Why Invisible Montgomery?

Historian James Loewen in 2016 wrote, “When researching a town or county, if it is overwhelmingly monoracial, decade after decade, ask why.”

Loewen was writing about spaces and the people filling them. His observation about spaces and places can be extended to how communities produce history, historic preservation, and community identities.

This site asks why are some people and their stories invisible and offers Montgomery County residents a space to protest invisibility. This site will also offer some alternative stories to the ones produced by local historians, historic preservation agencies, community boosters, and the press.

Welcome to Invisible Montgomery.



Time for Truth and Reconciliation in Montgomery County

Does “quiet philanthropy” in Montgomery County erase decades of loud racism that denied African Americans homes, wealth, and opportunities?

Quiet Philanthropy

“A few examples of Gudelsky Family’s ‘Quiet Philanthropy’ serving Downtown Silver Spring” — October 2017 proposal to Montgomery County government.


Loud Racism

“No person of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any lot or any building, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by a domestic servant of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.” — March 1947 by Martha Gudelsky and & other members of the Gudelsky family.


Moses Cemetery Community Forum

Macedonia Baptist Church in Bethesda hosted a community forum Saturday March 3, 2018, to allow candidates running in statewide and local races an opportunity to learn more about the Moses Cemetery and to make statements about the cemetery issue. The forum was organized by Macedonia and SURJ-MoCo. Rev. Segun Adebayo and Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo represented the church in opening and closing statements. Dr. Laurel Hoa moderated the forum. Dr. David Rotenstein did the Videography and prepared slide shows for the potluck held in the church social hall and in the sanctuary during the forum.

The sanctuary was filled to capacity and folding chairs had to be brought in to accommodate all of the people attending. Thank you to the organizers, the candidates, and all who attended.

Below are some clips from the event:


Brandy Brooks, At-Large Council Candidate

Marc Elrich, County Executive Candidate

Bill Cook, Council District 1 Candidate

Will Jawando, At-Large Council Candidate

Hamza Khan, Community Activist discussing the importance of the Black Church

Lorna Phillips Forde, At-Large Council Candidate

Full Forum Video (1 hour and 50 minutes)

Profiles in Montgomery County Black History: Dr. Roland E. Barnes

Credit: The Washington Post.

Dr. Roland E. Barnes only spent a short amount of time in Montgomery County in the 1960s. The Army veteran and accomplished educator played a small but significant part in Montgomery County’s fitful moves towards eliminating housing discrimination.

Roland Edward Barnes was born in North Carolina in 1920. His parents, Roland A. and Lillian, moved to Washington in the 1920s. The elder Barnes was a railroad mail clerk; Mrs. Barnes didn’t work, according to U.S. Census schedules. They rented a home after arriving in Washington and then in 1938, the family bought a home on Columbia Road NW.

Barnes attended Miner Teacher’s College. In 1940, he and Frances Johnson, who was attending Howard University, eloped. They had secretly been married more than year before the Baltimore Afro-American reported on it after Mrs. Barnes graduated in 1941.

The couple moved to New York and began teaching careers. Barnes was teaching sixth grade in Manhattan when he was drafted; he served in the Army as a 1st lieutenant. After his discharge, he received a doctorate in education from Queens College in New York City.

In May 1961, the Montgomery County School Board recruited him to become principal of Travilah Elementary School. He and his wife had been living in a home on Allison St. NW in the District’S Petworth neighborhood that they bought in 1955. When Barnes came to work for Montgomery County, his wife, the County also hired her as a special needs teacher. His commute to the elementary school took nearly an hour each way and the couple in 1961 began looking for a home closer to work.

Roland and Frances Barnes owned a home in this row of houses built in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood in 1929 by developer Morris Cafritz.

An advertisement in the Washington Post caught his eye: it was for a new development off of Seven Locks Road. The subdivision would have cut his commute to school down to 12 minutes. He and his wife signed a contract to buy a house under construction on Charen Lane and paid a $1,000 deposit ($200 cash and an $800 note) for the $26,000 home.

