Portsmouth, Virginia: Update on one of Portsmouth’s “Harlem Hellfighters”

Gravestone of Pvt. Ollie Lee Snow. Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Photo courtesy Find-a-Grave user Leslie W.

We’re pleased to report that we now have a photo of Pvt. Ollie Lee Snow’s headstone. It was taken by Find-a-Grave volunteer Leslie Wickham, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), and she graciously allowed me to use it.

Pvt. Ollie Lee Snow, a Portsmouth, Virginia native, served during World War I. He was a member of the 369th Infantry, 93rd Division, the famed “Harlem Hellfighters.” He was featured in an earlier blog from last year, “In Their Own Words: Voices of African American WWI Veterans,” in recognition of Veterans Day. At the time, Pvt. Snow wasn’t listed in the Find-a-Grave database for Cypress Hills National, so I added the listing, and sent a photo request. Leslie fulfilled the request just a few weeks later. Thanks so much, Leslie!

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Suffolk, Virginia: Community meeting for Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885)

(This post originally appeared on The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation)

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.

(l-r) Francis McNair; Reginald H. Dirtion, President, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Otis Richards; Deacon Sam Jones, Suffolk, Virginia Disabled American Veterans (DAV) #5; Councilman Curtis Milteer; Rev. Oulaniece Saunders, Vice President, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Wilbur Holland, Jr., Treasurer, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett; Delegate C. E. (Cliff) Hayes, Jr. (VA House 77); Nadia K. Orton, Secretary/Historian, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation. 
Suffolk, Virginia, December 28, 2018.
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Suffolk, Virginia: United States Colored Troops of Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885)

(Originally posted on The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation)

Unidentified African American soldier in Union cavalry uniform with cavalry saber. Library of Congress.

Private Moses Randall – Company A, 38th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Pvt. Moses Randall Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton
Pvt. Moses Randall, Co. A, 38th U. S Colored Infantry. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2014. All rights reserved.
  • Born about 1832, Nansemond County, Virginia
  • Enlistment: January 5, 1864, Norfolk, Virginia
  • Muster: January 23, 1864, Norfolk, Virginia
  • Discharge: January 25, 1867, Indianola, Texas
  • Spouse: Ann Eliza Randall
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In Their Own Words: Voices of African American WWI Veterans

On Sunday, November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the technical end of World War I, was observed by our nation and many countries throughout the world. As with other major historical events, I viewed the day through the lens of a historian and genealogist. It can be quite an interesting enterprise; as a historian, you want to know all of the facts of an event, and as a genealogist, you’re eager to place your ancestors within the context of those events. 

Over the years, our family has located the grave sites of many of our ancestors that served in World War I. We’ve tracked them to historic African American cemeteries in Portsmouth, Richmond and Suffolk in Virginia, Buncombe, Franklin, Henderson, Hertford, and Warren counties in North Carolina, and Knoxville National Cemetery in Tennessee.

At times, whether simply visiting their gravesites, or planting flags, I’d find myself staring down at the stones, and wondering what their WWI experience was like. Sure, I could review the details of the various battles and engagements in books, or read first-person accounts from some of the more famous veterans, but those sources wouldn’t tell me what my ancestors thought, nor how they felt about the war.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about the WWI History Commission questionnaires, many of which have been or are currently being digitized by local and state libraries. A historical window into the minds and memories of long-deceased ancestors? Perfect!

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