The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare is asking for the U.S. Department of Justice to step into a dispute with The Farm Brewery and Prince William County, calling for a federal hate crime probe into what the coalition says are illegal disturbances to historic burial sites.
The group’s leaders say desecration of several cemetery sites has continued by the brewery and a private developer of adjacent land and that the county has done nothing to stop the work. The group says the brewery and developer insists there are no known grave sites on the affected areas.
In 2021, the county agreed to purchase two acres of land where some of the cemeteries sit in order to protect them from any further disturbance and work toward preservation of the sites, but community activists say other adjacent burial sites are still being disturbed. The county has said it doesn’t believe those areas contain graves, but community activists insist they have documentation proving the locations of additional cemeteries.
“They have allowed the brewery, for example, to continue to desecrate the Scott Cemetery. Even as recent as last week, they were bulldozing on it again,” Frank Washington, a representative of the coalition and a relative to some buried in the area, told InsideNoVa. “The brewery has simply just said they do not believe a cemetery exists there … The county has refused to step in even though there are laws and codes; they refuse to stop the desecration and continually say their hands are tied.”
On Monday morning, the coalition announced its lawyers had sent a letter to Louis Lopez of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division asking for an investigation into both the continued disturbances and the county’s inaction.
“It seems as if we have stepped back in time to a place where Black and Indigenous bodies of our dead, who have already suffered so, are being sold and displaced once again,” the letter reads. “While we, their ancestors, feel the sting of racism and attacks at the hands of those who feel privileged and corrupt officials.”
A representative of the breweries told InsideNoVa that they were unaware of the most recent allegations – which include further clearing and the use of a fire pit on burial grounds – or the letter to the Department of Justice. As of Monday afternoon, the brewery had not provided InsideNoVa with a comment on the situation.
Meanwhile, a county spokesperson said the county had no comment on the matter.
The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare and members of the historic community – originally settled by freed slaves and Native Americans – believe that the Scott Cemetery contains up to 100 graves. But county officials said last year that studies performed by archaeologists hired by the brewery showed no proof of the burials. Part of what the groups say is the Scott Cemetery is currently on the brewery’s property, and other historical cemetery surveys have made note of the Scott Cemetery in the past.
“I was reluctant. I didn’t want to take the step I took, but I felt like I had no choice because they’re not stopping. It’s continuing and other areas now have been desecrated as well,” Washington said Monday. “It’s the same thing, you have … four African American or freed slave, Native American graves being desecrated, and no one is stepping into stop it with no real excuse as to why they’re continuing to allow it. So I feel like I have no choice.”