The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Black Workers’ Towns Erased

Mar 20, 2023

The overgrown cemetery of a long-destroyed, working-class black community in the now-rich Maryland suburb of Potomac outside Washington, D.C. will be preserved. The Montgomery County council made this promise to descendants in February. The pledge follows an unbroken trail of destruction of historically black neighborhoods by the government, in the service of real estate developers, the auto industry, and banking. Again and again working-class black homeowners and businesses were forcibly displaced to house wealthier white people.

In the 1870s, Brickyard was one of a number of areas along the Potomac River where formerly enslaved black people bought land. Some white plantation owners were willing to sell off patches that weren’t so good for farming. There was work: in mines, mills, and on the canal, the river, and the former slaveowners’ big farms. In the new neighborhoods, black people built houses, schools, and churches. They organized social activities like baseball leagues for men and women.

It wasn’t long before organized racists attacked them. And then for decades, as suburban subdivisions grew all around them, their land was taken from them. In the 1970s the state and county governments suddenly decided that Brickyard’s cemetery owed property taxes it had not owed before. The government seized it and sold it to an out-of-state white developer.

There is a whole patchwork of such half-forgotten places: Toby Town. Scotland. Moses Cemetery, a few miles toward Washington. Across the river in Virginia, East Arlington-Queen City was levelled to make way for the Pentagon’s access roads and parking lots.

Brickyard is one of many examples of black—and white—working class neighborhoods destroyed so someone could make a profit off their land.