Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2018. All right reserved.
The headstones of United States Colored Troops interred in Grove Baptist Church cemetery have been cleaned up, though none were reset. The grave cleaning came in the midst of a renovation project of Grove Church’s parking lot.
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
When Nadia Orton’s kidneys were failing, she sent letters to friends and relatives in the hopes that someone could be a donor or help defray the cost. Orton’s great-aunt Philgrador responded with money from her church. So a few years later, when Aunt Phil asked on her deathbed that her family not be forgotten, Orton knew she had to find a way to honor her ancestors. The problem was that she didn’t know who they were, or where to find them.
As she started tracing her lineage and locating her ancestors’ final resting places in North Carolina and Virginia, Orton began to notice the state of black cemeteries. Many were overgrown, unprotected and unmapped. Seeing the condition of these sacred spaces sparked a passion for protecting them.