The obituary of Thomas Sledge
“The body of Thomas Sledge, colored, formerly of Enfield, was returned from North Africa three weeks ago in connection with the Army’s program for reburial of war dead. The body was reinterred at the New Colored Cemetery here on Sunday afternoon, June 13.
Sledge entered the Army in May 1942, was was sent to Fort Bragg where he received his basic training. He served for a short time on the West Coast with the Army Service Forces before being sent overseas in January 1943, where he saw action in the North African campaign.
He was already the holder of the Purple Heart when he was killed while operating an anti-aircraft gun during an air raid on March 21, 1943.
Sledge, the son of Jimmy and Mamie Sledge of Enfield, is survived by his parents, four brothers, Raymond, Lewis, Harrison and Bobby, and one sister, Edith Mae.”ROCKY MOUNT ELEGRAM, JULY 8, 1948
Thomas Sledge was born on February 23, 1919, in Enfield, Halifax County, North Carolina.1 I located him in the 1920 Census, Halifax County, just outside of Enfield, near Tillery. Thomas, only ten months old, per the census, lived with his grandmother, Agnes, mother Mamie, maternal uncles Ananias, George, Kimball, and maternal aunts Addie, Augusta, and Fannie.2 By 1930, the family had moved to the Town of Enfield, to a residence on Franklin Street. Thomas’ mother Mamie, the head of the household, worked as a laundress. Thomas was the eldest of four children, including brothers Raymond, and Lewis, and little sister Edith Mae.3
By 1940, Thomas had secured work as a messenger with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. His mom, Mamie, continued to work as a laundress. Younger siblings Edith Mae, Raymond, Louis, and Harrison were also documented in the household.4
Thomas enlisted on May 27, 1942, at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, North Carolina. Thomas’ younger brother Raymond, and maternal uncle Kimball, enlisted in the Army as well, in 1943, and 1941, respectively.5
The Jim Crow segregation that defined every aspect of their lives in Halifax County followed the Sledges after enlistment. The brothers and their uncle trained in segregated camps at Fort Bragg, named after sugar plantation and slave owner General Braxton Bragg (1817-1873), a native of Warren County, North Carolina.6
The Sledges, like most African American serviceman, were largely barred from any significant opportunities to train and work in the defense industry. Once sent overseas, Thomas and family were put to work building and repairing roads, manning troop transports, and clearing “battle zones of debris, and dead and wounded soldiers,” similar to the tasks assigned many African American troops during the Civil War and World War I.7
Despite unrelenting racism, African American troops proved their valor, again. Thomas was one of the many African Americans who earned a Purple Heart during the North Africa Campaign. Ironically, just two months after Thomas’ death, several African American war correspondents publicly questioned whether the War Department was engaged in a deliberate suppression of stories of African American troops in combat.8
Thomas Sledge was documented in a list North Carolina casualties published in October, 1943. His mother, Mamie, was documented as the next of kin.9
Thomas’ brother, Raymond, and maternal uncle KImball, both survived the war, and returned home to Enfield in 1945. Raymond was discharged with the rank of Private First Class, and was awarded the EAME Medal (European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign). KImball Sledge was discharged with the rank of Corporal, and was awarded over five medals, including the Victory Medal. The Pittsburgh Courier, the first newspaper to feature the historic “Double V” slogan (victory against fascism abroad, and against systemic racism and inequality at home), mentioned Kimball’s promotion to Corporal in 1944. Note the double “V” at the bottom of the article.
After he returned to Enfield, Raymond married Miss Ruth James on October 6, 1947,10 Raymond passed away in 1995, and is interred in Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York. Thomas’ maternal uncle Kimball never married. He passed away in Richmond, Virginia in 1973. He is interred in Cedar View Cemetery, Enfield.11
After Thomas’ funeral, Mamie Sledge purchased a small home on Dixie Street, Enfield, her primary residence until her death in 1966.12 Per the death certificate, Mamie was interred in Enfield Memorial Cemetery, Enfield.13
Thinking on the interments of the Thomas Sledge family, I was curious about Cedar View and Enfield Memorial cemeteries. I’ve passed through the area frequently, following up on our Tillery/Crowell ancestry in Halifax County, but I’ve yet to visit either cemetery. According to Halifax County property records, Enfield Memorial, a two-plus acre cemetery, is currently owned by First Baptist Church, Enfield. Cedar View Cemetery, the last resting place of Kimball Sledge, is located just behind Enfield Memorial.
