In the last month, politicians and the media have focused their attention on Cabin John’s Moses Hall and Cemetery. The historic African American property off Seven Locks Rd. is threatened by the state’s planned Beltway expansion.
Maryland State Delegate Sara Love and the Friends of Moses Hall hosted a private tour of the Moses Morningstar Cemetery, Moses Hall lodge site, and Gibson Grove Church Oct. 17 for county and state officials as well as members of the media. The event aimed to draw attention to efforts by descendants of Moses Hall as well as the CJ community and preservationists to protect these important historic sites. If the Beltway expansion moves forward as currently designed, project maps and reports show graves and portions of the Moses Hall foundation would fall within the construction Limits of Disturbance.
In a Sept. 24 Maryland Matters article on environmental justice, Delegate Love described how the construction of the Beltway in the 1960s decimated the Gibson Grove community and stated that the government has a responsibility “not to exacerbate prior injustices, but to reverse them.” Love wants the Hogan administration to “stop its mad dash to widen I-495 at all costs.” The tour came about in response to her article.
Picture perfect fall weather greeted the 30 tour guests, which included Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Maryland Senator Susan Lee, Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando, and a number of officials from Montgomery County Planning, M-NCPPC, the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, and the National Capital Planning Commission. Members of the press from The Washington Post and The Economist also attended.
Descendants of those buried at Moses Morningstar and members of the Gibson Grove First Agape A.M.E. Zion Church community, including Cabin John residents Austin White and Shannon Stewart, shared family stories, along with a rich collection of artifacts, photos, memorabilia, and historical records with inquisitive tour guests.
Some public officials were moved to tears by the impassioned remarks of Washington DC archaeologist Dr. Alexandra Jones, a staunch advocate of the property since writing her doctoral thesis on the Gibson Grove Community in 2010. Delegate Love said that the event was “powerful, humbling, and enlightening” and shared her commitment to supporting efforts to preserve, protect, and restore these sites.
The Oct. 18 Washington Post article written by tour participant Katherine Shaver described the cemetery as “hardly peaceful with Beltway traffic roaring just past the bamboo grove” at the edge of the cemetery. The article noted that historians combing through death notices, burial records, and family histories have documented 78 burials there between 1894 and 1977.
The Post story caught the attention of Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who joined with Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Jamie Raskin and David Trone to urge the Federal Highway Administration and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to avoid possible physical impacts to the Moses Morningstar Cemetery and Hall, as well as Gibson Grove Church. Their Oct. 26 letter went on to suggest that such a major infrastructure project should “promote recovery from earlier impacts by enhancing the visibility and access of the cemetery site and its connection to the community.”
Spurred by the Post’s coverage, the CBC Radio, Canada’s national public broadcaster, aired a segment Oct. 29 featuring DC resident Diane Baxter, whose great grandfather was buried in the CJ Moses cemetery in 1894.
The ongoing advocacy and growing public awareness have prompted the State Highway Administration to conduct additional field investigations at the cemetery. To do so, the SHA will remove bamboo with hand tools so that the Moses Hall lodge foundation and any gravesites remain undisturbed.
SHA officials estimate the bamboo removal process will take up to a month and require daily monitoring by field archaeologists. Friends of Moses Hall will also have representatives on site monitoring the work.
Friends of Moses Hall (FMH) is a dedicated group of volunteers, including descendants, members of the Cabin John community as well as others with expertise in archaeology, genealogy, historic preservation, research, and advocacy. FMH was organized in 2020 with the purpose of saving Moses Morningstar Cemetery and Lodge Hall from destruction by the I-495 Beltway expansion. FMH aims to preserve the site as a hallowed resting place and an important African-American historical site.
By Charlotte Troup Leighton
CJCA Vice President for Advocacy