Guest post by Freda Walker Moore
My family and I would like to have this opportunity to honor our ancestors and to thank the Orton Family for their dedication to preserve the African American gravesites in the City of Portsmouth.
Last year, when my Dad, Frederick Walker, passed away, our family was conscious of previous years of neglect at Lincoln Cemetery. Recently, we learned that the Orton family is advocating for the preservation of the cemetery. They’ve chosen to take this arduous task and we are most grateful. When my Dad passed, the family and I were mindful of the number of Brothers and Sisters that he had eulogized at Lincoln Cemetery as well as many others. As a Mason Worship Leader, he was honored to serve in white apron and gloves and respected the passing of his Mason Brothers and Eastern Star Sisters who were being buried. Daddy solemnly and eloquently spoke the Orations over “many a gravesite.” The families of those Brethren were comforted with his passionate words. I can envision his say “….we are but a vapor.”
My father’s mother, Annie Newton, and her husband, Linwood Newton, are also buried at Lincoln. Mommie Annie served for many years as Secretary for her Eastern Star Lodge. Back in the day, Daddy Lin served as a Pianist who travelled to many Churches in Portsmouth and Suffolk. My mother’s parents are also buried at Lincoln – Ella Patterson and her husband, William Patterson. Pop served and was a Veteran in World War I. Before “Toot” passed away, we promised her that we would never sell her home. You see, when Pop passed away in ’59, it was difficult for our grandmother to maintain her house, but by God’s Grace, she was able to keep it.
When Pop was alive, he was called “The Mayor of Brighton.” He was a man literally “larger than life.” Upon his funeral, my grandmother, because of his size, had to have a custom made coffin shipped to Rogers Funeral Home for his burial. On the other side of the spectrum, during the Depression, Pop was able to make “loans” to many of his neighbors in Brighton. He and my grandmother hardly ever recovered any of those debts. Nevertheless, their efforts were not in vain. Don’t believe in Karma – just the goodness of the Lord.
When we read of the Orton family’s commitment from their loved one’s last wish (before she passed), we recognized that desire – to do good. (I) never expected this reverence – guess I was just used to the way families maintained their own families’ sites. The way Daddy would go on Memorial Day (until his health failed) and look after my grandmother’s site as well as others. There are many of our relatives, including our great-grandparents buried at Lincoln. They paved the way for their descendants – we honor them by taking care of their sites. We’re mindful that Daddy as well as our grandparents left the family a legacy of service. Our parents and grandparents have left us valuable treasures; perhaps not necessarily financially, but a lasting legacy of faith and endurance to sustain the generations. Lincoln Cemetery services as a reminder of their sacrifices. The name Lincoln itself is a reminder of how our ancestors remembered and honored their past. Once again, we want to celebrate and thank God for the Orton family’s service and dedication in showing that “Black Lives” really do matter. ~ Respectfully submitted, Freda.
The replacement gravestone for Landsman John Hodges was installed in Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia, on December 30, 2015. We received the news from his descendant, Vivian Nicholson. John Hodges (1819-1885) served aboard the USS Lenapee during the Civil War, enlisting on April 22, 1864, and was the grandfather of Portsmouth native William Henry Nicholson, the first African American hired by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Vivian shared William’s story with us in a guest blog, which can be read here.