But what of Thomas Sledge’s burial? Mamie Sledge ordered a headstone for Thomas on August 15, 1948, and indicated that he would be buried in Enfield’s “New Cemetery.”14 Per the obituary, Thomas was interred in the “new negro cemetery” in 1948. I suspect that Thomas is interred in Cedar View, with his maternal uncle Kimball. I located a plat map of Cedar View Cemetery, filed in Halifax County Court in 1949. The five acre cemetery remains privately owned by members of the Mann Family.
- “U. S., World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947,” images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 Jul 2020), card for Thomas Sledge, serial no. 269, Local Draft Board 2, Enfield, Halifax County, North Carolina; citing, ” First Registration Draft Cards, 1940 – 1945 (North Carolina). 414 boxes. NAI: 5557837. Records of the Selective Service System, 1926–1975, Record Group 147. National Archives and Records Administration, St Louis, Missouri.”
- Ancestry, “1920 Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : accessed 20 July 2020), North Carolina, Halifax, Enfield, dist. 0036, p. 27, citing, “Year: 1920; Census Place: Enfield, Halifax, North Carolina; Roll: T625_1303; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 36.”
- Ancestry, “1930 Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020); North Carolina, Halifax, dist. 0006, p. 4, citing, “Year: 1930; Census Place: Enfield, Halifax, North Carolina; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0006; FHL microfilm: 2341430.”
- Ancestry, “1940 Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020); North Carolina, Halifax, Enfield, dist. 42-8, p. 32, citing, “Year: 1940; Census Place: Enfield, Halifax, North Carolina; Roll: m-t0627-02923; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 42-8.”
- “U. S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020), entries for Thomas Sledge, Raymond Sledge, and Kimball Sledge, citing, “National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland, USA; Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946; NAID: 1263923; Record Group Title: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789-ca. 2007; Record Group: 64; Box Number: 07803; Reel: 202.”
- In the 1860 Census and Slave Schedule, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, Braxton Bragg was documented as a farmer, in possession of real estate valued at $120,000, and a personal estate worth $92,000. One hundred and ten enslaved men, women, and children, were attributed to his estate. Bragg’s sugar plantation, “Bivouac,” included fourteen “slave houses.” Sources: HESS, EARL J. Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy. University of North Carolina Press, 2016. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469628769_hess. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020; Ancestry, “1860 Census and Slave Schedule,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020), Louisiana, Lafourche Parish, Ward I, citing, “Year: 1860; Census Place: Ward 1, Lafourche, Louisiana; Page: 148; Family History Library Film: 803413.”
- Trotter, William Jr. “From a Raw Deal to a New Deal?” To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans. Kelly, Robin D. G., and Earl Lewis, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- The Chicago Defender (Chicago, Illinois); 22 May 1943, p. 3, Proquest Historical Newspapers (https://about.proquest.com/ : accessed 20 July 2020).”
- The Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, North Carolina), 21 October 1943, p. 9, c.6; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 20 July 2020); The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina); 23 October 1943, p. 3, c. 6; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : 20 July 2020).”
- Halifax County, North Carolina, Marriage Register (1829-1980), Raymond Sledge-Ruth James, 6 October 1947, image, “North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020); citing, “North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.”
- “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020), certificate image, Kimball Sledge, 20 July 1973, no. 2803, citing, “Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.”
- Halifax County deeds, various. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
- “North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020), certificate image, Mamie Sledge, 17 August 1966, no. 26450, citing, “North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, North Carolina; North Carolina Death Certificates.”
- “U. S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 July 2020), entry for Thomas Sledge, Enfield New Cemetery, between Rocky Mount and Weldon. North Carolina; citing, “Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1941. Microfilm publication M1916, 134 rolls. ARC ID: 596118. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Applications for Headstones, compiled 01/01/1925 – 06/30/1970, documenting the period ca. 1776 – 1970 ARC: 596118. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.”