GEORGETOWN’S HISTORIC AFRICAN 

AMERICAN CEMETERIES

a vision for our future 

       We have an unprecedented opportunity to rediscover two centuries of lost African American history in Georgetown and to develop a historic memorial park as a sacred space for quiet reflection, the respectful commemoration of the past, and to EDUCATE.

        These cemeteries serve to preserve and create awareness of the heritage, contributions, and sacrifices these founders of Georgetown made during their lifetimes, and provide insight to their families and the community in which they lived during a time of deep segregation. 

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MOUNT ZION -
FEMALE UNION BAND SOCIETY

HISTORIC MEMORIAL PARK, INC.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Designated a UNESCO Slave Route Project site of memory

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The Alliance for New Music-Theatre joined with the Mt. Zion - Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park Foundation to develop an original work of music-theatre, Voices of Zion, bringing to light some of the complex and little known history of Black Georgetown through stories of some of the “residents” of the adjacent cemeteries (Mt Zion and Female Union Band Society). The invitation to partner with Executive  Director Lisa Fager provides the Alliance an opportunity to “Dig Deeper” in their commitment to a careful developmental process of original works and the nurturing of community relationships.  The Alliance is delighted that joining them are Dumbarton and Mt. Zion United Methodist Churches, and together they are committed to “changing the conversation through the arts.”

Please join us as the Alliance for New Music-Theater launches a new partnership
and monthly music-theatre series on

Wednesday, Nov 10 at 7:30pm 

at 
St. Thomas’ Parish
1517 18th Street NW, Washington DC


Music by composer Ronald Walton followed by conversation about a new music-theatre work that explores the history of two little known black cemeteries in Georgetown.

JAMES THOMAS O'MEARA           September 25, 1943 - December 18, 2019

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“When I couldn’t wrestle an abstraction or put a name to a feeling, I inevitably turned to my dad. He was good at helping me understand things—not just by explaining them, but by talking them through, making me an equal partner in the enterprise. He was an expert listener, too: his eyes and smile radiated interest and reflection. Over the years, the topic of race arose in our conversations as a result of national news and from moments in my parents’ lives, either recent or resurfaced in memory. Living in a community of near-homogenous racial demographics, I relied on my mom and dad’s anecdotes and broader awareness of institutional racism to fill in the gaps of my own experience and education. My dad was the first to explain redlining to me, the process that resulted in greater racial and economic segregation in his home city of Chicago. He also recounted stories of colleagues who had been obliged to respond to others’ racist comments and did so with savvy and dignity. These episodes helped my dad understand the additional burdens of advancing professionally as a person of color, and they deepened his respect for these colleagues.” (click for full story)

Mount Zion & Oak Hill From the trails of Rock Creek Park to its sacred grounds

By Megan O’Meara

(Republished October, 2021, from the Virtual Memorial of James Thomas O’Meara - click for full story)

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By Theresa Vargas

Columnist

October 9, 2021

While working to restore two historic Black cemeteries, she discovered a construction crew digging on burial grounds

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Lisa Fager uses the word “appalling” three times as she pans her phone’s camera across a strip of land that was once part of one of the oldest Black cemeteries in the nation’s capital.

 

In front of her, men in orange vests stand alongside a dirt path pocked with newly dug holes, showing where they’ve disturbed the earth and who knows what else.

Fager, still holding her camera up, sounds shaken and angry as she explains what she’s seeing: a construction crew working on a bike path, even though it sits on a burial ground that never saw bodies disinterred.

“It’s a cemetery for God’s sake!” she says. “ . . . I have pictures of the church doing baptisms at the water. How close were the bodies? What have they dug out?” (read more)

Black Georgetown Rediscovered: Georgetown University students Help Preserve History at a UNESCO Slave Route Project site of memory

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Students enrolled in the Black Georgetown Rediscovered course toured the Mount Zion – Female Union Band Society cemeteries and helped document the estimated 9,000 African American residents of Georgetown who are buried at the historic site.

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The course is part of the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program, a five-week summer program of academic, experiential learning, and social activities for the Class of 2024 and newly admitted transfer students.

Taught by Andrew Davenport, a doctoral candidate studying U.S. history and a research assistant with the Georgetown Slavery Archive, Black Georgetown Rediscovered examines Georgetown’s forgotten – and then remembered – Black history through walking tours and the book and accompanying documentary, Black Georgetown Remembered.

Lisa Fager, executive director of the Mount Zion – Female Union Band Society cemeteries, led the tour. Students then entered headstone inscriptions into a database developed by Mary Beth Corrigan, curator of the Collections on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation for the Lauinger Booth Family Center for Special Collections, in partnership with Fager’s team. 

