Their ancestors, former slaves, toiled under often unforgiving elements, brutal summer humidity and heat and frigid temperatures of winter, to erect a wood frame structure that would become a house of worship and a pillar of strength for the community. The Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church opened in 1924 on land purchased by William Dove, a freed slave and the founder of the predominantly African American Scotland Community in Potomac.
Since that time, the unassuming wood-frame structure that sits on Seven Locks Road has faced a multitude of threats to its survival, but motivated by the strength of their ancestors, congregants have kept the Potomac relic intact. Now in the face of its latest setback, flood damage from a 2019 storm that rendered it uninhabitable, members of the church are resolute in their effort to preserve it.
”I had the wind knocked out of me,” said LaTisha Gasaway-Paul, Dove's great-great-great-granddaughter, upon learning of the damage. "My connection to AME Zion church goes back generations. Tropical storms flooded my place of peace. I will not give up on my God’s house, my light … my sacred space."
To help fund the restoration of the church, money raised from this year's Annual Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival will be used to secure part of the estimated $10 million needed to make the necessary repairs. Additionally, between now and the end of the year, contributions will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $3 million. The fundraising campaign, called the 2nd Century Project, is a three-phase plan to restore the church and protect it from future floods.
“We are proud of the work [our ancestors] performed and the upkeep they provided throughout the Jim Crow era of segregation when the county was preparing to condemn the entire community in order to build horse stables,” said Chuck Williams, a member of the Scotland African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a chairperson of the church’s capital campaign
The festival will include activities such as a Day of Community Service at the Cabin John Regional Park, a 5k run/walk, an Interfaith Breakfast and a show and dance at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Club. Attendees will pay tribute to rhythm and blues music and the record company Motown.
Keeping with the theme of historic preservation, there will be a baseball tribute to the historic Negro Leagues of Montgomery County at Shirley Povich Field in Cabin John Park.
"Along with churches and schools, baseball was the center of civic life in these communities during the 1940s through the 1960s,” said Bruce Adams, the host of the Juneteenth Baseball Game. “The entire African American community would turn out on Saturdays and on Sundays after church.” Adams is president and founder of Bethesda Big Train baseball.
Holding the festival on Juneteenth was an intentional decision. Juneteenth is the day designated to commemorate the arrival of Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, informing the state’s residents that slavery had been abolished.
“Those who attend the Juneteenth event can expect to be engaged with the rich history of African American communities within Montgomery County.” said Williams. “We hope the stories of overcoming challenges, along with the tools for community and self-improvement will raise awareness and resonate with all who come out to join us in celebration.”
Supported by Montgomery County leaders and reminicent of the negro spiritual, "We've Come this Far by Faith," church members are forging ahead undeterred by the monumental effort needed to preserve a symbol of their history.
"This congregation has experienced much more than a flood in its 115-year-plus history. This was life-interrupting but not life-altering," said Rev. Dr. Evalina Huggins, Pastor, Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church. "The church survives because the people survive. Our desire is to do more than just survive; our desire is to be valued members of a community with our differences, nuances, and diversities, which makes Montgomery County and many other counties in Maryland unique."
Celebrating the past and present of the first places African-Americans owned land in Montgomery County, the Scotland community of Potomac, Md., is announcing Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival for 2023.
Featuring a children’s carnival and music performance, as well as art exhibitions, food, sports, and presentations on Black history in this region, the events for the federal holiday on Monday, June 19, will be spread across the Cabin John Regional Park, Cabin John Village, and the Scotland community on Seven Locks Road