The site was attractive: “It was one of the largest lots in the development, with a stand of trees along the property line in the rear, giving promise of some privacy,” according to later court documents.

Roland and Frances Barnes tried to buy this Rockville home in 1961. The developer didn’t want to sell it to African Americans.

Barnes and his wife returned home from a visit to the model home to find a letter from the sales agent along with Barnes’s check and note. It read, “We are sorry but this deal cannot be consummated at this time.” The developer, Chevy Chase-based Abraham Sind & Associates, had informed the agent that, “unwilling to sell a lot in the development to a Negro.”

Barnes hired attorneys who were able to identify the developer and begin negotiations on behalf of the Barnes family. The developer offered several alternatives, including other sites in the subdivision or in Rockville. Sind informed Barnes that the lot originally desired was unavailable, that it had been sold to another buyer.

In an attempt to settle the case against him, developer Abraham Sind offered to sell the Barnes family this home on a nearby lot. They declined and stuck to their demand to have the original home they wanted to buy.

Testimony in the case revealed that the developer didn’t want to sell a home to Barnes or any other African American because Sind and his partners believed that it would result in a loss in their investment. “They feared that if it were known that they had sold or might sell a house to a Negro, it would be fatal to the profitable development of the subdivision,” the federal courts reported in subsequent litigation.

Barnes refused to accept the offer, which he believed was not equitable. He became the first person to file a complaint with the Federal Housing Administration pursuant to Executive Order 11063 that recently had been issued by President John F. Kennedy. The order prohibited discrimination in housing owned or operated by the federal government as well as loans made by or secured by the federal government.

In addition to the complaint, Barnes sued in federal court. The case wound its way through District Court in Baltimore and it was heard by the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court. In 1965 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In 1962, the Baltimore Afro-American reported on the Barnes case. The paper quoted Barnes: “This clause as developed by W.C. and A.N. Miller to keep non-whites and Jews out of Spring Valley and other Miller Developments, was adapted by Sind and Cohen to keep colored out of Seven Locks Meadows.” The Miller company developed large subdivisions in Northwest Washington, Bethesda, and Chevy Chase, including Sumner near River Road.

As an African American living in Washington, Barnes was no stranger to racial restrictive deed covenants. The 1955 deed to his Allison Street NW home prohibited the property’s sale, lease, or transfer to “a negro or colored person.” When the Barneses sold the property in 1963, the covenant first attached to the property by developer Morris Cafritz was gone from the deed.

1955 deed to the Allison Street NW home Roland and Frances Barnes bought in 1955. Source: District of Columbia Land Records.

Meanwhile as the litigation proceeded, newspapers reported that Barnes and his wife rented a home in Silver Spring. As the case was working its way through the courts, in 1963 Barnes took a two-year job in Afghanistan. In 1965, after the Supreme Court declined their case, Roland and Frances Barnes bought a home in Kensington. They lived there until moving to Pittsburgh. There, Frances pursued a career as writer and he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. The couple divorced and Roland Barnes moved to North Carolina where he died in 1997. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Roland and Frances Barnes owned this Kensington home between 1965 and 1971. They sold it and moved to Pittsburgh.

Sources: The Washington Post; Baltimore Afro-American; District of Columbia Land Records; Records of the U.S. Supreme Court; Maryland Archives. #BlackHistoryDay2018

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African CemeteryFacebook page.

Profiles in Montgomery County Black History: Harvey M. Matthews Sr.

Harvey Matthews, January 2018.

Brother Harvey Matthews is a living measure of Montgomery County’s conscience. His family had lived in Bethesda’s River Road African American community since the first half of the twentieth century. He was just a teenager when his family was displaced in the late 1950s by encroaching segregated residential subdivisions and light industrial development. Now, at age 74, he also may be the lone surviving member from that community who has firsthand knowledge of the Moses Cemetery that now lies beneath a Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission apartment building’s parking lot. Harvey’s story is Montgomery County’s story.

