Portsmouth, Virginia: When Decoration Day Parades led to the cemeteries…

Mount Calvary Cemetery Memorial Day Program, May 30, 1935. The Virginia Historical Society

Reflecting back on some of Portsmouth, Virginia’s early Decoration Day parades, when they led to the city’s oldest extant African American cemeteries: the historic Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (est. 1879) and Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912)…

The Memorial Day observance in Portsmouth greatly eclipsed the former celebrations. Promptly at 10:30 a.m., the procession headed by the Municipal Bank, followed by a firing squad of U. S. sailors, the Uniformed Rank of Pythians under command of Major J. T. Fisher, I. B. P. O. of Elks and other secret fraternities. A striking feature was the large number of females in the parade – the Woman’s Relief Corps, the Patriotic Daughters of the G. A. R. and about six hundred school children dressed in white middie suits. A company of boys carried a massive blanket of flowers which was later placed upon the grave of their former chiefton, Prof. Israel Chas. Norcom, this silent tribute attesting the fact that though he sleeps his memory still is green. Floral tributes were also placed upon the grave of Miss Serena A. Moseley.

The program was very impressive. Dr. W. B. Anderson, preside

Dr. E. H. Hunter delivered the principal address in which he extolled the deeds of the old soldiers and plead for a continued loyalty and patriotism for the American flag.

The singing of the patriotic choir was an enjoyable feature.

After taps were sounded the mounted section of the parade was driven to the Lincoln Cemetery, where the G. A. R. carried on appropriate exercises around the monument.

The Daughters of the G. A. R. received much praise for the splendid granite curbing which they had placed around the monument at a cost of $150.00.

The School Children Honor the Memory of Their Dead

Most of the children brought flowers which were arranged on a blanket and made into bouquets.

On the morning of the 30th the children assembled at their respective schools, formed a line of march headed by those bearing a blanket of flowers. They marched through Chestnut Street to High, thence to Effingham, joining the Grand Army Veterans in their march to the cemetery.

here they held memorial services at the graves of Prof. I. C. Norcom and Miss Serena Moseley, and decorated them with the flowers which they had brought.The Norfolk Journal and Guide, June 9, 1917


National Memorial Day will be celebrated in Portsmouth on May 30 with a parade and exercises at Mount Calvary Cemetery. The program will be as follows:

Song, “America,” public music, Metropolitan Band; prayer, Chaplain W. H. Harris; song, “Onward Christian Soldiers,”; Patriotic Choir; reading general orders, Commander G. A. R.; remarks, Commander S. A. W. V.; Song, Patriotic Choir; Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Stanley Carner; oration, Rev. E. E. Smith, A. B.; Strewing Flowers, music, “Star Spangled Banner,” public salute, Firing Squad, taps, benediction.The Norfolk Journal and Guide, May 28, 1927


Memorial day was observed appropriately in Portsmouth with a parade and exercises in (Mt.) Calvary Cemetery conducted by colored veterans organizations, including the Col. Charles Young Camp No. 13, U. S. W. V. and Daniel Atkins Post No. 13, 1118 V. F. W. and auxiliaries.

The parade formed on Queen Street at 1 o’clock, with the head of the column resting on Effingham Street. At 2 p.m. the column moved along Effingham Street to South, thence to Mount Calvary Cemetery, where exercises were held. John T. Fisher was grand marshall, and J. H. Green officiated as master of ceremonies.

At the conclusion of exercises in the cemetery, the parade re-formed and marched along South Street to Godwin, to County, to Effingham, and along that street to London  Street, where it disbanded.

The Rev. Harvey N. Johnson, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, delivered the memorial address. Other special features on the program included selections by the Metropolitan Band, decorating the graves with flowers, and a selection by the Norcom Fellowship Chorus.

The entire program consisted of the following: Hymn, “America,” by Norcom Fellowship Chorus; invocation, Rev. A. Gomer, pastor, Fifth Baptist Church; reading of general orders, Jas. A. Alston, Sr., V. D. G. Potomac; a selection, Metropolitan Band; commander’s address, Commander George Williams of V. F. W.; musical selection by the Norcom Fellowship Chorus; Lincoln Gettysburg Address, Mrs. Florence Lenora Blount; selection, Metropolitan Band; introduction of speaker, Attorney F. L. Wilson; memorial address; Rev. H. N. Johnson, pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church; strewing of flowers, J. H. Tann, officer of guard, and Will Cooper; “Star Spangled Banner,” Metropolitan Band; firing of volley, F. F. W. firing squad; taps, V. F. W. bugler; and benediction, Warren Chapman, chaplain.The Norfolk Journal and Guide, June 6, 1931


A gigantic parade will wind its way through the streets of Portsmouth next Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock when the Colonel Charles Young Camp No. 13, Spanish War Veterans, the Daniel Atkins Post No. 1811, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Girl and Boy Scout troops, lodges, bands, civic organizations, and the general public unite in a common observance of Memorial Day.

The parade will start at Effingham and Greet Streets, move to South Street, on Effingham and then proceed via South Street to Mt. Calvary Cemetery, here an impressive and appropriate program has been arranged by the committee-in-charge.

J. H. Green, of 922 Greet St., heads the committee in charge of the Memorial Day program in Portsmouth. Mr. Green is a Spanish-American and World War veteran. Other members of the committee includes Messrs. Albert Smith, Jr., Warren Chapman, Samuel Tabbs, John T. Fisher, M. A. Morris, Stanley Colden, H. Purdue, James Alston, Frank Proctor, and Professor W. E. Riddick.

The Rev. E. C. Johnson, of Portsmouth, will deliver the memorial address at the cemetery.The Norfolk Journal and Guide, May 27, 1933


Portsmouth will observe Memorial Day on Wednesday, May 30, with a street parade and ceremonies at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. The observance has been arranged under sponsorship of the Portsmouth Memorial Association, Charles A. Bowens, president.

Principal speaker at the cemetery rites will be Dr. Harvey N. Johnson, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church. The program will include remarks by Commander W. M. Edwards, Navy chaplain, stationed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

The street parade is scheduled to move out from the north end of Effingham street at 11 a.m. Included in the line of march will be four bands, including the Metropolitan Band, Norfolk County High School Band, Norcom High School Band and Our Lady of Victory School Band.

A contingent from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is also expected to participate, as well as numbers of marching clubs, fraternal organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other units. Chief marshal of the parade is Raymond A. Bogues, commander of the Sgt. William Harrison American Legion Post No. 190. Assistant marshals are: George Williams and W. G. Bray.

The line of march has been announced as follows: from the north of Effingham street to Gosport road, to Deep Creek boulevard to Lincoln cemetery. Returning, from Deep Creek boulevard to South street, to Godwin, to London, to Effingham, and disband.

In addition to Mr. Bowen, the other officers of the Portsmouth Memorial Association are: Fred R. Bowser, first vice-president Ernest L. Anthony, second vice-president; Mrs. Marion F. Troy, recording secretary, William T. Bryant, financial secretary; J. H. Green, treasurer; Samuel H. Thomas, chaplain; and Mrs. Edna Williams, reporter. The observance promises to be one of the most impressive of its kind held here in years.The Norfolk Journal and Guide, May 26, 1951

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