Nadia Orton ’98 made a pledge to document her family lineage. It’s turned into a mission to preserve disappearing and discarded history
Nadia Orton ’98 steps carefully around concrete vaults and sunken spots where pine caskets have collapsed inside century- old graves, her knee-high camo boots laced tight.
“I’ve had snakes and stray dogs come out of holes like that,” Orton says, nodding at a grave split in two by a fallen tree branch. Her family insists on the snake boots, a walking stick, a companion.
They tell her, “We know you love history, but you’re not supposed to be part of it yet.”
So the boots are always in the car. So are the thin purple gardening gloves she pulls on to protect her hands from her own impatience to sweep aside pine needles and poison ivy and run a finger over the engravings there, thinned by weather and time.
It is cool out, but still Orton has had to stay home and rest up for five days in order to muster the energy for this tour of Oak Lawn, an unmarked black cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia. The lupus that dogged her at Duke is dragging on her still, after kidney failure and dialysis, and finally a transplant, but it was also her lupus that led her on this quest to preserve black and African-American gravesites. Continue reading…
Introducing Cpl. William Parks, a newly found African American veteran of the Civil War. Nadia Orton, historian and secretary of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation, first uncovered the gravestone of Cpl. Parks over Decoration Day (Memorial Day) weekend in 2018. Cpl. Parks was born about 1843 in Mobile, Alabama. He enlisted on May 5, 1865, at the Ridgeway Depot in Warren County, North Carolina. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as five feet, seven inches tall, with a “yellow” complexion, black eyes and hair. Cpl. Parks mustered in on May 5, 1865, at Washington, D. C. He was promoted to Corporal on June 1, 1865 by special order, and mustered out four months later on October 23rd, at Louisville, Kentucky.
Was Head of Bank – Many Citizens Join Family in Grief
Dr. W. T. Fuller, one of the leading physicians and businessmen of this section, died suddenly in his office in E. Washington street, here last Saturday. The exact cause of his death could not be learned.
Dr. Fuller was an academic graduate of Hampton Institute, Shaw University, Leonard Medical School, Raleigh, N. C. He came to this city from Danville, Va., and in a short time had built up a large practice. He was connected with many business ventures here. Chief among them was the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond, of which he was president. He became connected with this institution during its infancy and it has had a phenomenal success ever since. Today it is one of the most progressive banks of which the race can boast.
Dr. Fuller was in every sense a man who lived for his people. Always in the front ranks, he towered head and shoulders above the masses. No home into which he had not entered and administered to some member of this family. Few bedsides his loving hand and gentle voice, had not soothed and softened the pain which it was his pleasure to alleviate. The oldest citizens and those who knew him longest and best could not hide their sorrow. It is indeed a blow to the community.
He was fifty-five years of age, and leaves a loving wife and two daughters.
Funeral services were held at his home, 149 Pine street, Tuesday afternoon. The services were conducted by Rev. R. J. Butts. Burial was in his private lot in Oak Lawn Cemetery. The Mt. Vernon Lodge No. 48, A. F. and A. M., had charge of the remains.
Pictures from the community meeting held on December 28, 2018, at the East Suffolk Recreation Center. Those present included Delegate C. E. (Cliff) Hayes, Jr. (VA House Dist. 77), Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Councilman Curtis Milteer, Deacon Sam Jones, Suffolk Virginia Disabled American Veterans (DAV) #5, Otis Richards, and members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation: President Reginald H. Dirtion, Vice President Rev. Oulaniece Saunders, Treasurer Wilbur Holland, Jr., and Secretary/Historian Nadia K. Orton. Huge thanks to Francis McNair for all of her key assistance at the meeting, and a sincere “thank you” to all who attended in support of this important endeavor.