Perhaps as many as 7,000 people are buried in an abandoned Washington, D.C. cemetery now located under a busy park. The nearly forgotten African American cemetery was re-discovered in 2005 when neighbors discovered human remains in Adams Morgan’s Walter Pierce Park, which includes athletic fields, a dog run, and basketball courts. The cemetery was founded by the Colored Union Benevolent Association when they purchased the land in 1870 for $2,500. It operated until 1890 when it was ordered closed by city officials. The Washington Post summarized the subsequent history of the site in this July article. Also last summer Mike Grass noted on the Express newspaper blog the cemetery is commemorated by a plaque in Rock Creek Park. A portion of the site may lie in property owned by the National Zoo. (The Zoo is also the location of the Holt House, investigated in the 1990s by the Smithsonian in response to community pressure.) This fall Dr. Mark E. Mack, a biological anthropologist from Howard University, will conduct a study of the site with Howard students.
Neighborhood resident and historian Mary Belcher summarized the present state of the investigation in a recent email to the Historic Washington listserv where she describes Professor Mack’s recent visit to a neighborhood group where a “profound silence engulfed the meeting room” during his presentation which included “photos of the exposed remains and partially visible wooden casket that belonged to a woman who apparently had been buried in the Colored Union cemetery.” Mack told the group he thought the project was “just as important” as the high-profile New York African Burial Ground Project, for which he served as the laboratory director. The Howard team is planning to describe the locations of the graves as well as create reccomendations for the city about how they should be protected.
Mary Belcher, Eddie Becker, and Professor Mark Mack will be leading a free tour on “Slavery in Adams Morgan and Kalorama” this Saturday, September 30 as part of Cultural Tourism DC’s Walkingtown event. The tour starts from the SunTrust bank at 18th St. and Columbia Road at 11:00 a.m.