Sometime in the years around World War II, his parents moved to the place where his mother’s family rented property. Harvey’s grandfather, James Christian, worked in construction. “I think they lived in the house sitting by us or adjacent house that was beside our house,” Harvey recalled in a 2017 interview. Harvey’s father Milton G. Matthews worked for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and like many African Americans living in Montgomery County, he did several other jobs to make ends meet, including raising and training hunting dogs. Harvey’s mother, Dorothy, worked in the local carry out in addition to keeping house and raising children.

Harvey remembers growing up in a two-story white frame house. Outbuildings on the property included a barn and a garage; the family raised livestock in addition to the dogs Harvey’s father kept. According to 1950s city directories, the Matthews family lived at 5263 River Road. The family had a telephone and, according to the directories, they owned the property.

“I think we owned that property that was on River Road,” Harvey said in 2017. But for African Americans in the twentieth century there were many types of “ownership.” One of the most nefarious ways white real estate speculators found to profit from African Americans in a racialized environment was to sell properties at exorbitant prices to them or to sell them properties in a contract ownership relationship in what basically amounted to a rent-to-own arrangement. African Americans paid inflated amounts towards what they believed were mortgages but instead were little more than poorly concealed rental payments.

Montgomery County Real Estate Atlas (1959) illustrating probable location of Matthews home. The property owner is identified as C.E. Willett.

Their tenures at these properties were at the whim of the property owners. There do not appear to be any land records filed in Montgomery County indicating that Harvey’s family ever owned property in River Road. It’s likely that his family had a contract ownership arrangement and they were displaced when the property owner decided to cash in on the development opportunities that led to buildouts in nearby Westbard and more residential density.

Though white speculators and entrepreneurs found opportunity in this period of growth, the African American residents in River Road faced displacement. Harvey’s family moved to Northwest Washington; others went to Tobytown, Scotland, Poolesville, and Rockville. He recalls hearing stories about whites tricking property owners into selling their land. “I think the white developers came in and flashed money in their faces. They came and got some of them intoxicated,” he said. “They got them to sign waivers of Xs and marks on paper and they didn’t know really what they were doing and with lack of education, they didn’t know.”

Before his family left River Road, they lived in a tight-knit community surrounded by entrepreneurs and laborers, children and the elderly. Harvey recalls hustling with his friends running errands for pennies, caddying at Kenwood Country Club, and playing among the homemade vernacular headstones in the Moses Cemetery.

Harvey’s neighbors included Pinkney Hatton, who owned a taxi service and who made runs into West Virginia for fruits and vegetables which he sold in the community. Harvey described Hatton as “the big shot of River Road” because “he was wealthy.”

Macedonia Baptist Church vicinity and homes associated with Harvey Matthews’ childhood, c. 1959.

Then there was the Watkins family who lived in a house next to the Macedonia Baptist Church. Harvey fondly recalls Cyrus Watkins. “Mr. Cy was a man and a half,” Harvey said. As Watkins got older he enjoyed watching traffic pass by on River Road. Sometimes Mr. Cy called Harvey over from his perch. “I used to go to the store for him and he always never failed, he always used to give me two shiny pennies.”

Cyrus and Ella Watkins’ granddaughter still plays piano at Macedonia Baptist Church.

The B&O Railroad’s Georgetown Branch ran through the community. Harvey remembers listening for the train whistle. Sometimes the conductors would toss bags to Harvey with fruit and other snacks. Other times, the train’s arrival meant it was time for an excursion. “Sometimes they would allow me to get on the train and I would ride down to Georgetown with them and whatnot and they’d bring me back,” he remembered.

