Another battle between Bethesda church and developers over historic black cemetery

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Members of Macedonia Baptist Church in the Westbard area of Bethesda plan to boycott a planned storage facility being built on a lot near remains of a historically black cemetery.

On Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board gave approval to the project off of River Road in Bethesda despite the protest of church members and their supporters.

The Moses African Cemetery dates back to the early 1900s and was the cemetery for a community built by freed slaves. The cemetery was covered over by a parking lot in 1950s, according to historians. There were plans to build a parking garage over that lot, but the project has been indefinitely suspended pending legal action.

The church members argue the self-storage facility will also cover the burial ground, but the owners say any remnants of the cemetery are within a smaller plot of land they gave back to the county.

"The planning department is going to approve another plan to put another structure on top of Moses African Cemetery, and so we are here to protest another site of desecration for our ancestors," said church member Marsha Coleman-Adebayo.

The protesters also say their First Amendment rights were violated on Thursday when the board made them turn "Black Lives Matter" signs backwards. The board has a posted policy saying signs bigger than a standard piece of paper are not permitted.

"We were using a peaceful protest to basically talk about our concerns and the county," said Coleman-Adebayo. "[Planning Board member] Casey Anderson basically had the police come back here and threaten us that if we didn't put the signs down that they were going to force us to leave the meeting."

Church members plan on boycotting the facility once it is built.

"Hopefully wounds will be healed and they will be receptive to it because we want them to be a part of it," said Kelly McKone, owner of the future storage facility. "We are doing the benches and the display cases to celebrate the history of the black community and all the history of Bethesda and the River Road community."