Governor Larry Hogan joined Virginia Governor Ralph Northam; and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for the official transfer of 55 historic African American headstones to National Harmony Memorial Park in Prince George’s County.
The headstones, which had been used as erosion-control and scattered along the Virginia shores of the Potomac River, will be reunited with remains previously relocated from the former site of D.C.’s historic Columbian Harmony Cemetery. Today’s ceremony was held at Caledon State Park in King George, Va.
“As soon as we learned of the massive undertaking to recover these headstones, we offered the full support of our entire Maryland team,” said Governor Hogan.
“We have no greater responsibility as leaders in democracy than preserving for future generations the importance of clearly differentiating between right and wrong.”
The State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia entered into an unprecedented agreement to recover and move the headstones to their rightful place.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Historical Trust are partnering with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the History, Arts, and Science Action Network (HASAN) on the project.
“It’s our duty to make sure these headstones are returned to the graves they were intended to mark and honor,” said Governor Northam. “As we reckon with the many impacts of systemic racism, we must tell the full and true story of our shared history, including indignities inflicted on people of color even after death.”
Today the first 55 headstones were officially transferred to their final resting place at National Harmony Memorial Park. This fall, members of the Maryland National Guard will join the Virginia National Guard to recover additional headstones along a two-mile stretch of the Potomac River where the first artifacts were found.
“We know that the 37,000 people who were laid to rest at Columbian Harmony Cemetery were the men, women, and families who helped build Washington, D.C. into the city we are today,” said Mayor Bowser. “They were talented soldiers, civil rights leaders, dressmakers, and so much more—they were moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends and neighbors.”
“They made and continue to make our families, our city, and our nation proud, and today we honor their lives.”
More than 37,000 African American residents of Washington, D.C. were buried at the former site of Columbian Harmony Cemetery. In the 1960s, after the cemetery was sold to make way for new development, many of the graves were relocated to the Prince George’s County site, but the headstones were either sold or given away.
Some of the prominent individuals buried at Columbian Harmony Cemetery include: Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave who became a seamstress and trusted confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln; Osborne Perry Anderson, the only African American survivor of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; Mary Ann Shadd Cary, America’s first African American female newspaper editor; and Philip Reid, a foundryman who assisted with the building of the Statue of Freedom at the U.S. Capitol.
“It is important we remember each and every one of them,” said Governor Hogan.
“They are mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters who were loved in life and mourned in death. We owe it to every one of those 37,000 souls to do everything in our power to reclaim their history, their legacy, to bring at least some measure of comfort to their loved ones, and to restore their God-given right to eternal rest.”