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Local historic African American cemetery formally recognized and restored in Western Maryland

WDVM Daily News, by: Katie Rhee
Posted: Oct 23, 2021

RED HILL, Md. (WDVM) — What used to be a patch of overgrown trees and greenery on the side of the road has now been formally recognized as a historic African American cemetery. People gathered in Red Hill, Maryland outside of Keedysville to honor the people buried in Red Hill Cemetery.

Just two years earlier, the burial ground, which lies right off the side of Red Hill Road, was unrecognizable, overrun by bushes and trees. Raymond Thomas is a descendent of a number of people buried in the cemetery. Knowing that many of his family members were buried in Red Hill Cemetery, Thomas was one of a handful of people who tried to clear debris and keep the area tidy.

On Saturday, the burial ground was formally recognized by the town of Keedysville as well as Washington County. During both dedications, the sun broke through the clouds and shined a little brighter on attendees, especially on Thomas.

“Oh it, it means a lot now that it’s getting recognized and, you know, I finally got some help to take care of it now,” Thomas said. “Because before, it was me and a couple other ones in the family, and you know, come out here two or three times in the summer to try and get it cleaned up and stuff. It was just, you know, hard to do.”

Thomas tried his best to always keep the headstones of his grandparents, Reason and Carrie Thomas, clear. He says before the volunteers cleared out the heavy brush and trees, the two most visible headstones were the only indication of a burial ground.

The African American Historical Association of Western Maryland estimates that there are around 56 people buried in Red Hill Cemetery but are looking to confirm more and even identify dependents of those buried here.

“Our next goal is, we’re going to start to grid out the cemetery and identify the approximately 56 to 58 graves that are here,” Richard Kline, president of the African American Historical Association of Western Maryland, explained. “My goal is within the next year to also get ground-penetrating radar to actually identify the specific sites, and then identify those known burrows that we have.”

The African American Historical Association of Western Maryland hopes to get the red hill cemetery formally recognized by the national register of historic places in the future. Nonetheless, Kline is grateful for the recognition of the burial ground as he believes a lot of recent focus by historians has highlighted the underground railroad. He hopes that by restoring the red hill cemetery, it will highlight the need to find and restore other forgotten cemeteries around the state and the country.

The African American Historical Association of Western Maryland also plans to hold more clean-up days in the future. For more information, please visit their website, https://aahawmd.org/.

A local historian and a concerned neighbor lead effort to unravel Black cemetery’s history

Tamela Baker, The Herald-Mail
Published Feb. 18, 2022

HALFWAY (Washington County, MD) — For decades, the resting place of scores — perhaps hundreds — of Black residents lay overgrown and unnoticed as a residential neighborhood developed around it.

Those interred there include at least a dozen veterans, mostly from the Civil War, and leaders of Hagerstown’s Black community.

Some knew it was there, “but not very many people knew it was there,” said Hagerstown resident Emilie Amt, a retired professor of history at Hood College in Frederick, Md.

Although her specialty is medieval history, Amt started researching local Black history as part of a project involving her church, St. Mark’s Episcopal at Lappans.

“More than a decade ago, I started researching the Black members or the enslaved members of my church,” she said.

She took it on as a volunteer project, she said, even though she’d never researched African American history or slavery.

“And it just drew me in — it was such surprising and compelling information that I uncovered.”

Read the entire article here: https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/story/lifestyle/2022/02/18/volunteers-unite-document-and-restore-halfways-black-cemetery/6736082001/

Beard/Bachtell Cemetery Cleanup

On November 13, 2021 several members of the Coalition (Eileen McGuckian, Tina Simmons, and Dennis Green) met with Christina Bloom to help clean up the Beard-Bachtell cemetery located in Smithburg, Washington County. A dumpster was provided which was filled to the brim with saplings from inside the cemetery. The weather provided as much of a challenge as the cemetery, giving us samples of cold, rain, high winds, and, eventually sun. We were joined in our work by Christina’s brother, Landon Grove and a couple other relatives. Christina’s great-grandfather is buried there and they worked to try to right his headstone while we were there. Although we were able to make great headway in removing small trees and uncovering many of the 40+ headstones, there is still more work to be done. There is still a lot of ground cover, animal burrows to fill in, stones to be re-set, and capstones secured at the top of the stone wall. We look forward to continuing to offer recommendations to the local community in their efforts to care for this cemetery.

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Your Help is Needed on the Statewide African American Cemeteries Survey

In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly directed the Maryland Commission on African American History & Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust to study the needs of historic African American cemeteries, with feedback from stakeholders including the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, Preservation Maryland, descendant communities, and the general public.

This momentous and urgent project will culminate in a report with recommendations to the General Assembly in the spring of 2022. Please help your representatives understand the challenges faced by African American burial sites by filling out the survey HERE. Please alert churches, organizations, and other cemetery stakeholders about this important statewide effort.

For more information, see https://africanamerican.maryland.gov/historic-african-american-cemetery-project/
Online survey: https://forms.gle/QwPKBDUPDwW7jFuRA
Printable survey form: AfricanAmericanCemeterySurvey20212022.pdf

The Tragic Backstory Behind a Historic Route 1 Cemetery

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.

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