Life was mostly good on River Road. Harvey’s family had running water because they lived adjacent to the Kenwood subdivision. Other families in the community had to rely on well water and outdoor sanitation facilities. Because of the railroad’s proximity, families were able to scavenge coal for heating and cooking.

For recreation and shopping, Harvey and his friends and family went into Washington. They’d catch one of Mr. Hatton’s cabs to the streetcar stop at Wisconsin and Western avenues and ride down to Seventh Street. There they could shop, eat in restaurants, and the women could get their hair done, Harvey explained. Montgomery County was still rigidly segregated and many restaurants, stores, movie theaters, and bowling alleys provided separate service to African Americans — if they were willing at all to take Black money.

Harvey Matthews prior to testifying before the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission in November 2017.

Though Harvey has retained close ties to the River Road area and Macedonia Baptist Church, where he is a trustee, he still carries powerful memories of watching his community be erased by suburbanization. After the developers came in with quick money and the families left, their homes quickly followed. “As fast as they moved somebody out, they would knock them houses down and industrial was — they were just like a buzzard flapping on something dead, you know,” Harvey said. “They pounced right on it.”

All that remains of River Road’s African American community are Harvey’s memories, the Moses Cemetery site, and the Macedonia Baptist Church. Everything else has been erased. About the community he affectionately recalls, “All we knew was River Road, Blacks lived there and they were civilized people.”

Sources: Harvey Matthews; Maryland Archives. #BlackHistoryDay2018

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.



Profiles in Montgomery County Black History: Evelyn Gunn Horad

Evelyn Horad, May 2017.

Evelyn Horad was born Evelyn Ross in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1927. At age fifteen she moved to Washington with her mother. Evelyn’s mother was one of a tide of young African American women who swept into the District during the 20th century in search of a government job and Evelyn’s goal was to attend Howard University. Over the course of the next half century, Evelyn became part of Washington and Montgomery County’s African American history because of her work in journalism and her 1986 second marriage to Sewell Horad, the son of civil rights leader Romeo Horad Sr.

Evelyn recalls arriving in Washington by bus. Washington at the time was still rigidly segregated and her entire family is light-skinned. “But we’re all fair; you know, we are fair. And when she got off the train coming from Nashville for her government job, they said you go this way,” Evelyn said in an interview in the spring of 2017. “They divided people off and they sent her with the white people. So she went and worked as a white woman till she died.”

Evelyn lived in Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood. It was one of the District’s distinctive middle-class Black neighborhoods that helped define Washington as a “Chocolate City.” After graduating from Howard in 1947, Evelyn married her college sweetheart, Richard Gunn. She spent more than decade as a stay-at-home mom before venturing out into the workforce.

Washington in the late 1950s still hadn’t fully shed its Jim Crow discriminatory traditions in everything from housing to public accommodations and employment. Though Evelyn didn’t intentionally identify as white, people who categorize others by first visual impressions believed that she was. She oftentimes didn’t do anything to dissuade them from that. After a successful interview for a job with Pepco, the interviewer asked Evelyn for her resume.

“So she read down where I had gone to Howard and just like that, everything changed,” Evelyn said. “And she tells me, ‘I’m sorry. We’re going to have to put this on hold’.”

Evelyn adapted and she removed Howard from her resume. That meant omitting her college career and only noting that she was a high school graduate. A subsequent interview for an advertising sales position with the Washington Post resulted in a job offer. That led to a successful 26-year career at the Post and it became a sidebar to local journalism history.

A few weeks into her new job, Evelyn attended a meeting where her boss, the advertising manager, went through the usual agenda and then he made an announcement. “And he says, ‘And we are getting ready to hire the first negro,’ black or whatever we were being called and here I am sitting in the room,” Evelyn recalled with a laugh.

“Hmm, no you’re not,” she said to herself.

