On Memorial Day, Reflecting on African-American History – The National Trust for Historic Preservation

First Memorial Day plaque Charleston SC Copyright Nadia Orton 2015
Plaque honoring the first Memorial Day in the United States. Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 6, 2015

Every May, the nation marks Memorial Day, the longstanding tradition we use to recognize fallen veterans. The holiday has its origins in “Decoration Day,” originally held in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, when thousands of former slaves, Union soldiers, and missionaries honored Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison and were subsequently buried in a makeshift mass grave.

Historian David Blight recounts that after the soldiers’ proper burials, a massive parade followed. Participants decorated the graves with flowers, and clergy delivered speeches to commemorate the fallen.

My personal introduction to Decoration Day began with oral histories provided by my family’s elders. In rural Tidewater, Virginia, they told stories of Decoration Day commemorations stretching back to the 1880s. Parades began in African-American communities and ended at local black cemeteries. Families and friends honored their ancestors through song and praise, while their graves were cleaned and re-decorated.

They had good reason to pay homage: Many veterans had returned from the front lines of war to become leaders in their communities, forming masonic lodges, burial societies, schools, churches, and cemeteries. These institutions formed the foundations of post-Civil War African-American communities, giving their communities potential for the very type growth and development African-Americans had been denied in slavery. READ MORE…

Memorials to United States Colored Troops: Pt. 1 – New Hanover County, North Carolina

Memorials to United States Colored Troops

A photo-essay series dedicated to the United States Colored Troops, and how they were remembered in contemporary news media

Pt. 1

New Hanover County, North Carolina

Wilmington National Cemetery, Pine Forest Cemetery

Pvt Geoge Berden Wilmington ND Copyright Nadia Orton 2014
Pvt. George Berden, Co D. 37th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Wilmington National Cemetery, Wilmington, NC

George E. Berden, the well known proprietor of a colored boarding house on North Water street, was found dead on the floor of his room yesterday morning, between 10 and 11 o’clock. Deceased had been under the treatment of a physician for the last ten years, but during the most of the time has been able to attend to his business. Wednesday night he was at a meeting of the J. C. Abbott Post No. 15, G. A. R., and was installed as quartermaster. He complained of feeling a little unwell and said he hoped the ceremonies of installation would be gotten through with as soon as possible. Being up so late the night previous, it was expected that he would sleep late yesterday morning, and it was not until the hour named that some one went to call him and found him dead. He had left his bed and dressed himself before the final summons came.

Deceased will be interred at the National cemetery, permission to that end having been obtained from the Secretary of War, Berden being a discharged soldier. He as about 42 years of age, and leaves a wife. — The Weekly Star, January 16, 1885

Found Dead – George E. Berden, colored, who kept a sailor’s boarding house on North Water street, between Chestnut and Mulberry, was found dead in his room this morning. He had been in feeble health for a considerable time, but was not considered in a dangerous condition and his death was a surprise to all his friends. He was a member of J. C. Abbott Post, No. 15, G. A. R., and was installed as Quartermaster of the Post last night. His remains will be interred in the National Cemetery. The deceased was about 42 years of age and leaves a wife but no children. — The Daily Review, January 8, 1885

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 18, 2014)

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