River Road Burial Grounds documents the present-day desecration of a historic Black cemetery. These elegiac and factual images show the physical destruction of Bethesda, Maryland’s African/African American River Road Burial Grounds. This destruction is a part of a continuing attempt to erase the history of a once-thriving African American community. I juxtaposed excavation photographs of the construction site with photographs of artifacts retrieved from this soil by Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) volunteers. The unearthed artifacts include items commonly found in African/African American cemeteries such as bottles and crockery. Mourners made a purposeful and sacrificial decision to place utilitarian and symbolic objects such as bottles that could have been returned to vendors for deposit. Text embedded in these images provides information that cannot be conveyed purely visually. Sometimes the text provides factual background information. Oher images contain a single word. These words — broken, damaged, removed, corrupted, and dislocated— have multiple meanings They refer to the condition of the artifacts, burial grounds, River Road Black community, and redevelopment process.
As part of the BACC photography team, I documented the excavation and cursory archeology performed by contract archeologists. The artifacts were found at a soil dump in Ijamsville, Maryland. By necessity they were collected quickly — in just 20 minutes — before BACC volunteers were required to leave the property and before the dirt was crushed, thereby destroying any remaining artifacts.
These vivid, detailed, crisp, color photographs confront a painful truth of the continuing desecration and loss of Black history in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Click on thumbnail to see a larger image.
In a fine art context, the images above are 32 x 22 inches archival ink jet prints.
Video — River Road African/African American Burial Grounds
At BACC events the photo collages are displayed in various formats