Roughly 20 CJ residents braved the rain and skipped the start of Game 7 of the World Series Oct. 30 to discuss ways to preserve and protect the Moses Hall Cemetery, a historically significant African American burial site located within Cabin John, off Seven Locks Rd.
The cemetery is in very poor condition with tombstones knocked over, broken, and buried; the grounds enveloped with bamboo, fallen trees, and vines. Neither the state nor the county has fully assessed the number of graves there, and Beltway expansion plans threaten the property.
By the end of the evening, the community unanimously voted to commit $2,000—half of the $4,000 profit from the 50th Chicken & Crab Feast—to fund initial cleanup of the site. For decades, Crab Feast proceeds were split among deserving community causes, and those present at the meeting felt it was fitting that funds from the 50th should go to preserving the cemetery where members of Crab Feast founder Bill White’s family and other Carver Rd. families are buried.
Charlotte Troup Leighton, CJCA vice president of advocacy, whose home on Cypress Grove Lane is next to the Moses Hall site, detailed some of the issues that need to be tackled. First is to establish current ownership of the cemetery, which can be done by locating at least 10 descendants of Tabernacle 88 members. Tabernacle 88 was the fraternal order that established the hall and cemetery sometime after the Civil War.
One descendant, Diane Baxter of Washington DC, attended the meeting and detailed how she is compiling a list of members from Moses Hall records from the early 1990s as well as the minutes of tabernacle meetings and death notices from funeral homes that operated at that time.
Another attendee, Eileen McGuckian, director of the county non-profit Montgomery Preservation and the project director for the 2018 County Inventory of Cemeteries, explained that Moses Hall is site #226 on the county website inventory of cemeteries. She recommended reaching out to the Coalition to Protect Burial Sites, which helps map cemeteries throughout Maryland and has grants of up to $2,000 for preservation, and talking to the African American Genealogical Association for help in searching records. She also noted that the best time to do cleanup work is between October and April, when a lot of underbrush has died off.
In addition to ownership, there are several levels of approval needed to receive historic designation. These were outlined by Brian Crane, head of historic preservation of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Crane also informed the group that the county has some budget to train people in basic cemetery conservation and hopes to hold a workshop in the coming year. Charlotte said that some state money may be available to preserve African American sites, including cemeteries.
Anyone interested in helping with Moses Hall cemetery restoration and preservation
should contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY MEREDITH GRIGGS