Tag Archives: Halifax County NC

Pasquotank County, NC: The Moore Family Cemetery

Moore Cemetery Pasquotank NC Orton

Moore Cemetery, Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County, North Carolina

On a recent road trip down Route 158, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, I spotted a small family cemetery.  I was on the way to Durham, North Carolina, to attend a commemoration for George Henry White (1852-1918), a nineteenth century officeholder and civil rights advocate. At first, I noticed the trash, beer cans and other detritus along the roadway, discarded by careless passersby. But then I noticed what appeared to be a granite headstone, peeking through a bed of ivy and other types of overgrowth. Was that what I thought it was? Right by the road, so close? I’d wanted to inspect it immediately, but the long line of irritated-looking drivers behind us nixed the opportunity. I wrote down the nearest cross street (Blindman Road), and vowed to revisit the cemetery on the way back home.

Anyone who chronicles burial grounds is probably used to seeing these sites on road trips. Marked by their relative small size, they’re common in rural areas, and hearken back to the era when ancestors were buried on family homesteads and estates. At times, the gravestones and other markers that signal sacred ground stand out, due to their height and prominence, whether located next to gas stations and convenience stores, in the middle of grain fields, or in modern homeowners’ front yards. In other cases, the graves may be unmarked, or have flat, worn, or hard to read headstones shrouded in overgrowth, surrounded by grazing cows and horses.

During our frequent travels, my family’s used to me pointing these cemeteries out, and groans ensue. “Another one?” they may say. Well, yes, of course. These sites are everywhere. My folks made me the history nut that I am, instilling in me a love of books, museums, and all things historical from a young age. So it’s an understandable development, I think, being drawn to spaces of tangible family history. After all, it’s the type of curiosity that helped me find my own ancestral roots, a line that stretches back to 1600s, Tidewater, Virginia. But my family has accommodated me on these unplanned stops so many times I’m sympathetic to the groans. To a point, that is. The desire to see the cemeteries remains, and when we do stop to read the names on the stones, I’m fortunate to discover clues that may lead to interesting nuggets of local history.

Making good on the original promise, we returned to the family cemetery on US- 158 this past Sunday. We’d spent the better part of the day taking the road less traveled from Durham, winding along various state routes through Franklin, Warren, Halifax, Northampton, and Gates counties, North Carolina, the geography of my mother’s ancestry. Eventually, the GPS on my Android sounded a reminder. Blindman Road was coming up. It was time to look for the roadside cemetery.

Checking the rear view, no one was behind us, so we were able to slow down and find it. The cemetery is located across the street from a recycling company, and as there’s no dedicated parking, we pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Walking up to the cemetery, I proceeded with caution. It was a really warm day, and there might’ve been critters about (the kind with fangs).

The cemetery seemed to contain only two modern-looking headstones. There may be depressions indicative of sunken graves on the site, but the existing bed of leaves and ivy made it impossible to tell. The nearest, visible gravestone, the one I’d spotted from the road days before, read “Mother Hattie M. Moore.”

Hattie Moore Gravestone Orton Elizabeth City NC

Gravestone of Hattie Moore (1917-1954).

For a lazy Sunday afternoon, US-158 was a very busy thoroughfare, spurts of traffic passing by at over 50 mph. With only a ditch between myself and the road, I was aware of every single vehicle.

Traffic passing Moore Cemetery Elizabeth City NC Orton

Traffic passing Moore Cemetery on US-158. January 31, 2016

I zoomed in on the second stone from a distance; there was far too much leaf and ivy ground cover to get any closer. Rattlesnake territory, I thought. There was no way this stone would receive a full inspection, but I could make out the inscription, “Father.”

Curtis J Moore Grave Elizabeth City NC Orton

Gravestone of Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. (1915-1971).

At one point, I heard a truck approaching, and for safety reasons, paused till it lumbered past.

Truck passing Moore Cemetery Orton

Truck passing Moore Cemetery, January 31, 2016. Elizabeth City, NC

I couldn’t get over how close this hallowed ground is to a major roadway. Thinking about how many times we’d zipped past this little cemetery on family genealogy trips, I took a few more pics for good measure, being sure to keep my distance. Then I decided it was time to go. I’d seen this:

Is that a snake I see?

