Say Their Names: The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Commemoration

From the Collection: Last year on Memorial Day weekend, descendants and friends of the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries gathered to commemorate the people who are buried in this busy urban park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Museum’s photographer was on hand to observe and document the ceremony.

The park’s history is not widely known. Long before it acquired a dog park, soccer field, basketball court and children’s play area, the land served as the city’s only Quaker cemetery, the Friends Burying Ground (active 1807-1890), and a large African American cemetery, Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery (active from 1870-1890).

May 27, 2017 – The Reverend Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Church addresses the audience during the commemoration of a historic African American and Quaker burial ground located underneath Walter Pierce Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.
Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution (triptych photograph).

In the early 2000s, neighbors were concerned about development plans that risked disturbing the burials. They joined forces with Howard University anthropologists and spearheaded efforts to document the park’s historical significance. Over the course of three years, the Walter Pierce Park Archaeological Team documented the artifacts and remains of over 8,000 people buried in Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery and the Friends Burying Ground. In 2015, the National Park Service named the Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.

May 27, 2017 – African American Civil War Memorial Founder Frank Smith (right) and Patricia Tyson of FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction) (left) read names together during the Memorial ceremony. Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Local resident Mary Belcher has been active in organizing The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization and commemorating the park. Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, participants recited the names of those buried in the park, and some told the stories of their interred ancestors. African American Civil War Memorial Founder Frank Smith and Patricia Tyson of FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction) sat close together as a light rain cloistered the groups. Descendants T.J. Thomas and the Reverend Joanne Braxton addressed the crowd and told of their respective interred ancestors’ stories, and how they discovered their relationship to the ground. It is estimated that around a million people have ancestors in the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries.

May 27, 2017 – The crowd reading names during the commemoration of a historic African American and Quaker burial ground located underneath Walter Pierce Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization will be hosting the commemoration this Memorial Day weekend on Saturday May 26, 2018 at 11 am at Walter Pierce Park.