In Their Own Words: Voices of African American WWI Veterans

On Sunday, November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the technical end of World War I, was observed by our nation and many countries throughout the world. As with other major historical events, I viewed the day through the lens of a historian and genealogist. It can be quite an interesting enterprise; as a historian, you want to know all of the facts of an event, and as a genealogist, you’re eager to place your ancestors within the context of those events. 

Over the years, our family has located the grave sites of many of our ancestors that served in World War I. We’ve tracked them to historic African American cemeteries in Portsmouth, Richmond and Suffolk in Virginia, Buncombe, Franklin, Henderson, Hertford, and Warren counties in North Carolina, and Knoxville National Cemetery in Tennessee.

At times, whether simply visiting their gravesites, or planting flags, I’d find myself staring down at the stones, and wondering what their WWI experience was like. Sure, I could review the details of the various battles and engagements in books, or read first-person accounts from some of the more famous veterans, but those sources wouldn’t tell me what my ancestors thought, nor how they felt about the war.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about the WWI History Commission questionnaires, many of which have been or are currently being digitized by local and state libraries. A historical window into the minds and memories of long-deceased ancestors? Perfect!

Continue reading

Nashville, Tennessee: Archaeologists survey Nashville development site for Civil War fort, African-American graves

Fort Negley. Library of Congress

 

Interesting story on the reclamation of African American history in Nashville, Tennessee, courtesy of the Associated Press.

 

Archaeologists are rolling high-powered radar gear through the thick outfield weeds and empty parking lots of an abandoned Nashville baseball stadium, looking for hints of unmarked graves of slaves and free black men who died building the war-battered fort next door.

The findings could prove pivotal for Fort Negley, one of the most significant Civil War sites for African-Americans and the focus of the latest clash between historic preservation and growth in a city with a complicated racial past.

The booming capital, which adds about 100 residents a day, is considering plans to demolish the ballpark for 21 acres of housing, shops, space for artists and musicians, and a park.

Dilapidated Greer Stadium, a minor-league baseball park from 1978 until 2014, sits where the fort’s black laborers toiled, lived and died a century and a half ago, and where 50 to 800 workers are thought to be buried. But there’s little in the written record about how they were laid to rest.

For more:  Archaeologists survey Nashville development site for Civil War fort, African-American graves


Fort Negley was named a threatened cultural landscape earlier this year. In August, Fort Negley Park launched a social media project to honor the 2, 771 African American laborers who built the fort and other Civil War fortifications in Nashville. Via their twitter page, the names of the men impressed into service are being released in individual tweets. The project will culminate in mid-December. A complete, digitized index of all laborers, free and enslaved, and names of associated slave owners may be found here. ♦