My family and I would like to have this opportunity to honor our ancestors and to thank the Orton Family for their dedication to preserve the African American gravesites in the City of Portsmouth.
Last year, when my Dad, Frederick Walker, passed away, our family was conscious of previous years of neglect at Lincoln Cemetery. Recently, we learned that the Orton family is advocating for the preservation of the cemetery. They’ve chosen to take this arduous task and we are most grateful. When my Dad passed, the family and I were mindful of the number of Brothers and Sisters that he had eulogized at Lincoln Cemetery as well as many others. As a Mason Worship Leader, he was honored to serve in white apron and gloves and respected the passing of his Mason Brothers and Eastern Star Sisters who were being buried. Daddy solemnly and eloquently spoke the Orations over “many a gravesite.” The families of those Brethren were comforted with his passionate words. I can envision his say “….we are but a vapor.”
“You had to be good….you had to be better.” These words were spoken by Mr. John Richard Johnson, Jr., reflecting on his days as a Montford Point Marine, the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Johnson recently in Chesapeake, Virginia.
An affable host, Mr. Johnson was, at the time of the interview, just shy of his eighty-eighth birthday. He was born in 1926, on the 31st of October, or “Goblin Day,” as he humorously refers to it. A native of Scotland Neck, in Halifax County, North Carolina, he’s the son of John Richard Johnson, Sr., and Sallie Mae Arrington. He was pleasantly surprised that I knew Scotland Neck; I told him I’d studied my family’s genealogy for many years and had ancestors from various counties in North Carolina, including Halifax, Warren, Vance, Hertford, and Franklin. Smiling, he went on, and told me about his mother and father. John Richard Sr., “a deeply religious, praying man” as described by Mr. Johnson, was the son of Burgess and Rosetta Davis Johnson. His mother, Sallie Mae, was one of seven children, with four brothers and two sisters. The family lived next door to Ephraim Mutts, Jr., who was an undertaker for the community. Mr. Mutts had two daughters and two sons that were about Mr. Johnson’s age growing up.