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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Dr. Paul Scott sees value in preserving Mutual Memorial Cemetery — not just because of his personal connection, but also because it provides another chapter of the community’s rich history.
Although he grew up in Baltimore, many of Scott’s family members lived in Sandy Spring, where he visited frequently as a child.
As an adult, he returned to the area, working for Montgomery County Public Schools for 37 years, including eight years as the principal of Greenwood Elementary School.
Now, as a resident of Sandy Spring, he is leading the charge to restore and preserve Mutual Memorial Cemetery, the site of more than 300 burials at 18291 Brooke Road.
“It’s very personal for me,” Scott said. “I have many family members buried there, including my father, my grandparents and aunt and uncles.”
Yet, he sees the broader value.
“This cemetery can become almost an educational tool in this historically rich heritage destination,” he said. “It’s museum-like. Every time I walk though, I see something different and learn a great deal.”
While there are many African American cemeteries in the county and state, Scott said this one is unique as it reflects the history of the African American experience in relation to the Quakers.
“It exemplifies the civility and progressive nature of Sandy Spring and perhaps Maryland, early on, as they attempted to right that wrong and move forward,” he said.
The private cemetery has always been cared for by members of Sharp Street Methodist Church, local families and the Sandy Spring Civic Association.
“In 2009, about five of us agreed to take this on, so we created the Mutual Montgomery Cemetery Foundation to give the organization some structure,” Scott said. “We have guided the overall maintenance and care of the cemetery since then.”
In addition to himself, he said the members of the foundation’s board of directors are Taniea Bacon, Gregory Bacon, Sarah Awkard, Kym Awkard, Henry Martin, Marylah Martin, Mable Thomas and Charles Thomas.
The organization’s mission is to preserve the historic value of the African-American experience in Sandy Spring through the preservation of gravestones and the installation of interpretive signs and trying to recognize the unmarked graves.
The foundation has had the property surveyed, gained 501(c)13 tax-exempt status and obtained the proper license even though the cemetery is designated as inactive.
Two years ago, the committee members connected with the African American Commission and Maryland Historical Trust. The committee applied for, and received, a grant for the restoration and preservation of historic places.
“The Trust primarily focuses on structures, which we didn’t have,” Scott said. “But we argued that Mutual Memorial Cemetery is part of the history of Sandy Spring, established in 1873, and maybe even older.”
Scott said the cemetery contains many unique gravestones, many of which are handmade.
“It reflects the history as we came out of the 1800s,” he said. “People made headstones out of what they had — stones, concrete, gravel, soapstone or slate.”
It is somewhat reflective of the community today — hand-carved concrete-slab headstones are intermingled with newer, more elaborate markers made from marble and granite.
The $78,000 grant covers architectural, engineering and consulting services.
Scott said the committee is completing the first phase, which includes mapping, a condition assessment and treatment recommendation.
The second phase is the work, where the committee will hire someone to preserve the headstones.
“The newer ones don’t require work, but there are a lot of older ones that are cracked, broken and knocked off their pedestals,” Scott said. “Since they are made from a variety of materials, it will require people with varied expertise to repair them.”
The final phase is requesting funding for interpretive signs.
“We’d like signs that speak to the cemetery’s history and to show where it fits in the history of Sandy Spring,” Scott said.
The work thus far has been a community partnership, he said. In addition to local residents, he credits State Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Dist. 14) of Brookeville and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for their support.
A rich history
Mutual Memorial Cemetery, originally Cedar Mount Cemetery, was officially established in 1873 as part of the historic Freedman’s Village of Sandy Spring, one of the oldest free black communities in Maryland.
The Quakers who founded Sandy Spring freed their slaves well before emancipation. Those freed slaves, along with the influx of freed slaves from other areas, helped Sandy Spring become home to one of the county’s largest free black populations prior to the Civil War, according to historic information provided by the Mutual Memorial Cemetery Foundation.
They became tradesmen, created small businesses, acquired land, built and purchased homes, and founded a house of worship, Sharp Street Methodist Church.
Between 1869 and 1897, three groups of freed black men who were Sharp Street members and trustees purchased parcels of lands from Quaker families, which became Cedar Mount Cemetery, according to the historic information from the foundation.
Cedar Mount Cemetery was later renamed Mutual Memorial Cemetery in honor of the Sisters of the Mutual Aid Society, an organization within Sharp Street Methodist Church, according to the historic information.
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