“A new feature in the memorial observances in this city was inaugurated by the colored people, who turned out in full force to do honor to the soldier dead of their race buried at Laurel Cemetery on the Belair road. Ample preparations had been made for the event under the auspices of Post No. 7 G. A. R., composed of colored soldiers, aided by the colored citizens generally. The result , it is believed, fully realized the expectations of those most intimately connected with the affair, thought he distance of the cemetery from the centre of the city and the intense heat of the day were great drawbacks.
In preparing for the procession, large numbers of the colored people of all ages and both sexes gathered as early as one o’clock P. M. at Douglass Institute, on Lexington street, and by two o’clock there must have been several thousand persons on hand at the headquarters of Post No. 7 G. A. R., and at the time appointed Post Commander A. Ward Handy ordered the procession to be formed, which was done in the following order: Chief Marshal Cyrus M. Diggs; Capt. Murray’s Brass Band; Post No. 7, one hundred men who had served in the army; Captain G. Hackett, marshal of civilians; citizens in dark dress and white gloves; orphans’ car, with thirty orphans of colored soldiers from the Catholic and Methodist asylums, the whole ending with a long line of carriages and vehicles of every description. The route of the procession was from Saratoga to Calvert, to Madison, to Gay, to the Laurel Cemetery. At the corners of all the streets on the route of the procession hundreds of persons had congregated to witness the demonstration.
Gray Map of Baltimore City (1876) Digital Maryland
“The burial ground is situated beyond the tollgate, on the right hand side of the Belair road, beyond the Hebrew cemetery, or about five minutes’ walk from the terminus of the city passenger railroad. The grounds include perhaps thirty or forty acres, enclosed with a picket fence and laid off with two main drives and several walks. The entrance is through an archway of brick, rough cast, flanked by offices and keeper’s house at the sides, similar to other cemeteries near the city. The place has been used but a few years, apparently for burial purposes, as the lots do not seem to have many tenants; the trees are young and do not afford sufficient shade, but time will remedy that; a few more trees, however, would greatly improve the looks of the grounds.1 – Near the centre of the cemetery is a rough-cast mausoleum, for the temporary resting place of the dead, and to the left of this structure, on the west side of the grounds, are buried. In two or three long rows, some three hundred colored soldiers, who died in and around Baltimore during the war. All the graves are marked with painted headboards, bearing the names, regiment, date of death, &c., of the soldiers, and show a proper degree of care and reverence for the memories of those who sleep below. A stand, without decorations, was erected in front of the rows of graves, for the ceremony of the day.
Before noon parties of colored people commenced to arrive at the cemetery, in anticipation of the ceremonies, which were not announced to come off until 4 ½ o’clock. The interval, however, was employed in seeking cool places and the enjoyment of refreshments provided. A number of enterprising colored ice-cream and cake merchants had opened stalls for the sale of refreshments in anticipation of the wants of the sweltering crowd that came afterwards. They were well rewarded with patronage. There was only one refreshment stand inside the grounds.
By two o’clock Gay street and the Belair road were thronged with men, women and children tolling through the intense heat to the rendezvous. Crowds of carriages and vehicles were also on the way, and the stream of people continued for several hours. Many of the wealthier colored people turned out handsomely in hacks with their families, but no vehicles were admitted within the cemetery, and during the entire day there were not a dozen white persons present at any one time. The very best order prevailed everywhere, though there was at times some confusion at the entrance, where the constantly-arriving vehicles blocked up the way, giving employment to several policemen on duty there, but whose services were not called into requisition, except in this occasionally necessary work.
On arriving at the cemetery it was almost impossible for the procession to gain admittance, on account of the great number of persons who had gone out early in the morning. There could have been not less than ten thousand people on the spot, and every available place in the cemetery was occupied. As soon as the stand for the accommodation of the speakers, and invited guests was occupied, the ceremonies were conducted by John W. Cephus, chairman of the committee of arrangements, according to the programme, as follows:
Dirge, by the Seventy Regiment band; ode, ‘America,’ by the choirs; prayer by Rev. N. B. Sterret; ode, by the choirs; oration by the Post Commander, A. W. Handy; anthem, by the choirs; music, by Murray’s Band; address, by John H. Butler; anthem, by the choirs; address, by Comrade I. D. Oliver; anthem, by the choirs; address, by Col. Wm. H. Saunders; decoration of the graves; benediction by Bishop Wayman.
The vocal music, which was very fine, was conducted by George Thomas and Wm. H. Brown. The floral tributes were in profusion, but the distribution was hastened by the threatening storm. The procession was reformed however, and reached the place of starting before the storm broke forth.” 2
For more information on the history, and ulitmate destruction of Laurel Cemetery see:
- Searching the Past – On behalf of dead, an amateur sleuth pursues buried truth (1991)
- Rediscovering the African-American graveyard beneath a Baltimore shopping center (2018)
- The Grim History Hidden Under a Baltimore Parking Lot – After an African-American cemetery was bulldozed, families wondered what happened to the graves (2019)
- The Laurel Cemetery Project of Baltimore (2019)
Many of the United States Colored Troops originally buried in Laurel Cemetery were eventually re-interred in Loudon Park National Cemetery, Baltimore. (Photos: September 27, 2014. N. K. Orton)
- Laurel Cemetery was established in 1852.
- “The Colored People’s Memorial.” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 1 June 1869, p. 1, c. 4; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 20 May 2020).