Promoting the preservation and protection of the burial sites, cemeteries, and grave yards in Maryland.
HOUSE BILL 1099 — HISTORIC AFRICAN AMERICAN CEMETERIES PRESERVATION STUDY AND FUND (UPDATED 5/16/21)
House Bill 1099 was filed in the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly by Delegate Al Carr of Montgomery County. Building on the prior efforts of Delegate Pam Queen, the bill was intended to assist Marylanders who are concerned about African American burial sites in their communities.
HB 1099 directed two actions:
- To study issues facing historic Black cemeteries, including conditions and needs, how other jurisdictions are protecting and managing these fragile historic resources, and how any proposed initiative would be funded. This study would be conducted in one year by appropriate organizations, some named and others generally described.
- To create a fund that will provide grants to qualified applicants. Individuals and organizations would be eligible to apply to “identify, preserve, restore, protect, maintain, or commemorate graves, monuments, or markers at historic African American cemeteries.”
As with most everything in life and law, the “devil is in the details.” The bill started the General Assembly process with a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on February 24. It was conducted virtually via Zoom. Sign-ups to submit brief written or two minutes of oral testimony were required in advance; everyone could watch via the General Assembly link. Following an introduction by Del. Carr, witnesses testifying in favor of this legislation were Elly Cowan of Preservation Maryland (who covered policy, importance of the study, how proposal differed from current African American Heritage Grants), then Eileen McGuckian for the Coalition to Protect MD Burial Sites (who noted state-wide need and support, how this will assist ALL African American cemeteries, and what other states are doing in this regard). Elinor Thompson, activist from Anne Arundel County and member of Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, described her experiences, as did Reginald Bishop, caretaker of multiple cemeteries in Harford County and a Coalition board member. Other witnesses who testified were organized by a Montgomery County group that has long sought justice for a Bethesda cemetery that was removed and paved over in the 1950s for development. These speakers requested amendments to HB 1099 that would have drastically altered the bill. Neither legislators nor bill proponents found the amendments workable. These specific demands hurt the chances for assistance to African American cemeteries this year, and the bill never advanced for a vote in the 2021 session.
Knowing how important it is to document specific issues and situations related to Maryland cemeteries, and particularly African American sites, the intent of HB 1099 will continue to be pursued. Maryland’s historically large Black population is evidenced in its proportion of cemeteries, but it is over-represented in the numbers of abandoned and unmaintained sites today. This fact must be addressed with solutions.
Fortunately, the study portion of the bill was salvaged by budgetary action of the Appropriations Committee. The Joint Chairmen’s Report – Operating Budget, April 2021 requests that the Maryland Dept. of Planning and Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture provide a report by May 2022 that will identify issues and provide valuable data to determine the need for financial or other assistance. Stakeholder participation and public comment will be encouraged. You can read the full description at http://dls.maryland.gov/pubs/prod/RecurRpt/2021_Joint_Chairmens_Report.pdf (pages 37-38).
Beginning this summer, Maryland Historical Trust—working with the Office of the Attorney General—will be conducting background research regarding what types of cemetery preservation activities can and cannot be accomplished under current law and regulation. MHT will also be collecting information on the types of cemetery identification, preservation, and commemoration programs that exist in other states, and will be collecting data from local Maryland governments regarding cemetery identification and protection activities. The results of this background research will then be shared with stakeholders as development of the report proceeds.
The Coalition remains committed and available to work with public and private entities toward a good result. Please direct any questions, descriptions of specific Maryland cemetery situations and issues, ideas, and thoughts to email@example.com.
CPMBS is a State-wide nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving historic Maryland cemeteries. Membership in the Coalition is open to Marylanders and others who care about their heritage and their ancestors. The Coalition recognizes that many burial sites are established through a purchased right of burial that is protected by the laws of Maryland, with such right passing on to the relatives of the deceased, and which right cannot lawfully be abridged by others at will. These beliefs led individuals in the summer of 1991 to form a group that would address concerns not covered by existing laws and organizations. Learn more by reading About Us.
Just down Route 1 in D.C., a small plaque on a concrete column near the exit of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station is all that’s left of the historic Columbian Harmony Cemetery, once the city’s most prominent African-American cemetery.
But the plaque does not tell the whole story.
“Many distinguished black citizens including civil war veterans were buried in this cemetery,” it reads. “These bodies now rest in the new National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery in Maryland.”
The Metro station, which is now surrounded by apartments and shops, is gaining new attention for a bar opening soon in a renovated Metro car parked on site.
But the tragic backstory of the land beneath the Metro station is not as widely known.
The Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites is seeking candidates for open positions on its Board of Directors. Those wishing to apply should email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Board meets twice each year to receive, review, and respond to grant applications for cemetery projects throughout the State of Maryland. The position requires that you assess each application and evaluate the merits of providing funding to accomplish its goal. Comments and questions should be sent to the email address above.
BETHESDA, Md.—Residents here used the occasion of Juneteenth celebrations, for the first time an official national holiday, to step up an ongoing struggle to stop the desecration of an African cemetery.
The Moses Cemetery is a place where freed Africans are buried, part of a tightly-knit Black enclave formed in the wake of the abolition of slavery in Maryland.
A coalition of activists had to be formed to save the cemetery after the arrival in 2017 of a company determined to build a self-storage facility on the site.
Several hundred members and supporters of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC), Macedonia Baptist Church, Claudia Jones School for Political Education, and speakers from local anti-racist organizations celebrated Juneteenth at the Moses African Cemetery on Saturday. The coalition, led by Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, seeks to stop the desecration of the Cemetery and memorialize the freed Africans buried there.
