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Otherness to Oneness: Restoring Justice at DC’s Former Harmonian Cemetery Together (Webinar)
October 10, 2021 @ 11:00 am - 12:15 pm
Descendants Violet Jones and William Hart at Caledon State Park with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (August 2021)
Join us on Sunday, October 10th at 11:00am EDT for a virtual program about the Columbian Harmony Cemetery and current efforts to repatriate its headstones that were desecrated and displaced in the 1960s. Panelists include family members of individuals laid to rest there and the nonprofit group History, Arts, and Science Action Network (HASAN), who are currently working together to right this historical wrong.
Established in the DC neighborhood of Brentwood in 1859, the Columbian Harmony Cemetery was one of the most prestigious African American cemeteries in the country. Over the course of a century, it became the final resting place for 37,000 individuals. In 1958, the Cemetery was sold to a real estate investor with the condition he would relocate these individuals to the National Harmony Memorial Park in Maryland. However, the headstones were not relocated and instead either sold or gave them away for erosion control along the Potomac River.
In 2016, Senator Richard Stuart and his wife, Lisa, discovered some of these headstones along their property next to the river in King George County, Virginia. Since then, HASAN has been working closely with the Sons and Daughters of Harmony Cemetery, to recover headstones and memorialize the stories of those they belong to in an initiative titled “Project Harmony.” Today the land where the Cemetery was once found is now the location of the Rhode Island-Brentwood Metro Station along with other commercial and residential development.
The panel will explore the Descendants’ experience with the Cemetery, from 1960-2019; what the Harmony Cemetery Project’s restorative justice is beginning to produce for Descendants; and what the Descendants hope the project will provide them and the community in the future, once its memorialization and repatriation is complete.
Lex Musta is a co-founder of the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, a Project Director working on restorative justice initiatives with the History, Arts, and Science Action Network (HASAN), and an independent researcher whose work focuses on the role of social meanings in shaping race relations. Lex’s research and work has played a pivotal role in the finding and restoration of tombstones from the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, a historic African American burial ground that was dug up and relocated in 1960 to make way for commercial development. Lex is a frequent lecturer and author on the history and contemporary challenge of the struggle for racial justice in the United States, with a particular call to allies to “Show up! Listen up! Stand up!”
Violetta Sharps Jones is a fifth generation Lakelander and Vice President of Lakeland Community Heritage Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the history of Lakeland, an African American community in Prince George’s County Established in 1890. Lakeland is now part of College Park Maryland. Combining her genealogy research with her love of Lakeland motivates her to tell Lakelands’s story. A member of the LCHP/UMD Brain Trust, established with Maryland Institute for Technologies in the Humanities (MITH) to coordinate and expand Lakeland’s digital Archives. Currently serving on the Restorative Justice Board for Lakeland, and the 1856 Project UMD established to explore the unfair practices of College Park and the UMD toward the African American Community. As a consultant she has worked with Maryland State Highway Archaeologist researching Simon Hill Cemetery, Bladensburg MD which is part of a PBS series, The Dig: A Maryland Mystery Lady. She is consulting with HASAN on the Columbian Harmony Cemetery project and recently participated in Governor’s reception at Caledon State Park King George, VA, where some of headstones were recovered.
Jared L. Sawyers is a proud fifth-generation native Washingtonian with roots in Georgetown. He attended DC public schools before his family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where he graduated from Montgomery Blair High School. From there, he attended Morgan State University as a Piano Performance major. Mr. Sawyers has always been interested in genealogy, and over the years, he has helped many people find their roots, including several adoptees as they searched for their biological parents. In 2017, he was credited by the producers of the PBS show, “Finding Your Roots,” for researching and helping to develop an episode which featured Tonya Lewis-Lee, Suzanne Malveaux, and Bryant Gumbel. He also assisted Grammy, Stellar, and Dove Award-winning gospel artist, Richard Smallwood, with the genealogical research for his 2019 autobiography, “Total Praise,” which has been added to BookAuthority’s Top 100 Best Autobiography Books of All Time. Mr. Sawyers is currently writing his own book based on the lives of select African-American pastors of various denominations in Washington, DC, who served between the 1840s and the 1970s. He serves as the Church Historian for Second Baptist Church, the second oldest Black Baptist church in the city, founded in 1848.
About History, Arts, and Science Action Network (HASAN)
HASAN was established by Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz and Justin Fornal in 2018, as a non-profit 501(c)(3), dedicated to restorative justice through racial reconciliation and repatriation of human and cultural remains. Their work documents and preserves history and cultures through bridging STEM and the ARTS to intact restorative justice across the globe. In doing this, HASAN aims to provide a highly interdisciplinary approach to exploration and preservation of cultural heritage throughout the world.
Founded in 2020, Sons and Daughters of Harmony Cemetery has been working hard with the help of their members and volunteers to deliver restorative justice, and if possible, headstones to the families whose ancestors were members of the Columbian Harmony Society founded in 1824. Their work is dedicated to funding and delivering an honorable living memorial wall at the site where the headstones were dumped as rip rap in the 1960s, returning in tact head stones to a memorial park near the site where their bodies are interred, and to inspire new generations of Virginia, DC, and Maryland youth by the example of the lives of these heroic Liberation Community members in DC, many of whom made significant contributions to American life with import reaching to the present day.
This program is free & open to the public. It will also be streamed live to DCPL’s Facebook page.
October “Cemeteries & Demolished Buildings” events are generously sponsored by Carol Aten in honor of her fellow preservationists–Nancy Carson, Nancy Schultz, and Nancy Schwartz–who were instrumental in the early successes of Don’t Tear It Down/DC Preservation League.