The last tangible remnants of an African American community, resting in the shadow of luxury apartments…
Thomas H. Willliams
Mr. Thomas H. Williams, who was born October 10, 1830, in Pittsboro, N. C., died at his residence in Oberlin on January 11, 1898. He came to Raleigh in 1866 and in the fall of the same year moved to Oberlin, where he resided until his death. He was a carpenter, and for about thirty years was in the employ of the late Mr. Thomas H. Briggs. He enjoyed the confidence and respect of all of our citizens. His was a Christian life. He leaves a wife, six sons, two daughters and twelve grandchildren to mourn his loss. His funeral, which was largely attended by people of both races, was preached at the M. E. Church in Oberlin Wednesday of last week by Rev. R. H. W. Leak, assisted by Revs. McDonald and Nunn. He was an old and honored member of Excelsior Lodge of F. and A. Masons, and was buried with Masonic honors by the fraternity, M. W., James H. Young, Grand Master, at the request of the W. M., J. J. Worlds, officiating. We extend our sympathy to the bereaved ones. – The Gazette, January 22, 1898.
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, 2012. All rights reserved.