*A Virginia senator was exploring his newly purchased farm along the Potomac River with his wife when she noticed some strange rocks on the shoreline that looked out of place.
They weren’t rocks. Sen. Richard Stuart and his wife said they gasped upon realizing that they were tombstones. Further research revealed that his land was the dumping ground for thousands of historic Black gravestones from the Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Per DC’s WUSA9:
From 1859 to 1960, the D.C. cemetery was the final resting place for more than 37,000 African American residents in and around the nation’s capital. Among them were two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglas, Phillip Reid—who helped create the Statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol, many Black Union Army veterans, and one of D.C.’s first Black policemen. In 1960, the land was sold. Most of the remains were relocated to National Harmony Park in Landover, Md. But the original tombstones were discarded.
A Virginia farmer saw an ad in the Washington Newspaper for free rip-rap. For two years, he transported truckloads of the discarded tombstones from Rhode Island Ave. in D.C., to his property in King George, Va. He dumped them along his two-mile stretch of coastline to prevent his land from eroding into the Potomac River. Now, thousands of historic Black gravestones are currently lost in the muddy river banks. And the bodies of Black people originally buried with respect, remain unmarked at the new burial ground in Maryland. The once historic D.C. cemetery is now the site of the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro station.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation that seeks to better protect historic black cemeteries. The Bill cited that African American burial grounds often failed to receive the type of maintenance and record-keeping that predominantly White burial grounds enjoyed.
In a moment of racial reckoning, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined descendants Monday to begin the process of honoring their family members by returning 55 gravestones to a proper memorial site at National Harmony Memorial Park in Landover, Md.
“It’s our duty to make sure these headstones are returned to the graves they were intended to mark and honor,” said Governor Northam. “As we reckon with the many impacts of systemic racism, we must tell the full and true story of our shared history, including indignities inflicted on people of color even after death.”