Monthly Archives: January 2016
Guest post by Freda Walker Moore
My family and I would like to have this opportunity to honor our ancestors and to thank the Orton Family for their dedication to preserve the African American gravesites in the City of Portsmouth.
Last year, when my Dad, Frederick Walker, passed away, our family was conscious of previous years of neglect at Lincoln Cemetery. Recently, we learned that the Orton family is advocating for the preservation of the cemetery. They’ve chosen to take this arduous task and we are most grateful. When my Dad passed, the family and I were mindful of the number of Brothers and Sisters that he had eulogized at Lincoln Cemetery as well as many others. As a Mason Worship Leader, he was honored to serve in white apron and gloves and respected the passing of his Mason Brothers and Eastern Star Sisters who were being buried. Daddy solemnly and eloquently spoke the Orations over “many a gravesite.” The families of those Brethren were comforted with his passionate words. I can envision his say “….we are but a vapor.”
My father’s mother, Annie Newton, and her husband, Linwood Newton, are also buried at Lincoln. Mommie Annie served for many years as Secretary for her Eastern Star Lodge. Back in the day, Daddy Lin served as a Pianist who travelled to many Churches in Portsmouth and Suffolk. My mother’s parents are also buried at Lincoln – Ella Patterson and her husband, William Patterson. Pop served and was a Veteran in World War I. Before “Toot” passed away, we promised her that we would never sell her home. You see, when Pop passed away in ’59, it was difficult for our grandmother to maintain her house, but by God’s Grace, she was able to keep it.
When Pop was alive, he was called “The Mayor of Brighton.” He was a man literally “larger than life.” Upon his funeral, my grandmother, because of his size, had to have a custom made coffin shipped to Rogers Funeral Home for his burial. On the other side of the spectrum, during the Depression, Pop was able to make “loans” to many of his neighbors in Brighton. He and my grandmother hardly ever recovered any of those debts. Nevertheless, their efforts were not in vain. Don’t believe in Karma – just the goodness of the Lord.
When we read of the Orton family’s commitment from their loved one’s last wish (before she passed), we recognized that desire – to do good. (I) never expected this reverence – guess I was just used to the way families maintained their own families’ sites. The way Daddy would go on Memorial Day (until his health failed) and look after my grandmother’s site as well as others. There are many of our relatives, including our great-grandparents buried at Lincoln. They paved the way for their descendants – we honor them by taking care of their sites. We’re mindful that Daddy as well as our grandparents left the family a legacy of service. Our parents and grandparents have left us valuable treasures; perhaps not necessarily financially, but a lasting legacy of faith and endurance to sustain the generations. Lincoln Cemetery services as a reminder of their sacrifices. The name Lincoln itself is a reminder of how our ancestors remembered and honored their past. Once again, we want to celebrate and thank God for the Orton family’s service and dedication in showing that “Black Lives” really do matter. ~ Respectfully submitted, Freda.
I visited the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex yesterday, and came across this broken stone. Although I could make out the dates of birth and death, the name was missing. After a bit of research, I discovered the fragmented gravestone was placed in honor of Edwin Mingo, who passed away at Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, Virginia.
Central State Hospital was established on March 17, 1885, as a segregated mental health facility for African Americans. Some of its first patients were initially provided care at Howard’s Grove General Hospital, a former Confederate hospital that had been converted into an “asylum for the colored insane” on December 17, 1869, according to an 1897 article in the Richmond Dispatch.
In 1885, the Richmond Dispatch reported that the patients had been transported in covered wagons from Howard’s Grove to the railroad station, and there borne by “special train” to the new hospital. A historical marker, located on Boydton Plank Road in Petersburg, reads “Established in 1869 in temporary quarters at Howard’s Grove near Richmond. In 1870 it came under control of the state. In 1885 it was moved to the present location, the site of ‘Mayfield Plantation’, which was purchased and donated to the state by the City of Petersburg. The first hospital in America exclusively for the treatment of mental disease in the Negro.” There’s currently an ongoing project to both digitize its archives and make them accessible to the public. The patients may have been at Central State Hospital for a variety of reasons, including “for not stepping off a sidewalk to let a white man pass by, or for getting into an argument with their boss,” notes project director Professor King Davis of the University of Texas at Austin. The records will be invaluable to relatives and descendants of the former patients, doctors, and nurses of the hospital, as well as help to broaden the study of African American post-Civil War life and mental health care in Virginia.
Mr. Mingo was the son of Edwin (Edward) and Mariah Mingo. Edwin Mingo, Sr. (ca. 1829-1882), was a Civil War veteran, who enlisted with the 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, on October 29, 1863, at Norfolk, Va. He is also interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery.
I found Edwin Mingo, Jr.’s obituary in the New Journal and Guide. It reads, in part: “Funeral services for Edwin Mingo, well-known contractor and bondsman, who died April 24 in a Petersburg hospital, were held Friday afternoon, April 28, at the Wheeler Funeral Home, with the Rev. U. G. Wilson officiating. Mrs. Alma Cannon was at the piano. Mrs. Violet Rock announced the messages of sympathy and read the family paper. Solos were by Mrs. Lella Williams and Mrs. Martha Smith. Interment was in the family plot in Mt. Olive cemetery.”
Edwin Jr. left many relatives and friends to cherish his memory. We’re privileged to know some of them, who have long advocated for the preservation of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Unfortunately, there are many gravestones in the cemetery complex that are in the same condition as Edwin’s. They’ve been vandalized and/or broken over the years, and some are nearly too faded to read. It’s discouraging to study a worn inscription on a gravestone, and being unable to discern the name, wonder if that person’s story has been lost to time. I suppose that’s why we feel excited when identifications are made, to help reconstruct a more complete history of the cemetery complex, a critical component of the preservation process. The work continues…
The replacement gravestone for Landsman John Hodges was installed in Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia, on December 30, 2015. We received the news from his descendant, Vivian Nicholson. John Hodges (1819-1885) served aboard the USS Lenapee during the Civil War, enlisting on April 22, 1864, and was the grandfather of Portsmouth native William Henry Nicholson, the first African American hired by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Vivian shared William’s story with us in a guest blog, which can be read here.