There were African Americans working at the Post when Evelyn arrived, though none were in the newsroom or other professional positions. “They were planning before I came in, you know,” she said. “They were planning to hire negroes in advertising. They had people working in the Post but not in a thinking job, you know.” Evelyn recalled that the only other people of color she encountered at the company worked as elevator operators, custodians, and in shipping.

During her time at the Post, Evelyn befriended the Graham family and she had a back-office view to some of the most important chapters in Washington and national history. Evelyn’s first husband died in 1974 and she married Sewell Horad in 1986. He was divorced and they had been friends for years.

When Evelyn retired in 1987 as the assistant manager in the advertising department, the Post’s leadership celebrated her career at a party held at the Horad family home in Wheaton. The event drew 250 people, including Katherine Graham, Donald Graham, Effi Barry, and Flaxie Pinkett. Three years later, after a long friendship with Washington Afro-American newspaper women’s editor Mabs Kemp, Evelyn took over the veteran journalist’s society column.

“We ended up calling it ‘Social Pot-Pourri.’ So it covered all the different kinds of social life in the city and there was so much going on then and now,” Evelyn said. Jet magazine, which had reported for years on Evelyn’s social life, wrote in January 1990: “Congratulations to Evelyn Gunn Horad on her new society column, Social Pot-Pourri, in the Washington, D.C., Afro-American newspaper.”

Her first column was published in 1990. Three years later, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote about Evelyn’s work: “The photographs and stories by Evelyn Horad are probably the only consistently published indication that a polite black society even exists here.”

Evelyn and Sewell Horad, May 2017.

Evelyn wrote for the Afro for about twelve years before retiring. She and Sewell sold their Wheaton home in 2016 and they moved to a nearby retirement community.

Sources: Evelyn Horad; Montgomery County Archives; Patricia Tyson; The Washington Post; The Washington Afro-American; Jet magazine. #BlackHistoryDay2018

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.

All Cemeteries Aren’t Equal

All cemeteries in Montgomery County aren’t treated equally by Montgomery County government. For example, there’s the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery. This place where pets are buried is a protected Montgomery County historic site that was designated historic under Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code. That means that the dogs, cats, and other pets buried there are protected from development in perpetuity.

The cemetery is located across the street from Gate of Heaven, a Catholic cemetery. Most cemeteries established in Montgomery County before c. 1980 were segregated. Formal and informal policies, church affiliation, and economics contributed to maintaining racial separation among the dead. Though the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington asserts that Gate of Heaven always was integrated, oral traditions among some Montgomery County African Americans suggest that the history is more nuanced. The irony of cemeteries set aside for Montgomery County pets and cemeteries where African Americans couldn’t be buried wasn’t lost on the county’s black residents.

Former River Road resident Harvey Matthews recalls family members who wanted to be buried in Gate of Heaven. An employer tried to make that dream come true. “So Mr. Eisinger promised him when he was a younger man working that he was going to see to it that he didn’t get buried where the rest of the blacks was buried in Lincoln Park because he didn’t think that cemetery was worthy to be buried in, Mr. Eisinger used to say,” Harvey recalled.

“He said, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I don’t know when your time will end or whatever, but I’m going to try to make you the first Black to be buried in the Gates of Heaven cemetery.’ And he said, ‘And damn it, not over where them damn dogs and cats are; I’m talking on the other side. I’m talking about the big cemetery’,” said Harvey.

Perhaps this was Harvey’s most stinging rebuke of the unequal treatment African Americans, pets, and whites received in death in Montgomery County: “That used to be a big stink one time about that cemetery because when I was younger I used to say, ‘Damn, how in the hell that they’ve got the cemetery where the dogs and cats go is better than the cemetery they’ve got at Lincoln Park to bury the Blacks in. The ones they’ve got in Poolesville and Tobytown,’ you know, like that.”