In 2017, the Montgomery County Planning Board gave self-storage developer 1784 Capital Holdings permission to build a facility on land legally designated “Parcels 242 and 191,” less than 100 yards from the historic cemetery. In July 2017, researchers from the Ottery Group investigated local “death notices and funeral announcements” from the early 20th century and found documentation that Moses Cemetery “received new internments” between 1911 and 1944.
TAYLORS ISLAND — Volunteers from around the region joined congregants of New Revived United Methodist Church on June 19 to restore its adjoining cemetery. The buzz of chainsaws blended the rumbling of a small excavator, as crews cut and removed timber, stumps and debris that had fallen on the resting places.
The effort was led by Eddie Dean, who operates the Lower Shore Cemetery Preservation Organization, a group that has been active in finding some of the more obscure — sometimes simply hidden — grave sites in the Dorchester, and giving them the care Mr. Dean and his associates believe they deserve.
Asked why the strenuous and time-consuming work is done, Mr. Dean paused for a moment before saying, “How couldn’t you?”
On a mission
The group’s social media site describes its work, saying, “The focus of this organization is the conservation and preservation of historic cemeteries on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. Advocacy through outreach promoting education in restoration and documentation of these sacred burial grounds.”
That sense of mission has taken Mr. Dean throughout the region. Sometimes, it leads to graveyards like New Revived UMC’s, which are in relatively good shape, and at other times, to spots that are nearly invisible to the eye or almost lost in the records.
The cemeteries, with the few words and dates on the headstones, hold not only the remains of ancestors, but information on their lives and situations. Some are the simplest markers, made by pouring concrete into frames and tracing a name into the wet material.
Others share clues on the work done by the deceased, such as that of one of the Opher brothers in Hargis. His stone shows that he was a veteran of the Second World War, who served in the 3515 Quartermaster Truck Company.
A fallen tree or overgrown grass could hide the record of a serviceman’s time in the army, and eventually cause his contribution to be forgotten.
PRESS RELEASE – Friends of Moses Hall, June 3, 2021, Cabin John, MD
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall site in Cabin John, Maryland one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2021.
“Saving the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall site is how we make good on promises to expand our infrastructure in an equitable way without further destruction of communities of color. Past disregard for the heritage of the community of Gibson Grove in transportation projects has already resulted in the loss of an important part of our full American story. This endangered listing challenges us to do the right thing today as we expand our infrastructure, so there will be no additional wrong to correct in the future, and it also calls attention to the threats facing African American cemeteries across the country.”
– Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation
John Maynard, born a free Black man in Annapolis in 1810, died at the age of 64, a wealthy property owner in the city.
After he was buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery decades ago, the exact location of Maynard’s headstone in the city graveyard was mostly forgotten. It became one of the hundreds of markers filling the hilly plot in the shadow of the majority-Black Old Fourth Ward.
But thanks to the sharp eye of Annapolis historian Janice Hayes-Williams and with the help of cemetery maps provided by Ginger Deluca, co-chair of St. Anne’s Cemetery Committee, the worn gray headstone was rediscovered this week nestled between two bushes, covered in dirt, branches and grass clippings.
A clean break at its base indicates it broke off its foundation at some point and was perhaps placed under the bushes for safekeeping, said Mark LaBuda, St. Anne’s manager. Other broken headstones are often propped up against the cemetery walls.
Now, Hayes-Williams hopes to find a place to display Maynard’s headstone permanently to teach future generations about the city’s Black history. A logical spot, she said, would be in the backyard of the historic Maynard-Burgess House on Duke of Gloucester Street that Maynard owned from 1847 until his death in 1875.
Just between Saltpeter Creek and Dundee Creek on the eastern side of Baltimore County, Marshy Point Nature Center attracts bountiful wildlife to its Upper Chesapeake wetlands.
On any given visit a guest might encounter frogs and toads in its vernal pools, seasonal ponds that dry up in the summer, or see majestic eagles soaring across the creek. Kids love checking out the chickens, owls and vulture near the nature center.
But the sights aren’t limited to wildlife.
Just past a dry-docked boat in the parking lot sits a gray tombstone from more than 200 years ago. Few of the visitors to Marshy Point Nature Center even realize it’s there, much less stop to read its inscription:
“In Memory of CASSANDOR HAMILTON Who Departed this Life October 1 1794 Aged 42 Years.”
by Anne Brockett, February 2021
As discussed in the last Courier, local designation as a historic site is a powerful means of protecting cemeteries in Maryland. Historic designation by a city or county government provides protection from inappropriate changes to keep the historic character of cemeteries intact.
While local designation often affords the strongest level of physical protection, cemeteries can also receive protection and recognition by inclusion in the one or more of the following:
• Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties
• National Register of Historic Places
• National Historic Landmark listing
Meetings are open to all members.
The Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites provides financial assistance for worthy projects to rejuvenate endangered historic Maryland cemeteries. The Foundation invites applications for grants up to $2,000 to qualified parties. Application deadlines are January 1 and July 1 of each year.
The project or program must benefit a specific burial ground in Maryland, and Trader funds must be matched by the grantee in cash or in kind. Examples of eligible projects include rescue of an endangered site, gravestone conservation or restoration, documentation, protection of burial site from desecration by nature or by man, cemetery clean-up, and planning for restoration. For further information and the application form, click here.