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Frederick Health reinters remains from former cemetery

By Angela Roberts |  Oct 25, 2022

Until about a century ago, some of the land where Frederick Health Hospital stands today — along West Seventh Street in downtown Frederick — served as the final resting place of more than 900 people of color.

Greenmount Cemetery, established in the late 1800s, was once one of three graveyards where people of color could be buried in Frederick. But in 1920, the grounds were sold to what is now known as Frederick Health Hospital.

A few years later, hundreds of graves were moved to Fairview Cemetery, a graveyard purchased in 1923 by a committee of local African Americans, according to previous reporting from The Frederick News-Post.

In the decades that followed, however, as the local hospital broke ground to expand, workers found human remains, headstones and other artifacts near the site where Greenmount Cemetery once stood. All remains, according to Frederick Health, were moved to Fairview Cemetery on Old Gas House Pike.

Most recently, a person’s remains were discovered during construction at Frederick Health Hospital in April. And on Tuesday afternoon, they were returned to the earth at Fairview Cemetery through a partnership between Frederick Health and the African American Resources, Cultural and Heritage Society.

“We can’t touch dirt without finding a remain,” Frederick Health President and CEO Tom Kleinhanzl said during the reinterment ceremony. “And it’s hard. It’s hard when you uncover it. It’s hard to recognize that that was there.”

When looking at the headstones at Fairview Cemetery, Kleinhanzl said, he thought he recognized the surnames of people who work at the hospital today.

Frederick Health Hospital and AARCH previously worked together in 2017 to create a memorial garden outside the facility to honor and remember the people who were once buried at Greenmount.

And on Tuesday, the health system and AARCH dedicated another monument at Fairview Cemetery to the people of color who had been laid to rest at Greenmount.

AARCH and Frederick Health invited members of the public and descendants of those buried at Greenmount to the event.

During the dedication ceremony, Protean Gibril, president of AARCH, asked members of the audience to consider what African American burial grounds mean to them.

Chased from their homes by racial terrorism, many Black Americans throughout history have been forced to leave their ancestors behind, where they were buried, Gibril said.

Following the request of longtime AARCH member Rose Chaney, Gibril shared a message based on a quote by Maya Angelou.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. However,” Gibril said, “if faced with courage, it needs not to be lived again.”

Gibril and Seavan Gordon, vice president of AARCH, thanked Frederick Health for its partnership.

The organizations will continue working together in the future, Gibril said. Frederick Health may, down the road, partner with AARCH on a documentary and on pieces for the organization’s museum, which is a work in progress.

In Gordon’s remarks, however, he asked the elected officials in the audience to “fast-track” laws to prevent other cemeteries from being sold for development, as Greenmount was more than a century ago.

He brought up his two great-granddaughters, who are 3 and 6 years old.

“I don’t want them to have to call me 50 years from now and tell me, ‘Granddaddy, they are now moving the bodies out of Fairview and moving them someplace else,’” he said. “Please, please, elected officials, do something now about that.”

Frederick County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, said she believes there are already rules in the county that would prevent graveyards from being disturbed.

“But,” she added, “if it’s not already on the books, we certainly need to look at it, and also see if there’s actions to advocate for on the state level.”

After being invited to speak by Gibril, community organizer Watu Mwariama voiced anger at the disruption that has been weathered by Greenmount Cemetery during Frederick Health’s construction.

Many of his ancestors were buried at Greenmount, and later reinterred at Fairview, Mwariama said. In a list of more than 900 people laid to rest at Greenmount, the surname “Hill” — Mwariama’s last name before he chose an African name for himself — appears 17 times.

Mwariama said he was “awestruck” by the partnership between AARCH and Frederick Health.

“I can’t see anything honorable about desecrating hundreds of bodies like that,” he told the audience. “We don’t treat our deceased people that way.”

Mwariama, a member of the Frederick community organization Suns of Reawakening, read aloud a short list of demands to the people in attendance.

He and other members of Suns of Reawakening want a moratorium on new construction at Frederick Health “to protect the desecration of further Black bodies buried within its confines.”

He also asked Frederick Health to use ground-penetrating radar and hire a trained archaeologist to be a part of any future work that might disrupt the former cemetery.

And, Mwariama said, the group wants a map that details all original gravesites of people buried at Greenmount, and where those people are now buried at Fairview.

He said the group wants to sue Frederick Health to stop it from undertaking further construction.

Besides the ongoing project to expand the hospital’s emergency room and build a new intensive care unit and cardiac catheterization laboratory, Kleinhanzl said, Frederick Health has no future construction planned at the hospital’s site.

To the health system’s knowledge, he added, there is no map like the one Mwariama described.

“I respect his comments immensely,” he said. “We’re trying to identify ways to grow respectfully and with dignity and with the foresight to do things the right way.”

The health system did use ground-penetrating radar during its last excavation, said Michael McLane, vice president of support services at Frederick Health. Because the remains had been buried for a long time, however, the radar did not reveal anything.

Still, the health system knew there was a chance it would encounter remains, McLane said.

“We took painstaking measures to make sure that anytime we put a shovel in the ground, as soon as we uncovered remains, we stopped the project, and we began to dig with hand shovels to make sure that every remain we came across,” he said, “we were able to preserve as much as possible.”

Source: The Frederick News-Post

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