Alfred Collins Harris was born enslaved on February 22, 1849, near Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina. He was the son of William D. Harris (1815-1862), white, and Chloe Cope, African American, who was born enslaved, date unknown. On October 29, 1891, Alfred filed a petition in Franklin County Court, North Carolina, to legally change his surname to that of his biological father, William D. Harris.
“1st SC Infantry of African Descent – The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment was raised from sea island slaves living around Port Royal. Elements of the regiment were formed on Hilton Head in May 1862. In August 1862, the regiment was reorganized near Beaufort at the Smith plantation. It was commanded by the noted abolitionist Thomas W. Higginson who led the Regiment on raids along the Georgia coast. On Jan. 1, 1863, the regiment was formerly mustered into the United States Army. The regiment saw extensive service on the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Coasts. On Feb. 8, 1864, the regiment was redesignated as the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the United States Colored Troops. The regiment assisted in the occupation of Charleston, Savannah, Augusta and other points until it was mustered out on Jan. 31, 1866.”
Quite a humbling experience, standing before the gravesite of carpenter, fugitive slave, freedom-seeker, and abolitionist William Craft (ca. 1824-January 27, 1900). I almost missed it. The story of William and Ellen Craft’s escape from slavery is legendary. Read it today: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860).♥
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…
Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.