Winky, Leo, Scruffy Muffin, and Grey Fleas rest in perpetual care and under the protection of Montgomery County’s historic preservation law. Their loving humans and the children and grandchildren of those humans get to visit Aspin Hill Memorial Park and visit in a parklike, therapeutic setting. Cora Botts, her kin, and nearly 500 others lie beneath a Bethesda parking lot, their bones crushed and scattered throughout property owned by Montgomery County’s Housing Opportunities Commission.

In early 2017, the Montgomery County Planning Department declined to fasttrack a review to provide interim protection for the Moses Cemetery by listing it in the Locational Atlas of Historic Sites while research is completed for full historic designation under Montgomery County law. This despite knowing as early as 2015 that the Moses Cemetery exists and recommending purchasing the site as a park.

Sources: Harvey Matthews interview, December 2017; Clare Lise Cavicchi, Places from the Past: The Tradition of Gardez Bien in Montgomery County, Maryland. Silver Spring, Md: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 2001. #BlackHistoryDay2018

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.

Profiles in Montgomery County Black History: Romeo W. Horad Sr.

In the 20th century, the NAACP attacked segregation on several fronts: housing, education, and public accommodations. In Washington, D.C., attorney and real estate broker Romeo W. Horad Sr. (1895-1968) played a pivotal role in ending one of the most significant barriers to African American choice in where to live, the racially restrictive deed covenant. Though Horad’s involvement in that historical chapter is well-known, his time as a Montgomery County resident and civil rights leader is not.

Romeo W. Horad Sr. Undated photo courtesy of Sewell and Evelyn Horad.

Romeo Horad was born in Washington. After serving in the army during World War I, he graduated from Western Reserve University in Ohio and Howard University Law School. Horad went to work in the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds where he became the agency’s Secretary. While there, he developed the lot and square system still in use today to record real estate.

In 1938, Horad resigned from the District government and obtained a real estate broker’s license. He established a practice in Washington catering to African Americans buying, selling, and renting homes. That same year, he also bought a lot in Wheaton from his wife’s family, the Sewells. Horad obtained a construction loan from Washington-based Perpetual Savings and Loan Association and he built a two-story brick home on University Boulevard. After the home was completed, he and his family moved to Wheaton joining a small community of African Americans who had lived there since the 1880s.

The loan Horad got from Perpetual is important for a number of reasons. His son, Sewell, who also dabbled in real estate told me that whenever his father and his clients required financing, Perpetual was their bank of choice. Founded in Washington in the 1880s, Perpetual was one of the few local banks that lent money to African Americans to buy homes. The bank so valued its African American customers that in the 1950s, it ran display ads in the Washington Afro-American newspaper.

Though he  made Wheaton his home, Horad kept his Northwest Washington real estate office. He began collaborating with a white Realtor, Raphael Urciolo, to help African Americans buy homes in subdivisions with racially restrictive covenants. In 1944 James and Mary Hurd bought a home on Bryant Street in the District’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The resulting suit by white neighbors and the subsequent appeal in the case, Hurd v. Hodge, became one of three cases the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1948. Known as Shelley v. Kraemer (for the Missouri case), the case rendered racially restrictive covenants unenforceable in the courts. African Americans all across the country were free from one of the most insurmountable barriers to homeownership and wealth accumulation. All of the residential subdivisions surrounding the River Road community had racially restrictive covenants.

Horad turned his efforts to ending segregation, discrimination, and environmental racism in Montgomery County. In 1947 he and Lyttonsville resident Lawrence Tyson and a handful of other African American residents formed the Citizens Council for Mutual Improvement. Their goals included improving the county’s segregated school system (this was six years before Brown v. Board of Education), improving roads in African American communities, providing water and sewerage, and removing the Jim Crow signs in Montgomery County government offices. Their January 1948 appeal to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners (the precursor to today’s County Council) marked the start of a modern civil rights movement in Montgomery County.

Horad remained active in Montgomery County’s Republican Party throughout his life. After the county moved to the charter system of government and created a county council, Horad ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the new council and as a state delegate. The spacious Horad home in Wheaton with its large yard became a popular place for political and church picnics.

