WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Jamie Raskin and David Trone (all D-Md.) recently urged federal officials to avoid possible physical impacts to the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery, in the historical African-American community of Gibson Grove, which was bisected by the original construction of the Capital Beltway (I-495), as Beltway widening is planned. In a new letter to the heads of the Federal Highway Administration and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Members of Congress also are calling for the protection of the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church, which stands next to Beltway in the Cabin John area of Montgomery County.
The Members write, “Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery and the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church are National Register-eligible sites in an historically African American community that has already suffered the impacts of the Beltway’s initial construction. If the project were to proceed with new impacts to the site, it would add to the cumulative damage caused by the Beltway’s construction through the Gibson Grove community that isolated its church from the cemetery grounds. Without urgent attention to the Moses Hall site and its significance early in the environmental and historic preservation review process under the requirements of NEPA and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, we risk once again committing the error of building roads without regard to the historic, cultural, and social values of vulnerable communities, especially those of African American heritage.”
The Members continue, “Instead of repeating past mistakes, we should pursue infrastructure development that promotes inclusivity, connectivity, and uplift, rather than further isolation and erosion of historic and cultural assets.”
The Members also urge officials to “to use your role in the historic preservation and environmental review process to emphasize the importance of avoiding to the greatest extent possible physical impacts to the Moses Hall property and the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church as part of any agreement to construct new lanes on the Beltway. Furthermore, we hope that you will work with stakeholders to advance the goal of historic and cultural preservation for the Gibson Grove community. Besides simply avoiding further harm, a major infrastructure project should be an occasion to promote recovery from earlier impacts by enhancing the visibility and access of the cemetery site and its connection to the community.”
For generations, Maryland has been home to a thriving African-American community and sites across our state serve as a connection to our history. The Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery and the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church both played a key role in the wake of the Civil War and are both National Register-eligible sites. These sites were home to gatherings that fostered community and local support during segregation. The Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery was formally established in the 1890s as was the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church, which still stands nearby. In the 1960s, the construction of the Capital Beltway (I-495) divided the property and the community, leaving the church to one side of the new highway and the cemetery on the opposite side. Researchers say at least 80 mostly unmarked graves remain in the cemetery. Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery has been a cornerstone of the African-American community of Gibson Grove for nearly seven decades.