Is that a rattlesnake I see?

It looked like a canebrake rattlesnake, and where there’s one, there could be more. I quickly realized the grave site of Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. may have been host to a little snake den. Yep, definitely time to go home.

Later that evening, I reviewed a few documents that provided some information about the burial ground. Known as the Moore Cemetery, the only documented burials are Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. (1915-1971), and Hattie M. Moore (1917-1954). Curtis and Hattie were married on May 13, 1939, in Pasquotank County, by Rev. Monroe Ramsey Lane (1856-1943), whose brother-in-law is buried in Portsmouth, Virginia’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Curtis J. Moore, Sr. was the son of John Lee Moore and Edna Hunter, the grandson of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann “Kitty” Stewart, and the great-grandson of Isaac and Louisa Moore.

Marriage certificate of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann Stewart. Pasquotank County, 1881. Ancestry.com

Marriage certificate of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann Stewart. Pasquotank County, 1881. Ancestry.com

Hattie M. Moore’s death certificate states her maiden name was “Varn,” born in Pasquotank County, the daughter of John Varn and Mary Pernell. However, the marriage certificate states Hattie M. Moore was a Freeman, originally from Bertie County, North Carolina, and the daughter of John Freeman and Melvina (Melvinia) Freeman. The couple lived in the Newland district, in the northern section of Pasquotank County. I’m not sure when family last visited the cemetery. A hopeful sign are the flowers that, while faded, have been carefully placed beside both headstones.The cemetery has been added to Find-a-Grave, and is also included in a county cemetery database which can be found here.

The next time you’re on the road, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what genealogical treasures may be found along the roadways of Tidewater. And watch for snakes.

 

 

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Filed under Durham County, Franklin County, Gates County, Halifax County, North Carolina, Pasquotank County, Portsmouth, Tombstone Tales, Virginia, Warren County

The Descendants Corner: John R. Johnson, Jr. Montford Point Marine

Mr. John R. Johnson, Jr. Montford Pointer

Mr. John Richard Johnson, Jr. Montford Point Marine

“You had to be good….you had to be better.” These words were spoken by Mr. John Richard Johnson, Jr., reflecting on his days as a Montford Point Marine, the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Johnson recently in Chesapeake, Virginia.

An affable host, Mr. Johnson was, at the time of the interview, just shy of his eighty-eighth birthday. He was born in 1926, on the 31st of October, or “Goblin Day,” as he humorously refers to it. A native of Scotland Neck, in Halifax County, North Carolina, he’s the son of John Richard Johnson, Sr., and Sallie Mae Arrington. He was pleasantly surprised that I knew Scotland Neck; I told him I’d studied my family’s genealogy for many years and had ancestors from various counties in North Carolina, including Halifax, Warren, Vance, Hertford, and Franklin. Smiling, he went on, and told me about his mother and father. John Richard Sr., “a deeply religious, praying man” as described by Mr. Johnson, was the son of Burgess and Rosetta Davis Johnson. His mother, Sallie Mae, was one of seven children, with four brothers and two sisters. The family lived next door to Ephraim Mutts, Jr., who was an undertaker for the community. Mr. Mutts had two daughters and two sons that were about Mr. Johnson’s age growing up.

1930 Census Scotland Neck NC

1930 Federal Census. Scotland Neck, Halifax, North Carolina

While he was still young, “about eight or nine” Mr. Johnson recalled, the family relocated north to Ahoskie, in Hertford County, North Carolina. Mr. Johnson was coming of age in the Depression era, when it was very difficult to find work. His father, John Richard Johnson, Sr., provided for his family at various times working at odd jobs and as a custodian. When he was little older, Mr. Johnson went to school to learn the art of brick masonry, and after the United States entered World War II, he decided to enlist.

At first, Mr. Johnson stated, the recruiters tried to persuade him to join the Navy, but he refused; he wanted to be a Marine. So, he was off to Raleigh, North Carolina, and beyond…to the southern edge of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. His destination was a recently developed area near New River called Camp Montford Point. The year was 1945, and Mr. Johnson had reached the location where the first African Americans allowed to enlist in the United States Marine Corps received their basic training.