2021 Exec Director Lisa Fager educates GU students on cemetery historhy and lives of inter

Black Georgetown Remembered

Students have been reading Black Georgetown Remembered and watching the documentary (click  image) which compiles recollections from members of Georgetown’s Black community, some of whom still reside in the neighborhood.

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Juneteenth - A Day for Education, Reflection, and Appreciation

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"Juneteenth", also called Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day, observed annually on June 19, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.  

Lisa Fager, Mount Zion - Female Union Band Society Foundation Executive Director, Rotarians, and friends gathered at the burial grounds to celebrate this special day, and learn how emancipation, in actual practice, occurred across the territory of the United States. Many attendees gave of themselves, working on various grounds preservation activities.

Headstones and History: Black Lives Matter(ed) Education Program

Eagle Eye Tutoring Black Lives Matter(ed

Learn about this unique education program, created through a collaboration with Thomas A. Duckenfeld III, Esq. and Garett Lowe, PhD of Eagle Eye TutoringHeadstones and History: Black Lives Matter(ed) provides participants the opportunity to conduct original historical research and uncover some of the hidden histories of Georgetown's African Americans.

HARVARD LAW TODAY                    Harvard Law Bulletin - Fall 2020

Alumni Focus  Hidden History Teaching a class concentrated on two predominantly African American cemeteries, Tom Duckenfield ’89 helps uncover the stories of people who may have been forgotten but whose lives mattered

By Lewis Rice, October 15, 2020

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Visit our "Resources" page

We have updated information explaining some of the symbols carved on headstones in the burial grounds, and the roster of our known military veterans.

The Ancestors Smile!  DC Emancipation Celebration At the Cemeteries

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DC Emancipation Celebration At Mount Zio

The community gathered at the historic  Mount Zion - Female Union Band Society cemeteries on Friday to remember ancestors on the District's Emancipation Day - the 159th year since the end of slavery in Washington, DC. 

April 16th, 1862 marks the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Over 3,000 enslaved persons were freed eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation liberated slaves in the South. The District also has the distinction of being the only part of the United States to have compensated slave owners for freeing enslaved persons they held.

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The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the District of Columbia

Hosted a virtual lecture on Mount Zion - Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc. Foundation's work to Save, Restore & Honor a Sacred Space In Georgetown.

 

Presentation by Lisa Fager, Executive Director,

Mount Zion - Female Union Band Society

Historic Memorial Park Foundation

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Next door to Dumbarton House are two adjoining, historic African American cemeteries that for decades have been hidden in plain sight. Founded in the early 1800s, the Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society cemeteries are the final resting place of thousands, many of whom were enslaved. Executive Director Lisa Fager oversees the mission of the Foundation to preserve, re-imagine, and maintain care of this sacred space that was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. Ms. Fager discussed the fascinating, important history of the cemeteries and those buried there, as well as the decades-long struggle to keep and restore the site. 

Tree Planting Community Event Successfully Completed

Our anticipated five-day effort to plant a very large number of young trees on the erosion endangered crest and hillsides of the cemetery was completed in just two (long) days.  This impressive accomplishment was the result of a tremendous response by the neighborhood, organizations such as the Dumbarton Garden Group, the Colonial Dames, Georgetown Univ. students, and various church member groups. Volunteers recruited and fielded fellow club members, friends, family members, and students.

 

We must also thank Jim Woodworth of the DC Government and members of the Rock Creek Conservancy, who provided the bare-root trees and planting tools.

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Should you visit the cemetery over the next days and weeks, you will see a myriad of pink and orange flags marking the locations of the newly planted southern red oak, tulip/yellow poplar, persimmon, pawpaw, and redbud trees.  These trees will help to stabilize the soil of the burial grounds, provide habitat to wildlife, prevent runoff into Rock Creek, and sustain the beauty of the sanctuary.

On behalf of the Mount Zion - Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park Foundation, the Mount Zion Methodist Church, and individuals with very personal connections to these cemeteries - thank you to everyone who rallied to help us in this very important preservation effort.

Event Completed - "Headstones & History" Black Lives Matter(ed) Presentation

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The Montgomery County Genealogical Society hosted a Black History Month program featuring Lisa Fager, Executive Director, Mount Zion-Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc. Foundation

Dr. Garett Lowe and Tom Dunkenfield III of Eagle Eye Tutoring shared the histories of Mt Zion - FUBS and findings from their 2020 Summer study 4-week pilot program that provided a unique opportunity for high school and college students to conduct original historical research to uncover and memorialize some of the hidden histories of Georgetown's African Americans.

