Walter Pierce Cemeteries at Risk

Volunteers Clean Walter Pierce Park in Adams Morgan

We last discussed the cemeteries at Walter Pierce Park here.

From an email:

The desecration of Washington’s largest post-Civil War African American cemetery continues today. National Park Service and Rock Creek Park officials are throwing large boulders and piles of dirt on to, and pounding wooden stakes into the west hillside of the Colored Union Benevolent Association cemetery site. They are doing this while one contract archaeologist with two days’ experience at the site–and apparently no knowledge of its history–monitors the work.

The fragility of this hillside cannot be overstated. It contains exposed and close-to-the-surface remains and grave artifacts.

Park officials have excluded the Walter Pierce Park Archaeology Team from the National Park Service-owned portion of the historic cemetery. They have refused to allow us to act as monitors or to conduct non-invasive ground-penetrating radar there. Our City Councilmember Jim Graham, Washington Parks & People, our neighborhood association (Kalorama Citizens Association), and our Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commission (ANC-1-C) have all been rebuffed in their requests that the Walter Pierce Park Archaeology Team be part of an effort to protect the graves, while erosion on the hillside is contained.

Members of the Walter Pierce Archaeology Team have visited the site the past two mornings to announce their objection to what is taking place. The work continues as I write.

It is important that you–the DESCENDANTS, the SCHOLARS, the CONCERNED COMMUNITY–let National Park Service officials know immediately that you object to this dishonorable treatment of the Colored Union Benevolent Association Cemetery. The Director of the National Park Service is: Jon Jarvis, [email protected]; the Director of the National Capital Region is Peggy O’Dell, peggy_o’[email protected]; the acting superintendent of Rock Creek Park is Cindy Cox, [email protected] . Please note that the first and last names of each official is separated by an underscore line.

I will keep you informed,

Mary Belcher, community liaison to the Walter Pierce Park Archaeology Project

12 Comment

  • I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard that the cemetery there was almost completely forgotten for decades until people’s dogs started digging up bones and skulls that were close to the surface.

  • Who is the Walter Pierce Park Archaeology Team?

  • What makes this site any different than the many similar sites in DC?

    For example, where Home Depot now sits on Rhode Island Ave, there existed a large slave cemetary. When they redeveloped the area, they apparently didn’t take much care. I recall a news story a few years ago that they found a bunch of the cemetary’s grave markers just dumped in the Potomac River.

    • I think the difference is these graves and artifacts haven’t landed in the Potomac. Yet. Somebody is trying to stop that from happening.

      Ultimately it will be futile, erosion will take it’s toll, but they can buy time to properly excavate and maybe re-inter remains. Not sure what can be done to preserve the graveyard in situ while at the same time preventing further erosion. There’s some pretty heavy duty engineering needed to retain dirt on a large slope like that. And isn’t there a community garden down there as well?

      The same thing is happening to the graveyard in Georgetown bordering Rock Creek. Some of those graves and mini mausoleums are literally about to fall into the stream.

  • A federal agency riding roughshod over the District? I am shocked! Appalled! Amazed!

  • Not clear what the issue is exactly – concern that erosion will wash away and unbury the graves? General objection to perceived lack of “reverence.”

    Bones are bones – make chandeliers out of them!

  • Please do not listen to Mary Belcher’s outrageous claims and PoP, please consider not posting notes like this from her in the future. She’s been trying to take over the park for years and continues to claim that there are graves and bones in the park, when it is just not true in an attempt to further her agenda and obtain grants for herself. She managed to get the community gardens shut down several years ago with her lies, which really hurt a lot of people in the neighborhood. There are now no community gardens in Walter Pierce Park, and where they used to be is now just overgrown and not used, which is really sad. Mary claims to represent “the community”, when in fact, she does not speak for park users and really represents only herself. I’m glad the NPS has finally wisened up and is ignoring her. Everyone else should too.

  • I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard that the cemetery there was almost completely forgotten for decades until people’s dogs started digging up bones and skulls that were close to the surface.

    The cemetery was not forgotten, but was derelict for decades – it was finally, for the most part, removed in 1941 (the bodies were taken to Woodlawn Cemetery on Benning Rd., SE – now itself a ruin.)

    There was an apartment building slated for the lot (to face onto Adams Mill Rd.), but when construction started in 1959, quite a few bones turned up. Some of these
    were brought home by kids in the neighborhood (the “Star”
    ran a great picture of a teenager with a greasy DA haircut holding a skull), which led to construction being halted and the project was eventually abandoned. See:

  • Sorry, that should be “removed by 1941” – it looks like the removal took place between ’39 and ’41.

  • That lady is SO annoying! She has nothing else to do.

  • The remains will be covered up so I don’t really see a problem. So some lady won’t radar up the hill.

  • This is definitely a real graveyard. I did a community service cleanup there a few years ago and I personally found a grave marker on that hill.

Comments are closed.