Before Mr. Johnson’s enlistment, the Armed Forces were experiencing a momentous change. There had been a long history of African American participation in the United States’ armed conflicts, from the American Revolution, through to World War I. Yet discrimination persisted, and African Americans, once denied the opportunity to fight, often had to serve in segregated units, or given menial duties. Some of this changed with the issuance of Executive Order 8802, by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on June 25, 1941. This order established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which read, in part, that “all departments of the government, including the Armed Forces, shall lead the way in erasing discrimination over color or race.” With this order, African Americans were able to enlist in the Marine Corps, which was the last military branch resistant to integration. Complete desegregation of the Armed Forces would not be fully realized until 1948 with President Harry Truman’s issuance of Executive Order 9981. Because of existing segregationist policies in the Armed Forces until 1949, African American men who had enlisted in the Marine Corps were not allowed to train with their white counterparts at Parris Island, South Carolina, or San Diego, California. Instead, Camp Montford Point was developed for their training in 1942. In August of that year, Howard P. Perry, of Charlotte, North Carolina, although not the first to actually enlist, became the first African American private to arrive at Montford Point. Thousands of men, including Mr. Johnson, would soon follow between 1943 and 1946, becoming a total of nearly 20, 000 by 1949, after segregation in the Armed Forces was officially abolished.

John R. Johnson Jr. 21 Montford

John Richard Johnson, Jr., age 21. Courtesy of the family.

It was in the month of March, 1945, that Mr. Johnson began his basic training at the Montford Point Training Camp. He can vividly picture all of the pine trees that were onsite when he arrived with the other recruits. There were 33 other men in his platoon, and he prides himself on being one of the fastest. On the day of our interview, his television was on at a low volume. Glancing at the set, he said, “there was none of that.” But there was the heat, and a lot of local wildlife: mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, muskrats, and, at one point, a particularly tenacious (often excitable) skunk that hung around the barracks, drawn by the food. There was the rigorous training regimen the men endured, and drills in the early morning hours long into night. Duck walking up and down hills.

Dress Parade Montford UNCW

Dress parades were part of the Montford Point routine. Photo: University of North Carolina, Wilmington

The men were housed in corrugated metal huts without running water. Mr. Johnson remembers the large, pot belly stoves the recruits used for heating the barracks at night, and the coal chutes just outside for fuel. At a point, he remarked that one thing that saw him through the hardships of training was his Bible, a habit he picked up from his father. John Richard Sr., had been a deacon in the family’s churches: Shiloh Baptist Church, in Scotland Neck, NC, and later, Calvary Baptist in Ahoskie, NC.

After basic training, Mr. Johnson served in World War II as a Steward’s Assistant, as African Americans were not allowed to serve alongside white soldiers, their counterparts, during this time. Later, he served at Camp Catlin, just outside Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. He was a part of a segregated unit that functioned primarily as support staff, separated into sections such as reclamation and salvage and ordnance. He rose to the rank of Corporal after one year and was honorably discharged in November 1951. Mr. Johnson later re-enlisted, and soon after married Miss Eula L. Harrell, of Cofield, Halifax County, North Carolina. Later on, he was promoted to Sergeant, and received another honorable discharge in 1954.

Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson relocated to Portsmouth, Virginia, and it was here that they raised a family, five daughters and one son. I met two of his daughters the day of the interview, who were just as congenial and gracious as their father. Mr. Johnson noted that his family lived near the main gates of the Norfolk Navy Yard for many years, just about where Effingham St. merges into George Washington Highway. By this time, he worked for the Norshipco-Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. as a heavy equipment operator, a job which he liked very much, and held for twenty-six years until his retirement. He mentioned that even during his work at Norshipco, he always carried his Bible with him, and read it when he had spare time. In 1974, While Mr. Johnson was an employee at Norshipco, the Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, NC was renamed in honor of Sgt. Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, the Alabama native who was one of the camp’s first five African American drill instructors.