 

Thank you to all who attended. A link to the recording of this event will be provided when it becomes available.

Event Completed 

Explore Georgetown’s Black history and learn how to preserve your own family photographs and documents, 

Black Georgetown Community History Proje

If you did not get the chance to attend the session you can see the recording here. For more information on preserving your family papers and photographs, please see this handout from the program.

The program, Black Georgetown Community History Project: Family Heirlooms was on March 19 at 1 p.m

Curators, collections managers, and other experts from Dumbarton House, Georgetown University, and Tudor Place Historic House & Garden shared tips and techniques while they explored the family collection of Neville Waters, a sixth-generation Georgetown resident and the current president of Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park, Inc.

This free, virtual community program was organized by Dumbarton House, Georgetown Heritage, Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park, Inc. and Tudor Place Historic House & Garden.

Church Members, Friends and Foundation Board Members Commemorate the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Dedicate the Cemeteries' National Register of Historic Places Designation Plaque

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Vernon Ricks shares scripture
Neville Waters shares stories of grandfa
Patrick Reading His Story II
Deborah Bond sings Lift every voice and
Nana Malaya Rucker Libation Ceremony
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Plaque reveal and dedication
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Nana Malaya Rucker at Plaque Dedication.
Deborah Bond and Nana Malaya Rucker
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National Register of Historic Places Designation Plaque Dedication Foundation Board

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We gathered on the plateau to reflect, honor and celebrate the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King and those interred in our cemeteries. Lisa Fager, Foundation Executive Director shared the ceremony program and context of the cemeteries' designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Vernon Ricks, Chairperson, Mount Zion United Methodist Church Trustee and Foundation Board member, shared scripture.  "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was performed by acclaimed artist Deborah Bond. Neville Waters, Foundation Board President, shared perspectives of the history of the cemeteries, and the role of his grandfather and father in the black Georgetown community.  Patrick Tisdale, Volunteer Activity Coordinator presented a story written to honor the day.  Nana Malaya Rucker led the assembled in a spirited Libation ceremony and procession. Finally, the community and program participants unveiled and dedicated the National Register of Historic Places designation plaque.    Images by James Newton Photography

The placement of the plaque in the entrance area of the Female Union Band Society Cemetery:

  • Informs visitors that the “park-like” and wooded grounds before them are in fact a sacred historic burial ground for thousands of individuals

  • Provides visitors information about the history of the cemeteries, the lives, and contributions made by the interred to the establishment of Georgetown and to the transition of the United States to a post-slavery era

  • The NRHP Sign supports the Mount Zion - Female Union Band Memorial Park, Inc. Foundation goal of the burial grounds being a living historic memorial

Please Consider Our Cemeteries in Your Gift Giving Plans

Your generosity will help preserve our sacred burial grounds and support our education programs.  You can assist us by enrolling in the Amazon Smile program, or by funding one or more of the volunteer-led initiatives described below.  THANK YOU for your support!

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A Gift of Landscaping Materials

Your donation of $25, $50, $75, or $100 will fund much-needed landscaping materials such as gravel, topsoil, mulch, and grass seed. Your support enables our volunteers to keep our grounds safe for visitors, address erosion caused by stormwater and ground subsidence, and stabilize monuments. 

A Gift of Gravestone Restoration

Your donation of $75 will fund restorative cleaning, mending, and remounting of a historic gravestone, such as Matilda Cartwright’s, the daughter of freed slave, Lewis Cartwright (both interred in the Female Union Band Society Cemetery)

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A Gift of Tree Canopy and Grounds Preservation

Your donation of $35 will fund the purchase of a cubic yard of organically enriched topsoil, to be used in our DC Government Restoration Branch/Watershed Protection Division, Department of Energy & Environment supported Spring 2021 planting of tree seedlings. This community event will mitigate burial ground erosion, create valuable wildlife habitat, and maintain the pleasant look of the grounds.

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A Gift of Restorative Headstone Cleaning

Your donation of $25 will fund the cleaning of two historic gravestones or monument artifacts. Your support provides volunteers with the tools and materials needed to restoratively clean headstones.

For Information on the other ways you can financially support the preservation and restoration of the burial grounds, and our awareness and education programs, please read our "Support Us" resource.

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Mason and Odd Fellows Symbols on Same He

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Matilda Cartwright 11192020

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HELP US SAVE GEORGETOWN'S

AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & CEMETERIES

PRESERVE
RESTORE
EDUCATE
PROTECT