Politics of the Bethesda African Burial Ground and the Montgomery County National Lampoon

 

by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo and Kevin Berends

A Black burial ground lies under a parking lot in Montgomery County, Maryland, a wealthy suburb outside Washington, DC. Developers want to place more layers of concrete over the bodies of African American ancestors, while their “experts” try to sow doubt as to whether the cemetery ever existed. Now it appears that the county has discouraged archeologists interested in the history of the site.

Politics of the Bethesda African Burial Ground and the Montgomery County National Lampoon

by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo and Kevin Berends

“For those familiar with the black families who were threatened, taxed and otherwise coerced out of their properties, the current racist pogrom is different only in its sophistication.”

When I read Montgomery County Planning Board Director, Gwen Wright's response to a forthright, detailed letter sent her by world renowned archeologist, Dr. Michael Blakey and Dr. Rachel Watkins who was to be the lead scientist in researching the Bethesda African Cemetery, I couldn't believe my eyes. This is the sum total of Wright's letter:

"Thank you for your email. Although I find it unfortunate that you do not want to meet, I will respect your decision and cancel the meeting. Gwen Wright"

Had I not been privy to Drs. Watkins' and Blakey's original letter I may have (wrongly) concluded that all they had expressed to Ms. Wright was their unwillingness to meet with her. This is what they said in their letter:

"Thanks for your message. We have sought twice to negotiate a contract that accommodates our proposal in which we become essential to the design and conduct of the required archaeological study. Throughout our attempted negotiations you adhered to your initial idea of a review, which we have said is insufficient to assure an accurate study or full reporting to the descendant community. We remind you that we seek to become embedded within the archaeological work of Ottery, to contribute to the drafting of an accepted scope of work that recognizes the fact that a far more extensive study than GPR alone will be necessary to accurately delineate the cemetery site, broad public reporting during the project, and to aid the Church, County, and Equity One to craft an agreement that affirms the role of the descendant community as an ethical client. To this, your only acknowledgement was to appear to cease requiring us to report exclusively to Montgomery County Parks and Planning and to offer us work as reviewers of other's archaeology with a wholly inadequate budget for that task alone.

“It has, therefore, not been possible for us to reach agreement, or even to begin to forge such an agreement through reasonable adjustments by both parties. We are currently pursuing other avenues to achieve the goal of adequate archaeological standards and accountability to Macedonia Baptist Church that Parks and Planning has been unwilling to consider and is without resources to perform. A meeting with you this week will not be necessary as we and the Ottery Group prepare a detailed submission to Equity One, Macedonia Baptist Church, and Montgomery County as an alternative to the review idea."

Such is the nature of dealing with the Montgomery County Government—a wholly owned subsidiary of Equity One and other multi-billion dollar corporations in the local manifestation of the military industrial complex.

Today's county government masquerades behind laws and rules and procedures designed to ice the public out and facilitate the needs of the government's masters: corporate developers who handsomely contribute to the campaigns of those who ‘regulate’ them.”

As I described in previous articles of the county's continued role in the desecration of the Bethesda African cemetery (links here, here and here) the public lipstick adorning the County's pigs is a far cry from their backstabbing standard operational procedure behind closed doors. For those familiar with the county's collusion and accessory to crime history—that is, the black families who were threatened, taxed and otherwise coerced out of their properties until the last of the once-thriving African community were expelled circa the 1950-60s—the current iteration of that racist pogrom is different only in its sophistication.

Where formerly the county could hide behind feigned ignorance of white developers intimidating black landowners through threats of violence, showing up unannounced to take black landowners "out for dinner" where lots—and lots—of alcohol was forced on the fearful black until, sufficiently inebriated, they were compelled to place their X on a document giving up title to their land, today's county government masquerades behind laws and rules and procedures designed to ice the public out and facilitate the needs of the government's masters: corporate developers who handsomely contribute to the campaigns of those who "regulate" them.

Today's racists and sell outs run a shell game that goes like this: having legislatively divided decision making power amongst its different branches, Montgomery County has an elected Planning Council assign land use decisions to an appointed Planning Board that in turn appoints a Planning Director to oversee the process. To ensure "objectivity" the Planning Board is restricted by ex parte rules to prohibit the undue influence of any given party. To ensure "transparency" public hearings are scheduled for input from the public. That is the official, public relations spin.

In reality, having—with one notable exception—been elected by virtue of outcome-determinative campaign contributions from developers the county government delivers on its quid pro quo symbiotic relationship. The wink-wink public opponents encounter goes like this: "Public participation" occurs in the public hearings where individuals and groups are given between 3 and 5 minutes to make statements before the Planning Board. Any further "communication" is prohibited by ex parte. Appeals are directed to the Planning Committee Members, who point out their statutory powerlessness to effect anything and thus refer complaints to the County Executive, who speaks fluent legalese impersonating King George while letting his constituents look up his nostrils. Time lines are imposed. Dates are set. One branch refers to the other that refers back to the original until the opponent of corporate development suffers vertigo, gives up or the deadline passes and the developer "legally" obtains what the developer already had de facto before having to go through the pro forma motions whose only real purpose is to provide political and legal cover for the elected officials and their corporate benefactors.

The people of Montgomery County want their history preserved.”

Meanwhile the citizens slowly twist in the wind outside the country club where laughter rides through the open windows wearing white gloves.

Fortunately term limits were passed in Montgomery County last election. There have been stunning displays of public support for the descendant community across traditional racial and class dividing lines. History—both of the ingenuity, strength, professionalism and sweep of skill sets possessed by the former African community and that community's foul treatment at the hands of Montgomery County governments past and present—has advocates. The people of Montgomery County want that history preserved. The County Executive, the Planning Council, the Planning Director and the members of the Planning Board ignore, insult and desecrate African graves at their own peril.

Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet and serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com. Marsha will be inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, March 2017.
Kevin Berends produces communications for the No FEAR Institute, was a co-founder of Lake Affect Magazine and is the principal for 'streetlevel' communications. His work has appeared in the Black Agenda Report, TruthOut and elsewhere. He may be reached at [email protected]