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Uncovering history: Montgomery Co. students help preserve site of Black cemetery

A teacher’s curiosity about the lives of formerly enslaved people in Montgomery County, Maryland, took her on a journey that would land her — and dozens of Wheaton High School students — in a heavily wooded area, searching for a historic burial ground.

The site is listed in official records as the “Avery Road Colored Cemetery.”

Wheaton High School teacher Lauren Zolkiewicz told WTOP, she had been researching the history of formerly enslaved Black people and several burial sites in Montgomery County, “when I found, just down the road from my house, this place called Avery Road Colored Cemetery which just so happened to pop up on Google maps.”

Zolkiewicz got in touch with county planning officials and eventually connected with Katie Gerbes, the comprehensive planning manager with the City of Rockville.

Gerbes explained, “We have some historical research which talks about a gentleman named Benjamin Franklin Smith,” who had been born into slavery and after Emancipation in 1884, bought an acre of land on Glen View Farm.

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Community comes together to support Potomac woman trying to restore historic Black cemetery forgotten by government

The Montgomery County government had no idea the cemetery was there when it auctioned the land in 1975 for $162 over delinquent taxes.

POTOMAC, Md. — Piece by piece Cherisse Crawford is repairing the past, by uncovering what had been lost for decades.

Union Wesley Methodist Church cemetery in Potomac is filled with an estimated 100 graves of former enslaved people and freed Blacks who were members of the historic church.

“My great, great, great grandfather was the very first person buried at this cemetery,” Crawford told a WUSA9 reporter as she picked up trash at 150-year-old cemetery. “It’s been a long, long journey; a 15-month journey after contacting you.”

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Community members upset over lack of upkeep at Mount Zion Cemetery

The neglected cemetery is having an emotional burden on people in the community.
It’s a loved one’s final resting place. A place where you can visit and pray or reflect on memories. A place to find peace. But there’s no peace at Mount Zion Cemetery in Lansdowne.

By: Xavier Wherry
WMAR TV,  May 09, 2024

LANSDOWNE, Md. — It’s a loved one’s final resting place. A place where you can visit and pray or reflect on memories. A place to find peace. But there’s no peace at Mount Zion Cemetery in Lansdowne. Instead, it’s disappointment and frustration.

The neglected cemetery is having an emotional burden on people in the community. The grass is knee-high. Gravesites covered with tree branches, littered with trash, and some tombstones toppled over.

“When you come out and it looks like this, it’s very heartbreaking,” says Catherine Simmons, who was out visiting some of her deceased family members.

She says the lack of upkeep over the past few years is distasteful.

“At the time of burial, we paid money, and [in] some cases a lot of money, for a plot here for a gravesite. So yes, it’s very disrespectful to the dead and to the family members that are still living,” says Simmons.
She’s not alone.

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Your assistance is needed!

St. Anne’s Cemetery committee in Annapolis, MD needs you. They are looking to do the first major update in years for both St. Anne’s Cemetery and St. Anne’s Cedar Bluff Cemetery.

If you have information about individuals buried in either cemetery (name, death date or place, plot information, cemetery deed, burial plot receipt, funeral home, or obit), they are interested in hearing from you.

Contact St. Anne’s Parish, 199 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, MD  21401, email them at info@stannes-annapolis.org or call 410-267-9333. They can also be reaching on Facebook.

Their journey to unearth a cemetery for enslaved people led to communitywide interest

February 9, 2024 | NPR.org

CHEVY CHASE, Md. — Rachel Perić was pushing her stroller through her neighborhood in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic when she noticed an older home with a log cabin on the property — something she hadn’t noticed before. She went home and logged in to the Chevy Chase Historical Society’s website looking for information.

Perić learned that in the 1800s, Chevy Chase consisted of farms and slaveholding plantations. “That was a huge surprise to me,” Perić says. “It wasn’t the history that I had grown up with. So I kept digging.”

Chevy Chase is made up of about a dozen subdivisions, including Rollingwood, where Perić lives — an affluent, quiet, leafy suburb of Washington, D.C.

On the historical society’s website, Perić came across a 1997 report written by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. She says, “There was this reference to a burial ground where people who had been enslaved on these farms were buried. And I said, ‘What is this?'”

She recalls vivid memories of long nights when she would be “sitting hunched over my phone, waiting for my children to fall asleep at night, poring through these historical society records.”

Nationwide historically, Black burial sites have been erased, built over or neglected and their history wiped out. But now, people are taking agency, looking for clues in their communities to piece together lost history.

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