Horad home, Wheaton, Maryland, 2017.

In 1948, after Horad announced his candidacy for the Montgomery County Council, the Washington Evening Star profiled him. “Of his accomplishments, Romeo W. Horad seems proudest of the home he built 10 years ago at 11308 Old Bladensburg road [now University Blvd.], Silver Spring,” reporter John V. Horner wrote. “The air-conditioned, Georgian house is evidence, he says, of what Negroes can do if given the opportunity. To him, it is proof that the race appreciates the advantages of modern living and is entitled to a chance of enjoying them.”

After Horad died in 1968, his son Sewell (a Washington public schoolteacher) moved into the Wheaton home where he had lived while attending Howard University. Sewell Horad lived in Wheaton until 2016 when he and his wife sold the property and moved to a retirement community. When the Montgomery County Planning Department completed its updated plan for Wheaton in 2012, neither Horad nor his home were mentioned by the agency’s Historic Preservation Office. The WTOP transmitter building located across the street, completed after the Horad home, has been a Montgomery County designated historic site since 1989.

Sources: Sewell Horad; Montgomery County Archives; Patricia Tyson; The Washington Post. #BlackHistoryDay2018

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.

When Urban Renewal Actually Was Rural Renewal

But the results invariable the same: what residents described as “Negro Removal.”

The stretch of River Road in the vicinity of Macedonia Baptist Church and the former Moses Cemetery in Bethesda was one of several project areas Montgomery County government targeted for “community renewal.” This was Montgomery County’s attempt to use federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funding in a mostly rural variant of “urban renewal.” Such communities as Tobytown, Scotland, Cabin John, and Emory Grove became project areas where the county purchased properties, displaced residents, demolished buildings, and resold the properties to the private sector for redevelopment.

The county also built infrastructure: paved roads and extended water and sewer lines into historically African American communities that had existed for decades adjacent to white residential subdivisions with these necessities. The infrastructure was something that residents in these communities had asking the county for decades to improve.

Montgomery County “Problem Areas” map published in 1971. Landy Lane is highlighted at the bottom. Credit: Montgomery County Archives.

By the time Montgomery County got into the urban renewal business in 1965, the River Road African American community had already been erased. Segregated — whites-only — residential subdivisions had been closing in on River Road since the 1930s. The forces displacing African American residents from River Road also were fed by industrial development encouraged by county zoning and proximity to the B&O Railroad’s Georgetown Branch. It made some River Road residents feel like they were in tightening vise.

Landy Lane at River Road, November 2017.

River Road was called the “Landy Lane Program Area” by Montgomery County’s urban renewal program. A report produced in 1971 described the erased River Road community:

The Landy Lane Program Area is primarily an industrial and commercial sector in Lower Montgomery County. The few deficient residential units have been eliminated, but this does not call for a change in the treatment recommended by the CRP [Community Renewal Plan]. Namely preparation of a design plan to deal with obsolete and unsightly commercial and industrial uses.

One statement in the report stands out: “The few deficient residential units have been eliminated.” Those “deficient residential units” were homes occupied by families with names like Clipper, Dorsey, Watkins, and Matthews.

Sources: Montgomery County Archives; The Washington Post; Harvey Matthews. #BlackHistoryDay

Note: This post originally appeared on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.

Profiles in Montgomery County Black History: Cynthia Parker

Cynthia Collymore Parker came to Washington in the 1950s to attend Howard University. Parker grew up in Westchester County in the New York City suburbs. Her father, Earl Collymore, was a dentist. When he bought a home in 1930 in an all-white residential subdivision, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the lawn. The episode helped make Parker’s father a civil rights leader in his community.

“My father came out in his pajamas with his camera, Brownie box camera, and we have the picture of a burning cross,” Parker recalled in an interview. “And they had headlines all over the place: ‘Down South Up North’.”

