PFC Elliott Randolph White
“Funeral services for Pfc. Elliott R. White, who died in a traffic accident in Leghorn, Italy, were held on Friday, June 13, from the First Baptist Church with the Rev. A. L. James, pastor officiating.
Pfc. White met his death in the line of military duty while stationed in the European city on April 15 of this year, and a letter expressing the deepest sympathy of the chaplain who was with him at the time of his death was read during the ceremonies by the officiating minister after he gave a short sermon relative to the life of the deceased.
The pallbearers, both active and honorary, were ex-servicemen who had been acquaintances of Pfc. White.
Interment was at the Oaklawn cemetery with full military rites being rendered by firing squad and bugler from Fort Eustis. The firing squad was under the command of 1st Lieutenant James E. Nix. Members of the guard were Staff Sergeants Roland Carey, Albert J. Terry, Henry Gamble, Lee Scruggs; Privates First Class Herbert Griffin, Melvin Canaway and Henry Fort. Pfc. John H. Taylor served as bugler.
The flag was removed from the casket by Staff Sergeant Wilbur Hinton, who presented the emblem to the deceased’s father, the nearest of kin. Sergeant Hinton also accompanied the remains from New York to Suffolk.
Funeral arrangements were under the direction of A. L. James.”
Elliott Randolph White was born on June 10, 1926 in Nansemond County. He was the son of James Elliott White, and Jestenia Louise Hart White.1
Elliott was descended from both free born and enslaved African Americans. His paternal great-grandparents, Exum and Adeline Reid White, were free persons of color from Nansemond County, Virginia. His maternal great-grandparents, Robert Junius (Julius) Hart, Mariah Cooper Hart Rea (Ray), David “Dave” Vann and Eliza Warren Vann, were born enslaved in Maneys Neck, Hertford County, North Carolina.
In 1930, Elliott was documented in Suffolk’s Cypress Borough. The family resided at Lloyd Place. His father, James Elliott White, worked as a mailman for the U. S. Post Office, and his mother, Jestenia, was a teacher.2 In 1940, the family was documented in a modest home on Freeney Avenue. The home included father James Elliott, mail carrier, mother Jestenia, Elliott, aged thirteen, and his younger siblings, Lenora, twelve, Jestenia Louise, aged six, James, nine, and Louis, aged six.3
At the time of his war registration in 1944, Elliott was a resident of Suffolk’s Rosemont community, established in 1920 by the Nansemond Development Corporation, whose founding members rest in Oak Lawn Cemetery. According to military records, Elliott was five feet, seven inches tall, with a “light brown complexion, brown eyes, and black hair.” His draft card notes that Elliott was “a student in winter, Naval Base, Norfolk, Va., in summer,” and that he had a “large scar on (his) left arm from a burn.”4
By February of 1945, Elliott served in a military police company, one of the over three thousand African American troops stationed in Leghorn (Livorno), Tuscany, Italy, who provided critical support in the Peninsular Base section (Mediterranean Theater of Operations) during World War II. Finding more specific details on the duties of African American soldiers in this region of Italy greatly helped to place Elliott’s untimely death in a more appropriate historic context.5
Through research, I was surprised to discover that Elliott is a distant cousin of mine. We are both descended from the same ancestor, my paternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, Abram Vann (1817-1889) of Como, Hertford County, North Carolina.6 Elliott’s mother, Jestenia Louise Hart White, was Abram Vann’s great-granddaughter, through her mother Della (Adell) Vann Hart (ca. 1879-1959), and her grandfather, David “Dave” Vann (ca. 1856-1930).
This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled upon previously unknown relatives, and exemplifies one of the most critical aspects of preserving African American cemeteries and burial grounds: the re-establishment of ancestral family bonds and connections, many of which were severed as a result of centuries of slavery, and the ongoing social and economic legacies of Jim Crow segregation. I had no prior knowledge of Elliott Randolph White, nor his connection to my family, and I’m not sure if I would’ve had any other reason to explore his story, if not for his documented interment in Oak Lawn Cemetery.7 It’s interesting to reflect upon the fact that the graves of two of Elliott’s free born great-granduncles, David White (1827-1909) and Edwin Thomas White (ca. 1832-1911), were some of the first headstones I photographed in Oak Lawn over nine years ago.
Elliott’s father, James Elliott White, passed away on April 28, 1982, in Suffolk, Virginia. He was interred in Carver Memorial Cemetery, Suffolk, on May 4th, by the Crocker Funeral Home.8 Elliott’s mother, Jestenia Louise Hart White, passed away on November 25, 1943, and was interred in Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, on November 28th by the T. E. Cooke Funeral Home.9
- James Elliott White wed Jestenia Louise Hart on June 11, 1925, in Suffolk, Virginia. Per the marriage record, James was the son of Elliott and Minnie White. Jestenia Louise Hart, born in Chowan County, North Carolina, was the daughter of Starling Hart, and Della (Adell) Vann Hart. Several vital records differ on Jestenia’s place of birth, with some noting Como, Hertford County, North Carolina, and others noting Chowan County, North Carolina.
- Jestenia Louise Hart White was a graduate of Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia. “1930 U. S. Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 October 2020); Virginia, Nansemond, Cypress, Dist. 0005, p. 27, citing, “Year: 1930; Census Place: Cypress, Nansemond, Virginia; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0005; FHL microfilm: 2342185.”
- “1940 U. S. Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 October 2020); Virginia, Nansemond, Jericho-Lloyd Place, Dist. 62-6, p. 58, citing, “Year: 1940; Census Place: Jericho-Lloyd Place, Nansemond, Virginia; Roll: m-t0627-04278; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 62-6.”
- “U. S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947,” image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 March 2020), card for Elliott R. White, serial no. 422, Local Draft Board No. 1, Nansemond County, Virginia; citing, “Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.” Original source not cited.
- The New York Age (New York New York), 5 April 1947, p. 2, c. 7, image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2020).
- Abram Vann was born enslaved, and was one of three founding members of Mill Neck Baptist Church, Como.
- Elliott may have been interred, or his interment moved, to Suffolk’s Rosemont Cemetery.
- “Virginia, U. S., Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 November 2020), certificate image, James Elliott White, 28 April 1982, no. 168, citing, “Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.
- “Virginia, U. S., Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 November 2020), certificate image, Jestenia Louise White, 25 November 1943, no. 27627, citing, “Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.”
- “Thanatopsis,” or “a view of death,” is a poem written by William Cullen Bryant. The full poem may be viewed here.