Sites of conscience

Sites of conscience are historic places that foster public dialogue on pressing contemporary issues in historical perspective. — Ševčenko, Liz, and Maggie Russell-Ciardi. “Foreword.” The Public Historian 30, no. 1 (February 1, 2008): 9–15.

These are places that bear witness to human rights abuses including genocide, slavery and other violations of freedom. Often the tangible remains of these horrific events have disappeared. — Cameron, Christina. “World Heritage Sites of Conscience and Memory.” In World Heritage Sites and Cultural Diversity, edited by Dieter Offenhäußer, Walther Ch. Zimmerli, and Marie-Theres Albert, 112–19. Germany: German Commission for UNESCO, 2010.

Moses Cemetery Site, Bethesda, Maryland

Rev. Walter Fauntroy (left) offers a libation at the Moses Cemetery site as Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (right) reads the known names of ancestors buried there. Rally held November 2017.

In 1911, a lodge founded by African Americans who lived in Washington, D.C.,’s northwest quadrant bought an acre of land off of River Road in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland. The River Road community occupies former farmland between downtown Bethesda and the District of Columbia line. For the first half of the 20th century, River Road — the residents simply called it by the corridor’s name, though whites used the pejorative “Crow Hill: when speaking about the community — remained an independent rural community with farms and homes belonging to people who worked in local businesses or as domestics in nearby white-owned homes. Encroachment by white developers who attached racial restrictive covenants to their suburban developments and industrial development displaced River Road’s residents in the mid-20th century. As the last living African Americans were being displaced, developers excavated, graded, and constructed a surface parking lot at the Moses Cemetery site.

In 2017 advocates responding to Montgomery County’s efforts to “retrofit” the suburban community with plans to construct a parking garage on the Moses Cemetery site began protests and actions to preserve, protect, and memorialize the site.

Talbot Avenue Bridge, Silver Spring, Maryland

The Talbot Avenue Bridge, 2016.

The Talbot Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1918. For much of the 20th century it connected Lyttonsville to Silver Spring. Lyttonsville was an African American hamlet that became Silver Spring’s “other side of the tracks.” Racial restrictive covenants and Jim Crow policies in Silver Spring’s businesses and public spaces squeezed African Americans into Lyttonsville. Lyttonsville was one of several dozen African American hamlets and urban neighborhoods in Montgomery County where poverty, inequality, and nuisances (e.g., trash incinerator and dup, industrial development) were concentrated. In 2016, the Talbot Avenue Bridge became recognized as a space where Silver Spring residents could confront the community’s racialized past and engage in dialogues about the bridge’s various meanings to white and Black Silver Spring residents.

The Talbot Avenue Bridge will be demolished in early 2018 to facilitate construction of the Purple Line light rail corridor.

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