As our conversation continued, Mr. Johnson shifted to talking about additional members of his family. He and his wife, Eula, have seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His son, John Richard Johnson III, served in the Marine Corps Reserves for six years, and a grandson is in the Army, currently serving in Afghanistan. I remarked on his family’s tradition of military service, and Mr. Johnson then gestured towards a box on his coffee table, something admittedly I’d had my eye on for some time. It was at this point he showed me photos of a ceremony whereby he and other local Montford Pointers were awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Congressional medal and discharge

Mr. Johnson’s Congressional Gold Medal, and discharge, 1954.

In 2011, Rep. Corinne Brown of Florida’s Fifth District (then Third District), and Senator Kay Hagen of North Carolina, introduced legislation to formally honor the legacy of the Montford Point Marines. This legislation was later signed into law by President Barack Obama. One official gold medal was minted, and issued on November 23, 2011. Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include opera singer Marian Anderson, boxer Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, Jackie Robinson, the Little Rock Nine, and the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Montford Point Marines were initially awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony held in Washington D. C., in June, 2012. To award individual Marines, bronze replicas of the medal were purchased by donations from the Montford Point Marine Association, Inc. For the Marines that could not attend the 2012 ceremony, numerous, smaller ceremonies have been held throughout the country over the years, to honor each veteran for his service, and grant posthumous honors to the families and descendants for those veterans who have passed on.

Mr. Johnson was unable to make the ceremony in Washington D. C., and received his medal in a ceremony held for Tidewater Montford Pointers on August 17, 2013. The event was made possible through the efforts of Master Sgt. Curt Clarke, president of the  Montford Point Marine Association Tidewater Chapter (Chapter 14), one of thirty-six nationwide. During the ceremony, Master Sgt. Curt Clarke noted that the men are “the pioneers of the Marine Corps…they are pioneers for equality, pioneers for service…. They have opened the doors for Marines like myself to join. I’m proud to say I represent the legacy of the Montford Point Marines.”

Mr. Johnson reflected back on that day, and said that although he was happy to have served his country, the medal “was a long time coming,” a situation similar to the Tuskegee Airmen, collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2006, many years after their service. Mr. Johnson remarked how many of his comrades have already passed on, that the survivors are “going fast.” He thought a moment, and commented on how he’s been blessed, to have been able to be present to accept a great honor he’s happy has finally come. We then talked a bit about the memorial that is being built for the Montford Marines, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, which Mr. Johnson hopes to see one day.

As I looked through some of the other memorial items Mr. Johnson had to share, it was a humbling experience to sit and read the biographies of some of Mr. Johnson’s fellow Montford Pointers, such as William R. Davis, and Sergeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson. All of these men had accomplished so much, and yet my host, Mr. Johnson, was so down to earth.

Michelle Obama message to John R. Johnson, Jr.

Ceremonial materials and a personal message from First Lady Michelle Obama

In one of the ceremonial brochures, I spotted a message from President Obama. Dated August 25, 2011, the 69th anniversary of the Montford Marines, it read:

Almost seven decades ago, as our Nation was at war, more than 20,000 African American men enlisted in the United States Marines Corps. After completing arduous and segregated basic training at Montford Point Camp, many of these Marines served with distinction during a number of World War II’s bloodiest struggles. Some made the ultimate sacrifice in these battles; others continued their service in Korea and Vietnam.

Despite being denied many basic rights, the Montford Point Marines committed to serve our country with selfless patriotism. Choosing to put their lives on the line, these men helped advance civil rights and influenced President Harry Truman’s decision to desegregate the Armed Forces in 1948. Embodying the Marine Corps motto of Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful, these heroes paved the way for future generations of warriors, regardless of background, to serve in the finest military the world has ever known.

On behalf of a grateful Nation, I thank you for your service and for your contributions to the cause of freedom at home and around the world. May God bless our men and women in uniform, and may God bless the United States of America.

As we concluded, I asked Mr. Johnson what he took away from his experience as a Montford Point Marine. He mentioned that he learned the true value of discipline and respect; self-respect, and the respect one should show to others. It disappoints him to see the amount of disrespect that some members of the younger generation have for their elders and each other.

I want to thank Mr. John R. Johnson, Jr., for his service and his role in helping to break down barriers for future generations, and to thank his family for inviting me into their home, allowing me to share part of their story. And what a wonderful story it is. In more ways than one, thank you.

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