Activists fight back to save historic Black cemeteries from gentrification

Activists in West Virginia are fighting to save the historic Boyd Carter cemetery, a burial ground that stands in the way of a possible gas pipeline.

historic black cemetery thegrio
Activists in West Virginia are fighting to save a historic Black cemetery. [.Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay]

Historic Black burial sites are increasingly in a battle to stay around.

This is evident when you look at what’s happening around the Boyd Carter cemetery in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Boyd Carter is a historic African American burial ground that’s been around since the early 20th Century, yet last month, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection signed off on a plan to put a natural gas pipeline extension within mere feet of the final resting place for dozens of souls.

If built, the pipeline extension would transport gas to a planned heavy manufacturing plant that is located about a quarter mile away from the cemetery. The state’s department of transportation has reportedly discussed privately widening the road to enable heavy equipment to travel to the plant, according to The Guardian.

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Meanwhile, Black bodies can’t live in peace and apparently can’t die there either.

Similar scenarios have played out across the country, with the disrespect of historic Black cemeteries, but activists are fighting back. They are raising their voices to keep what’s left of these historic resting places from being desecrated and destroyed.

Take the Moses Cemetery in Bethesda, MD., a historic burial ground where hundreds of slaves were once buried. The site is currently under the parking lot of Westwood Towers, near River Road and owned by the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), according to Montgomery County Media.

Protestors in Bethesda are demanding that the HOC give the land to Macedonia Baptist Church, a predominantly Black church in the area. Recently, charges were dropped against seven activists dubbed the “HOC 7” for protesting during January and February HOC meetings. The seven were cited for disorderly conduct, but those charges were later dropped.

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“Our demand remains the same,” Marsha Coleman-Adebayo told Montgomery County Media. “That the HOC convey the land to the only organization that has not betrayed the African community on River Road, and that’s Macedonia Baptist Church.”

Increasingly, activists around the country are fighting to preserve these historic African American cemeteries amid growing gentrification and growth.

At Boyd Carter, descendants of those buried in the cemetery want to ensure that government entities protect these historic sites. They maintain that these ancient burial grounds denote a rich history that ought not be forgotten or neglected.

West Virginia and Maryland are not alone. In just the past year, activists in Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have all fought a similar fight.

“Since the early 20th-century Boyd Carter was known as a Black cemetery in Jefferson county. You didn’t have to buy a plot here. You didn’t have to fight for space here. There was always room for you. But this fight today, this is a fight for racial justice,” said local resident Brian Ross to The Guardian.

“Listen, a cemetery with people of any nationality shouldn’t be touched. People wouldn’t attempt to build a highway or a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery, right? That would be shut down real quick. So why here? Why this historic African American cemetery?” Ross added in the interview.

We wonder the same thing.