Assisting grassroots efforts to preserve a historical, African American institution of Suffolk, Virginia
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This post also appears on African American Cemeteries of Richmond Virginia
The scourge of writer’s block was an unwelcome visitor this week, and thumbing through newspaper archives seemed the only remedy for sheer frustration. However, an interesting obituary in the Richmond Planet caught my attention. It featured a brief summary of the life of Mr. Valentine Griffin, an aged and much respected figure in Richmond’s African American community, who passed away on March 16, 1894.
Born in the Yadkin area of (what is now) Chesapeake, Virginia, Lillian was the daughter of Esau Baines (1878-1967), and Nancy E. Williams (1886-1981). Lillian graduated from I. C. Norcom High School in 1924, and in 1925, enrolled in the Dixie Hospital Training School for Nurses (est. 1891), on the campus of Hampton University. The treasurer of her senior class, Lillian was a proud representative of Portsmouth’s Truxtun community when she graduated from the Dixie School for Nurses in 1928. As the Daily Press reported, the senior class motto was “Not for ourselves, but for the whole world.”
After graduation, Lillian served as a maternity nurse in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1932, she was appointed the official tuberculosis nurse for Portsmouth’s African American community by the City of Portsmouth. Lillian’s daily responsibilities included door-to-door home health visits, where she supplied information and care to those who were sick, and provided comfort for families. Unfortunately, it was a short post, as she succumbed to complications from surgery for a serious ear infection, and died at Kings Daughters Hospital in Portsmouth on January 11, 1933. She was twenty-eight years old.
As the New Journal and Guide reported, her death came as a shock to Portsmouth’s African American community. Members of the Tidewater Nurses Association attended her funeral, which was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and presided over by Rev. Harvey N. Johnson. Portsmouth’s first African American female funeral director, Nancy Thomas Wheeler, performed the hymn “The Vacant Chair.”
Ms. Baines rests in the Baines Family plot in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, less than fifteen feet from busy Deep Creek Boulevard. ♠