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The Fight For Moses Cemetery: Photo Essay

*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment Feb. 8, 2019.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, three people were charged with disorderly conduct after refusing to stop protesting during a public meeting at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC). Protests were organized by members of the Macedonia Baptist Church and the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition to fight for the memorialization of Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery located on River Road. 

Protesters are calling an end to the “desecration” of the site, which was paved over and made into a parking lot in the early 20th century and is potentially a spot for development of an affordable housing project lead by the HOC. 

HOC released a statement in response to the protest: 

“During the community forum, 11 individuals spoke in support of the Macedonia Baptist Church extending the community forum to nearly one hour of the two hours allotted for the Commission’s affordable housing agenda. The Commission asserted that it is not and has never been HOC’s objective to have people removed from Commission meetings in response to protests. However, as protesters continued to disrupt the meeting, HOC requested they be removed from the room by County Police after completion of the community forum and in order to conduct agency business.” 

The full text of the response can be found on their website.

Protesters gathered at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission to attend a public forum on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. They were fighting to memorialize Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery on River Road. The site was paved into a parking lot in the early 20th century, and possible development plans have been proposed to create an affordable housing unit on top of the burial ground. Protesters carried knitted tombstones ascribed with the names of people known to be buried at the site.

From left to right: Reverend Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Baptist Church, Lynn Pekkanen, Mayor Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset, Mary Rooker, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. 
Back: Commission Chair Jackie Simon

As members of HOC entered the hall, protesters marched to the front of the room and knelt, holding their knitted tombstones above their head while others drowned out the committee proceedings singing gospel music. 

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, head of the Macedonia Baptist Church’s social justice ministry, leads chants of “shame” and “justice” while questioning the HOC’s opening statements asking for respect from the protesters. She argued that HOC had gone behind the backs of church members to create a plan that would exclude community members from having a voice in the memorialization process.

From left to right: Commissioner Roy Priest, Commissoner Fran Kelleher, Commission Vice Chair Richard Nelson Jr., Commission Chair Jackie Nelson, and Commissioner Linda Croom.

Members of HOC look on while the public forum began. Protestors were allowed 3 minutes to speak, often going over their allotted time to demand justice and respect from the Commission. 

The oral testimonies given in opposition of HOC’s development plans lasted over an hour. After they were finished, the protesters joined together to say a prayer. Moments later, the Montgomery County Police gave them a 10 minute warning to clear the area.

With 30 seconds left before the 10 minutes were up, Montgomery County Police Sgt. Chris Hackley checked his watch as the tension in the room mounted. As protesters filed out, they cried out well wishes to those who stayed behind.

Officer Hackley read out a statement ordering protesters to leave, otherwise he would be forced to remove them from the public forum. Macedonia Baptist Church pastor Segun Adebayo, Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, and Lucile Perez refused to leaved; they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Pastor Adebayo stopped to speak to the crowd of onlookers waiting outide of HOC’s town hall. After asking for his coat, and shouting out to the crowd, Adebayo was lead by Officer Hackley into a back room with Perez and Slavin to be charged.

After receiving their charges, Adebayo, Slavin, and Perez joined up with the remaining protesters. “These kinds of arrests lead to progress,” Slavin said upon being released. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” “People are still making decisions about our community with consulting the people who live in those communities,” Coleman-Adebayo said. “Next month we will continue this process until HOC decides that it is going to stop desecrating Moses African Cemetery. The air outside HoC was electric, and spirits were high: the fight for Moses Cemetery is far from over.

Hailing from Waldoboro, Maine, Braeden Waddell is a junior at American University studying Journalism and Latin American area studies. Waddell is an avid podcast listener, an aspirational chef, and a two-wheeled transportation enthusiast currently suffering a minor setback. His long-term career goal is to work as an investigative reporter for a podcast similar to Post Reports, Reveal, or In The Dark. His choice to attend American University was inspired by desperate need to leave his 5,000-person town in rural Maine and enjoy the benefits of modernity he lacked at home, such as a cable internet and being able to go to a grocery store without seeing upwards of five people from his high school. Fun fact: Waddell only learned to ride a bike 3 weeks ago. Fun fact 2: While Waddell loves to cook, he is less knowledgeable with the art of baking. He can only bake one thing: Banana Bread. But, it’s damn good banana bread.

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