Guest Essay in The New York Times Cites Rothwell Figg Pro Bono Case to Preserve Burial Ground for Former Slaves and Descendants

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Author Greg Melville’s guest essay in The New York Times titled “Even in Death, Black Americans Have Been Denied the Right to Rest in Peace” cites Rothwell Figg’s pro bono client Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) and the lawsuit that was filed on its behalf in 2021 to stop the sale of a burial ground for formerly enslaved Africans to a developer unless and until it complies with Maryland law.

The lawsuit, filed by a Rothwell Figg team including Steven Lieberman, Jenny Colgate, D. Lawson Allen, and Kristen Logan, on behalf of BACC, the pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Bethesda, and several descendants of individuals buried at the Moses African Cemetery, in Bethesda, Maryland, seeks to halt the selling of the land, currently owned by the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), to a developer. Maryland law requires the seller of land that is or was used as a burial ground to bring an action in the county in which the burial ground is located so the court may decide whether, and under what terms and conditions, such a sale may take place. In October 2021, Judge Karla Smith granted Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, thereby halting the sale of the property to a developer unless and until it complies with Maryland state law. The HOC filed an appeal of the injunction, and a hearing on the appeal occurred in October 2022. A decision from the three-judge panel who heard the October 6 argument is expected soon.

Greg’s essay in The New York Times discusses the staggering number of America’s Black burial grounds that have been erased from history, despite their importance as displays of “American art, architecture, literature, war, music, economics, landscaping, public health, death, life and — as uncomfortable as it may be to confront — injustice.” Greg is the author of “Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries,” a look at the history of U.S. cemeteries that explores how, where, and why we bury our dead.

You can view the entire guest essay on The New York Times website.

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