their lives, formerly enslaved and Indigenous Americans were denied their humanity, denied their equality, and now, tragically after their death, they’re once again being denied their humanity with the desecration and destruction of the ‘Scott Cemetery,'” Rashid said.

The cemetery is named after the property’s first owner James Scott.

Michelle DeWitt, the owner of the brewery, said the brewery paid two professional archaeology firms to perform extensive studies, which included the use of ground penetrating radar that revealed no evidence of a cemetery.

“Washington and his Coalition continue to harass us with baseless lawsuits and news releases void of any truth or legal merit,” DeWitt said.

When contacted by WTOP, Rachel Johnson, acting communications director for Prince William County, said in an email the county has “no comment” on the situation or allegations being made by the organization.

Rashid says the examination came after work was done on the land, which could have impacted the results of any studies.

“If you raise the first three to four feet of soil, topsoil, and then do the survey, of course, you’re not going to find anything,” Rashid said.

DeWitt said she has been transparent throughout the process, that the county’s archaeologist was present during the inspection, and that the county and coalition have copies of the reports done on the property.

“It’s a shame that the Coalition has chosen to try and advance their agenda in this horrific and offensive manner, in an attempt to discredit us. The Farm Brewery at Broad Run treasures this community we serve, its sacred history and are lawful stewards of this land,” DeWitt said in an emailed statement.

For Washington, he said the goal here is to stop the development of the land until their lawsuit can go to court.

According to Washington, the county’s board of supervisors recently purchased a two-acre parcel to protect the family cemeteries in the area, but in doing so, wouldn’t allow others to be buried at the site.

Washington is calling for the land to be returned to his family, burial rights at the land be restored and for compensation for damages.

“For me, it’s, it’s protecting our history. I mean, I grew up here, my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandparents,” Washington said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up