Parker began college in New York and transferred to Howard University. She went to work for the District of Columbia as a juvenile court probation officer after graduating. After ten years in the job, someone told Parker about a job opening as a school social worker in Montgomery County.

“I started out with the twenty-eight Title I schools and they were all over the county, from Poolesville down to Takoma Park, you know, throughout the county,” Parker said.

Once she was hired, Parker had trouble finding a home in rigidly segregated Montgomery County so she signed up with a nonprofit organization, Suburban Maryland Fair Housing. The organization founded in the early 1960s paired Montgomery County property owners with prospective buyers and renters regardless of their color.

Parker bought a home in Silver Spring in 1966 that had been built in a subdivision created in 1938. Its developers were among more than 50 who between 1904 and 1948 attached racial restrictive covenants to their properties. During an interview in 2016, Parker pulled a copy of her home’s original deed from behind the counter in her bookstore in downtown Silver Spring. It reads, “No portion of the said land or building erected thereon shall ever be rented, leased, sold, transferred, conveyed to or otherwise vested in or in trust for any negro or any person of negro descent or extraction, except that such person may occupy the same in a menial capacity with the owner, or as caretaker.”

“This is still attached to the original deeds, even if they’re not — they don’t take these off of them,” she said.

Excerpt from original deed to Cynthia Parker’s property recorded in 1939. The covenant barring African Americans from buying the property was the first of six covenants attached to the property.

Parker told me a powerful story about a visitor she had in the 1980s. A young woman knocked on her door. “I used to live across the street,” she said. “And I’m so glad to see that you’re still living here because my family, my parents, were prejudiced against negroes.” The woman’s family sold their home and moved farther out in Montgomery County after Parker moved to the street.

Parker witnessed Montgomery County’s transformation from a rigidly segregated Washington suburb to an ethnically diversity collection of communities. She described the Silver Spring into which she moved as a “white bread neighborhood” with no diversity. “It’s just amazing, the changes I’ve seen just in this immediate community,” Parker explained. “You know there have been changes all throughout this county.”

Silver Spring Books in 2017.

After spending 31 years with Montgomery County, Parker retired and she became a fixture on Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring as a co-owner of Silver Spring Books. Health issues pushed her into retirement and the store closed in 2017.

The store’s closing in 2017 came as a shock to Silver Spring residents. I had interviewed Parker a few times since late 2014 for my research on gentrification and its relationships to history and historic preservation.  The business was struggling to pay its bills in an upgrading downtown where commercial churn was being fueled by demographic changes, skyrocketing rents, and other factors associated with gentrification-related displacement.

Parker saw the number of independent bookstores in downtown Silver Spring shrink from half a dozen to just a few. After Borders moved in as an anchor tenant in the massive redevelopment at the turn of the twentieth century, Silver Spring Books was the sole survivor. Changes in retailing behavior provided the final push, one Parker saw coming years before the store closed. “There definitely hasn’t been improvement,” Parker said in 2014. “In fact, now with, as I was saying, with people buying on the Internet and Amazon.”

When we spoke for the first time in December 2014, the Purple Line light rail project and its potential to create substantial disruptions in the Bonifant Street corridor was Parker’s main concern. She didn’t have to go far to see the changes underway in downtown Silver Spring. From the bookstore counter, she could see the new library and senior housing rising across the street:

This was, across the street you see the restaurants over there and what they are? Because when I moved here this was what I call a whitebread neighborhood. You didn’t see any ethnic restaurants, you know. Maybe Italian. I was trying to think, there must have been an Italian restaurant somewhere. But you know what I’m saying, you didn’t see anything like this. This is very changed, downtown Silver Spring.

The view of Bonifant Street from inside Silver Spring Books, December 2014.

Sources: Cynthia Parker; Montgomery County Archives; Maryland Archives; Silver Spring Regional Center.

Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page. It has been expanded for publication here.