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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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Maryland Historical Trust 2024 African American Heritage Preservation Program Cemetery Awardees

Brewer Hill Cemetery – Annapolis ($250,000) | Sponsor: Brewer Hill Cemetery Association, Inc.

Brewer Hill Cemetery is the oldest Black graveyard in the City of Annapolis. Judge Nichols Brewer originally owned the cemetery and used it to bury those he enslaved, his servants, and other employees of the Black community. Among the interred are people with significant stories, such as Mary Naylor, who maintained her innocence until her hanging in 1861 for allegedly poisoning her master. Funding will support overall cemetery conservation efforts including fence repairs and masonry repairs.

Mt. Calvary United Methodist Church – Meeting Hall and Cemetery – Anne Arundel County ($186,000) | Sponsor: Mt. Calvary Community Engagement Incorporated

With grant funds supporting both cemetery and building preservation efforts, Mt. Calvary United Methodist Church will establish a heritage center in its Meeting Hall to share the histories of the local African American community in Arnold. The Hall served as the original Meeting House for the African American community between 1832-1842. By preserving the cemetery, where Civil Rights activists and veterans are buried, the church can provide further educational opportunities in addition to programs in the Meeting Hall. Funding will support ground penetrating radar, site work, and foundation and masonry repairs.

Bushy Park Community Cemetery – Howard County ($63,500) | Sponsor: Bushy Park Community Cemetery, Inc.

Bushy Park Community Cemetery was historically part of farmland worked by the enslaved populations of Howard County. The cemetery is the burial location of many enslaved and freed individuals, United States Colored Troops soldiers, and Civil Rights leaders. The cemetery’s restoration, supported by grant funds, will allow for educational opportunities centered on those interred there. Funding will support cemetery conservation efforts, ground penetrating radar, and vegetation removal.

Bryan’s Chapel and Cemetery – Queen Anne’s County ($250,000) | Sponsor: Bryan’s United Methodist Church, Inc.

Bryan’s Chapel was founded in the 1800s and is the second oldest African American Methodist Episcopal Church in the United Methodist Peninsula-Delaware Conference. The Bryan’s Church congregation helped establish a school, a beneficial society, and the county’s NAACP Chapter. Shortly after the Civil War, the congregation helped establish an African American school in 1866 that a Rosenwald school later replaced. Funding will support ground penetrating radar, headstone conservation, and foundation and masonry repairs of the Chapel.

Ridgley Methodist Church and Cemetery – Prince George’s County ($111,000) | Sponsor: Mildred Ridgley Gray Charitable Trust, Inc.

Ridgely Methodist Church is one of only two buildings that remain in the small rural African American community of Ridgely, founded by freedmen around 1871. Historically, the church also functioned as a school for the local Black children. By undergoing rehabilitation efforts, the church hopes to increase the awareness of African American history through special programs, lectures, and tours. Funding will support cemetery conservation efforts, ground penetrating radar, and a fence installation.

See the entire list of 2024 awardees here.

Mullikin Tombstone Returned

Story and photos provided by Tina Simmons

In November 2023, Mr. George Treas, III called Anne Arundel County’s Planning & Zoning and reported finding a tombstone in the woods in the Curtis Bay area of Anne Arundel County. Dennis Green and Tina Simmons met Mr. Treas who showed them the location. The tombstone was face up in a wooded area. The Mullikin information on the headstone was very legible. The area was probed for other stones but none were found. Research was performed and no other Mullikins were believed to have been buried in that vicinity. When search was widened, a surprising determination was made that the tombstone was one that had been missing from a private family cemetery on federal land in the Laurel area, more than 20 miles away. There had been two tombstones at that location, a husband and a wife, and both stones had been missing since at least the early 1970’s. Genealogy research revealed an obituary for the man stated that the wife was buried “next to her husband”. The husband’s headstone is still missing. Their son and his family members were discovered in a nearby church cemetery.

The property owner where the tombstone was found was contacted in North Carolina by phone and agreed to the removal of the tombstone. Arrangements were made and over Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Teas, Dennis, Tina, and her able-bodied son placed boards on either side of the tombstone, wrapped it in a moving quilt, secured it to a hand truck, and loaded it into a pickup truck. It was moved to a secure warehouse until permission could be obtained to return it to its rightful location. Permission was granted for its return, and after a failed attempt due to the weather, the stone was returned to the cemetery in mid-December.

Maryland’s First Natural Burial Cemetery Makes Death an Act of Conservation

At Serenity Ridge Natural Burial Cemetery and Arboretum in Windsor Mill, “the idea is to care for the dead with minimal environmental impact.”

A short hike up a grass path through a meadow brings you to a hilltop where two cherry trees create a pocket of shade. The view is mostly uninterrupted ridgelines covered in forest. It is here that, when his time comes, Dr. Howard Berg will be laid to rest.

“I tell people this is a nature preserve where people happen to be buried,” says Berg, 70, a founder of Serenity Ridge Natural Burial Cemetery and Arboretum in Windsor Mill, the first of its kind in Maryland.

Unlike traditional burial, natural burial uses no embalming and everything that goes into the ground must be biodegradable. “The idea is to care for the dead with minimal environmental impact while preserving or restoring natural habitat.”

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County commissioners recognize Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization

Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization board members meet with Mayor Ray Morriss and Sen. Mike McKay at the CHCO Headquarters, 400 S. Allegany St. The CHCO 40th year anniversary banner was presented and hung at the headquarters. The event was followed by a meeting to plan monument projects for the year. From the left are Mark Jones, Malinda Newhouse, Jim Ali, Ed Taylor Jr., Larry Haines, Christina Taylor, the Rev. Michael Mudge, Dale Burgess, Peggy Keene, David Burcaw, Brett Dimaio, Morriss and McKay. To learn more, visit www.chco.info.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — The Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization was recognized for its 40th anniversary at Thursday’s Allegany County commissioners meeting.

Ed Taylor Jr., president of the organization, said the group has built roughly 900 monuments valued at more than $5.5 million, roughly 90% of which has come from the private sector over the past 40 years.

He thanked county officials for their support, and praised the organization’s volunteers for their help including to mow grass in cemeteries over the years.

“Monuments are more than just a tribute to the great men and women of our country in the past,” Taylor said of the markers that tell stories of history for future generations to read.

“To date we have monuments literally in almost every cemetery in Allegany County,” he said.

Monuments are also permanent, Taylor said.

“Programs come and go, buildings come and go, but gravestones are supposed to stay there until the end of all time,” he said.

Taylor said the organization in 1991 became a charter member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites.

“Maryland does have the best cemetery laws,” he said.

The commissioners proclaimed Feb. 23 Cumberland Historic Cemetery Organization Day.

Taylor said folks can learn more about the organization at its website chco.info.

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