Every May, the nation marks Memorial Day, the longstanding tradition we use to recognize fallen veterans. The holiday has its origins in “Decoration Day,” originally held in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, when thousands of former slaves, Union soldiers, and missionaries honored Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison and were subsequently buried in a makeshift mass grave.
Historian David Blight recounts that after the soldiers’ proper burials, a massive parade followed. Participants decorated the graves with flowers, and clergy delivered speeches to commemorate the fallen.
My personal introduction to Decoration Day began with oral histories provided by my family’s elders. In rural Tidewater, Virginia, they told stories of Decoration Day commemorations stretching back to the 1880s. Parades began in African-American communities and ended at local black cemeteries. Families and friends honored their ancestors through song and praise, while their graves were cleaned and re-decorated.
They had good reason to pay homage: Many veterans had returned from the front lines of war to become leaders in their communities, forming masonic lodges, burial societies, schools, churches, and cemeteries. These institutions formed the foundations of post-Civil War African-American communities, giving their communities potential for the very type growth and development African-Americans had been denied in slavery. READ MORE…
A photo-essay series dedicated to the United States Colored Troops, and how they were remembered in contemporary news media
West Point Cemetery, Calvary Cemetery
“Civil War Veteran Dies at Age of 94 — Cornelius Garner, one of the city’s oldest residents, passed away on Sunday morning after a long illness.
He was within less than a month of being ninety-five years of age, having been born in St. Mary’s County, Md., on February 11, 1846.
He was one of the last two surviving members of the Local Grand Army of the Republic organization.
He joined the Federal army upon his escape from slavery at the age of eighteen years. Following his discharge from the army, he had worked as a farmer, seaman, oyster-shucker, and landscape gardener.
Mr. Garner’s funeral was held Wednesday afternoon at two-thirty o’clock from the First Baptist Church of which he had been a member for more than sixty-nine years. The eulogy will be delivered by the pastor, the Rev. Richard H. Bowling.
Military honors were paid the deceased by the local Spanish-American War Veterans. Men of this group will also serve as active pallbearers, along with members of the local Star of the East Lodge of Odd Fellows and the St. Jon’s Lodge of Good Samaritans.
The connection of the deceased with these organizations dates back a full sixty years.
BURIED IN CALVARY
One of the interesting coincidences regarding the deceased is that he will be interred in Calvary Cemetery just outside of which is a large roadside marker of the site as a camp for Federal soldiers during the Civil War.
Mr. Garner himself was stationed in this camp as a young army recruit and many a day marched from there down to Bute St. and past the small brick church that then occupied the site of the present First Baptist Church.
Mr. Garner is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary Davis Garner, formerly of Portsmouth. Other survivors include nieces and nephews.
According to his pastor, secret plans had been on foot to have the congregation give a surprise celebration of Mr. Garner’s birthday in consideration both of his advanced age and his being the oldest surviving male member.”
“Comrade Charles Grandy, Norfolk’s last surviving colored veteran of the War Between the States, will not participate in the Memorial Day celebration this year. Death overtook him just twenty days before the annual celebration, and a few months before he reached his 100th birthday.
Mr. Grandy passed away on Saturday at his home, 609 Smith Street to join his old friend comrade Cornelius Garner who died last year, and his brother Willis, whose passing Friday night preceded his by a scant few hours.
In impressive double funeral services which were conducted at St. John A. M. E. Church for the Messrs. Grandy by the Rev. H. M. Shields, Comrade Grandy’s long career came to an end.
Pays Tribute to Life
Taking his text from Mark: 13-35, the speaker paid tribute to the church life of the deceased and point out the fact that the late Mr. Grandy was only 47 years younger than the A. M. E. connection.
The deceased was accorded full military honors with members of the United Spanish American War Veterans with Veterans of Foreign Wars serving as honorary and active pall-bearers.
Born as a slave on the old Cook plantation in Camden, N. C., January 31, 1842, young Grandy picked cotton and plowed corn with the other slaves, but one day he stole up the river to Hampton Roads to join the Union forces.
(After the war Mr. Grandy became a foreman down at Great Bridge and during that time helped to build his home on Smith street, and the first building owned by St. John A. M. E. Church.
But his greatest pleasure came from recounting his experiences as acting general in the G. A. R. Upon his suggestion, the annual convention was held in Springfield, Ill., last August and he left his sick bed to make the trip.
His niece Mrs. Charleston who has been his nurse for the past eight years, tried to discourage all plans for the trip, and in a final effort, asked Comrade Grandy just what he was going to do in case something happened.
“Suppose you get sick on the train?” she said.
“Well, Hale will know before you,’ replied the old soldier as he climbed aboard the train for Springfield.
He repeated incidents of what last convention often and always told about his visit to Abraham Lincoln’s grave.
“When I found it I wept for joy,” he was accustomed to saying, “and I just stretched out on that grave and went to sleep.”
He was the true soldier up to the very last and always insisted upon receiving his company downstairs because coming up to his bedroom made him “feel like sick.”
This same spirit was demonstrated several years ago when he refused to ride in the car which had been provided for the veterans. He walked about ten city blocks before he collapsed in the wheelchair which was being pushed behind him.”
