Recovering and Preserving African American Cemeteries – Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Pinewood Cemetery COPYRIGHT Nadia Orton
Pine Forest Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina

The reverence attached to cemeteries and burial grounds, which have long been considered sacred sites, is an example of enduring Africanisms and cultural tradition in the African American community. Burial grounds have always been regarded as places where ancestors could be properly honored and provided with the dignity, care, and respect in death that had often been denied them in life.

Interest in the study of my family tree has led me to over a dozen cemeteries throughout Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and helped reconstruct a family legacy spanning over 400 years. Cemeteries offer an important, tangible connection to history allowing closer interpretation of days past than most other sources can. Genealogists and family historians have long recognized the benefit of cemeteries in the study of family history and an increasing popular interest in genealogy has led to an increased focus on them.  READ MORE

In Their Own Words: Pvt. John E. Deans, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

African American Civil War Monument DC Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton
African American Civil War Memorial. Washington, D. C. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017

John E. Deans, of Company A, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, was born about 1845 near Murfreesboro, Hertford County, North Carolina. He enlisted at the (stated) age of eighteen on December 22, 1863, at Yorktown, Virginia, and mustered into service on the same day at Fort Monroe, Virginia. At the time of enlistment, he was described as five feet, six inches tall, with dark eyes, black hair, and a “yellow” complexion. John was appointed bugler on January 16, 1865. He mustered out of service on February 12, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

New Orleans, Louisiana: Cpl. John Pierce (ca. 1843-1936), 4th U. S. Colored Cavalry

Cpl. John Pierce, 4th Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry, Date unknown

Mr. John Pierce of New Orleans, La., who was 93 years of age, died at his residence, 1658 N. Johnson Street, on March 17. Mr. Pierce was a young man at the time of the war between the states and was very anxious to do his part to help give his people freedom. Having this as the main reason in mind he enlisted in the army of his own accord. He served from 1861 to 1865 as corporal of captain E. W. Bauges camp E Fourth Regiment.

Accomack County, Virginia: Charles Drummond, the ‘Giant of the Eastern Shore’

Grave of Charles Drummond (1861-1886), Accomack County, Virginia. Photo courtesy: Olive’s Branch, Findagrave. The inscription reads: “In memory of Charles Drummond, son of Spencer and Miriam Drummond, Col’d; Born Oct. 17, 1861; Died Sept. 20, 1886.”

Recently, I came across the story of Charles Drummond, a young, African American man from Accomack County, Virginia, known as the “Giant of the Eastern Shore.”

Stories of Old Nansemond: Frank Barnes, Pullman Porter, saves prominent Suffolk businessman

Pullman Porters, courtesy the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, via Timeline.

In 1907, Frank B. Barnes, a porter from Como, Hertford County, North Carolina, rescued Ashley Bassett Miner, a wealthy businessman, from certain death, and risked his own life in the process.

In Their Own Words: Cpl. Henry Jolly, 35th U. S. Colored Infantry (1865)

In December of 1865, Cpl. Henry Jolly, of the 35th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, penned a letter to the South Carolina Leader, an African American newspaper based in Charleston, South Carolina, in which he reflected on the racial abuse and hostility towards the freedmen and U. S. Colored Troops in postwar South Carolina.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 17, 2014, New Bern, North Carolina. All rights reserved.