BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Activists called Friday for the return of a Black cemetery to a Maryland church decades after it was erased by development.

The Rev. William J. Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, spoke by Zoom to participants at the rally, which organizers said included descendants of those buried at the Moses African Cemetery and members of the Macedonia Baptist Church. The church plans to restore the cemetery and build a monument and museum on the site.

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition sued Montgomery County’s Housing Opportunities Commission last month claiming that part of the cemetery is beneath the parking lot of the Westwood Tower Apartments, news outlets report. The housing agency owns the property and apartment building and uses the rental income to cover costs of the agency.

An estimated 500 bodies of enslaved people or relatives of the enslaved rest at the cemetery, the lawsuit states. The plaintiffs argue that selling the parcel that was used as a burial ground without court approval violates state law.

Last week, a Montgomery County judge temporarily blocked the $51 million sale of land that includes the Westwood Tower Apartments, WTOP-FM reported.

“Many of the individuals buried at Moses African Cemetery were freed slaves or people who had worked on one or more of the four plantations in the River Road area of Montgomery County prior to the Civil War,” Montgomery County Judge Karla Smith wrote in her order.

The temporary restraint forbids the sale until a Sept. 27 hearing on the matter.

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