(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2015)
“Mr. Anthony A. Portlock one of Norfolk’s best known and most estimable citizens who has been ailing at his residence on Johnson Avenue, for sometime and who had sufficiently recovered to be able to resume his duty in connection with an office in the Maryland was taken suddenly ill Wednesday evening last from which he never rallied, death claiming him as a victim about 12 o’clock his funeral took place Sunday afternoon from the Bank St. Baptist at 2:30, Rev. H. H. Mitchell, D. D., the pastor, officiating, assisted by several of the local clergymen. Calloiux Post, No. 2, of which the deceased was a member attended the funeral in body; Dahlgreen, 4; Shaw 5, and Silas Fellow, 7, of Portsmouth, united with Callioux Post in respect to the deceased. The interrment was in West Point Cemetery, the remains being followed to their last resting place by a host of friends. The deceased was a consistent Christian for forty years. He left several children, Messrs. L. H. Portlock, Randall Portlock, Miss Nina Portlock and Mrs. Mary ——; and his wife Mrs. Mary Portlock and another young son to mourn their loss.” — Richmond Planet, 1898
“The colored G. A. R. Posts of Norfolk and Portsmouth attended the funeral Sunday of Anthony Portlock, a well known colored man.” – The Norfolk-Virginian, February 1, 1898
(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 30, 2012)
“Rev. Marshall Land, one of Norfolk’s most prominent and influential citizens, and a member of those fast depleting ranks of the Grand Army of the Republic, an old settler in the town, died at his residence at the corner of Goff and Bolton streets, Saturday, June 30, at 12:15 o’clock, in his 75th year.
Rev. Land had been in declining health for some time, but with strong constitutional powers, he remarkably withstood his ailments and the bearing down of the infirmities of age, until about two weeks before his death when he was forced to take to his bed.
Although, having resigned from actively holding pastorates for more than a dozen years ago, upon the advice of his physician on account of a throat infection, Rev. Land for forty years previous to that time had been a power in the Baptist ministry and held enviable influence in the denomination until the day of his death.
Built Several Churches
He founded a number of churches in Norfolk county years before Norfolk city comprised that section where his home was. He built a church in Shouler’s Hill, one in Bower’s Hill and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Norfolk county, and pastored these charges for several years.
Rev. Land had been a member of the First Baptist Church of this city, for over 49 years and would have celebrated his 50th year membership there in September. The congregation under the leadership of pastor R. H. Bowling was at the time of his death planning to give him a grand surprise celebration on his fiftieth anniversary as a member of the church.
Marshall Land practically settled Barboursville, having been one of the first residents in that section, it was thru the great respect that the most influential white citizens of Norfolk city and county held for him, he was able to aid any number of families to become home owners in Barboursville.
In this respect his civic pride never waned. He always urged those whom he knew to buy homes and he lived to see what was a sparse settlement when he moved there, to become a fine residence section with colored home owners.
Member School Board
Besides preaching the gospel, building churches and going among his people as an apostle of home ownership, Rev. Land found time in his earlier days to take a hand now and then in Norfolk county politics. That he was a man of large influence was recognized by those around the county courthouse, and to be in the favor of Marshall Land was a coveted desire of young aspirants for county offices. He was made a member of Norfolk County School Board in those days when his residence sat in the county and many of the teachers owed their appointments to Rev. Land’s influence.
An impressive echo from those days when Negroes were in the midst of the political arena in Norfolk county was the appearance of Lawyer R. H. Bagby, white, of Portsmouth, at the funeral of Rev. Marshall Land. Lawyer Bagby was, too, one time a power in county politics.
Rev. Land’s funeral was held Tuesday at the First Baptist Church. Rev. J. M. Armistead, dean of the Baptist Ministry in Tidewater, and pastor of Zion Baptist Church, Portsmouth, delivered the funeral sermon. Dr. Armistead stated that when he came to this section 45 years ago Rev. Marshall Land was one of the first Baptist ministers he met here.
A large crowd attended the funeral. Rev. Armistead was assisted by Dr. Bowling, pastor of First Baptist. Eulogies were read by Rev. C. C. Somerville, on behalf of the Tidewater Ministerial Alliance; Rev. Saunders, of Princess Anne County, and a former pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church here; Rev. Metz, Rev. Black, former and present pastors of Shiloh respectively; Andrew Young, deacon of a church built by Rev. Land; Attorney R. H. Bagby, of Portsmouth.
Solos were sung by Mr. Lawrence Harrison, Mr. Paul Langley and Madame Wimberly.
Eastern Light Lodge of Masons and Grand Army of the Republic, both of which Rev. Land was a member, held ritualistic services at the bier. The deceased was one of the oldest members of the lodge.
He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Sophia Land; four children, Mrs. Marcella Paige, Mrs. Ella Fauckland, Mr. Russell Land, of New York city, and attorney Walter H. Land, of this city, and 14 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
A number of white friends of the deceased attended the funeral. Interment was in Calvary Cemetery, under the direction of undertaker W. C. Baker.”
(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 23, 2015)
“The funeral of Mr. Daniel Langley, who died at his home on East Brambleton avenue Tuesday, will be held at St. John’s A. M. E. Church, of which he had been a member for 50 years Friday at 2 o’clock.
Mr. Langley was 84 years of age, was one of Norfolk’s oldest and best known citizens. He had been in declining health for about ten years. He was a Civil War Veteran and an active member of the G. A. R.
For years Mr. Langley conducted a shoe repair shop on Charlotte street, giving up that occupation on account of failing health and later entering the Navy Yard.
He is survived by a brother, Mr. St. Paul Langley; sister, Mrs. Lucile Proctor and a foster-daughter, Mrs. Sallie T. Dickey, all of Norfolk.”