Tag Archives: Mt. Calvary Cemetery

On Memorial Day, Reflecting on African-American History – The National Trust for Historic Preservation

First Memorial Day plaque Charleston SC Copyright Nadia Orton 2015

Plaque honoring the first Memorial Day in the United States. Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 6, 2015


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…

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Filed under Charleston County, Civil War, Craven County, Mississippi, New Hanover County, New York, North Carolina, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Slavery, South Carolina, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Protected: In Memoriam: Van Buren Luke, Mt. Calvary Cemetery

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Filed under In Memoriam, New York, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Willis Fleming, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex

Willis Fleming - Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Headstone of Willis Fleming (1865-1935) – Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Willis Fleming, Died 18 1935; Age 70 At Res” reads the worn inscription on a small cement marker in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Va. The historic cemetery contains gravestones of various materials, and some, such as the headstone for Mr. Fleming, are handmade.

Manson, N.C. and Portsmouth, Va. Google Earth

Manson, N.C. and Portsmouth, Va. Google Earth

Mr. Fleming was born on April 25, 1865, in Manson, Nutbush Township, Warren County, N.C., about five weeks before the end of America’s Civil War. The son of Phillip Fleming and Charity Mayfield, he was the sixth of nine children. Phillip and Charity were married on July 28, 1866, about four months after the North Carolina General Assembly legalized the marriages of former slaves.

Willis lost his mother Charity sometime in the early 1870s. His father, Phillip Fleming then married Frances Vanlandingham (1842-1920), daughter of Dawson Vanlandingham and Hulda, on January 25, 1872, in Warren County, NC.

Frances, listed in the estate inventory of Dawson Vanlandingham. Warren County, NC 1863. Familysearch.org

Frances, listed in the estate inventory of Dawson Vanlandingham. Warren County, NC 1863. Familysearch.org

Willis Fleming and family. 1880, Nutbush Township, Warren County, NC. Ancestry.com

Willis Fleming and family. 1880, Nutbush Township, Warren County, NC. Ancestry.com

Working primarily as farm laborers, the family remained in Nutbush from the 1870s through the 1880s. Willis married Almeda Vanlandingham, daughter of George and Delia Vanlandingham, on December 29, 1886, in neighboring Henderson, Vance County, N.C. Phillip, his second wife Frances, and newlyweds Willis and Almeda moved to the Tidewater area by 1890. The family patriarch, Phillip Fleming, died on September 2, 1896, in the Western Branch District of the former Norfolk County, near Churchland.

By 1900, Willis and Almeda are documented living in the Western Branch/West Norfolk area of Portsmouth, Va. Almeda V. Fleming died in the early 1900s (burial site unknown). Willis married Mary (surname unknown) soon thereafter, and by 1910, are documented living in Western Branch District, where they would make their home for the next twenty-five years. Mary worked primarily as a laundress for private families, and Willis worked for the Virginia Smelting Company (later Virginia Chemicals, Inc.), located in the West Norfolk area of Portsmouth.

Willis Fleming died on September 18, 1935. His burial took place on September 22, 1935, and the Fisher Funeral Home, under the direction of John T. Fisher, handled the arrangements. Willis’ funeral was held at First Baptist Church, West Norfolk, which was established in 1889.

First Baptist Church, West Norfolk, 2007. Google Maps.

First Baptist Church, West Norfolk, 2007. Google Maps.


Journal and Guide - 1935

Journal and Guide – 1935

Obituary for Willis Fleming. September 28, 1935. Norfolk Journal and Guide.

Obituary for Willis Fleming. September 28, 1935. Norfolk Journal and Guide.

Willis Fleming’s obituary ran in the September 28, 1935 edition of the Norfolk Journal and Guide, one of nation’s leading African American newspapers during this period, under the stewardship of long-time publisher and editor Plummer Bernard Young, Sr. P. B. Young, Sr., is buried in Norfolk’s Calvary Cemetery.

Last Rites for Willis Fleming Held Sunday
Funeral services for Willis Fleming, of West Norfolk, who died suddenly at his residence early last Wednesday morning were held at the First Baptist Church, West Norfolk, Sunday afternoon with Rev. J. M. Douglas officiating, assisted by the Revs. W. H. Deberry, J. H. Hopkins and C. W. Logan.
The deceased had been an employee of the Virginia Smelting Co., of West Norfolk, for over 35 years where he held the friendship of fellow employees of both races. Charles W. Johnson, an official of the company spoke with high regard for the life of the veteran worker. There were also other white friends of the deceased attending the rites. There were several floral designs from his fellow workmen.
The funeral program included a duet by Mesdames Lula Wallace and Matilda Lewis; solos were sung by Mesdames Mary Bin, Gertie Elliott, Georgia Barnes, Eliza Randall and Josephine Wright; also Luke Sykes.
Active pallbearers were Lee Paschall, Theodore Adams, John Lassiter, Augustus Cherry, Fletcher Robertson, and Edward Hardy. Honorary pallbearers were Alex Wheeler, J. S. Thompson, L. D. Dickens, Peter Perry, Wesley Hill, J. H. Hollomon.
Mr. Fleming is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary Fleming, and a son, Walter Fleming. Interment was in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were under the direction of the Fisher Funeral Home.

Although rough in appearance, we cannot judge the family by the type of gravestone placed in honor of Willis Fleming. The Great Depression affected countless households around the country, and his family may not have been able to afford a more expensive headstone. His marker was fashioned from a wooden mold, with the inscription carved by what appears to be a stick.

Unlike other handmade monuments to the deceased made of cement or wood, Willis Fleming’s headstone has stood the test of time and the elements. A fortunate thing, allowing us to know a once hard-working, well-esteemed North Carolina native, and resident of Portsmouth, Virginia.


Filed under North Carolina, Tombstone Tales, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: At Proctor Grave – October 18, 1958

Nelson Proctor Gravesite, Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth Va.

Nelson Proctor grave site, Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth Va.

“At Proctor Grave,” in the October 18, 1958 edition of the New Journal and Guide. From the caption: “Three unidentified persons are shown looking at the grave of the late (Nelson) Proctor (1846-1910), one of the five colored citizens who have served on the Portsmouth City Council.” A native of Camden County, North Carolina, and trustee of Emanuel A.M.E., Mr. Nelson Proctor, a Civil War veteran, was a member of Company C, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. He is buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. Thank you, Mr. Proctor, for your service, to the community, and to Portsmouth.

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Filed under Civil War, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Matilda Ella Hale Nakano, Mount Calvary Cemetery

Matilda Ella Hale Nakano - Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth Va.

Matilda Hale Nakano – Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth

One of the most talked about gravestones in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex is for Mrs. Matilda Ella Hale Nakano. The daughter of Granville and Emma, I’ve traced her family roots to the late 18th century, in the counties of Hertford and Bertie, North Carolina. She married Charlie Kosuke Nakano in 1923, a recent immigrant from Kagoshima (prefecture), Japan. After she passed in 1927, Mr. Nakano remarried, but lost his second wife in 1936.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and the signing of Executive Order 9066, Mr. Nakano was sent to an internment camp near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m still piecing together the rest of his story.

Ella rests in Mt. Calvary Cemetery near the grave sites of several members of her extended family, including her grandmother, Christianna, who was born in 1818, Bertie County, North Carolina. Of additional interest are the inscriptions and symbols on her grave stone. Thanks to Mike Tretola and family, we know that the bottom inscription (kanji) indicates that Mr. Nakano made the headstone for Ella. At the top are representations of ivy, denoting eternal life or affection, and a crown and cross, representing redemption through faith, or the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Filed under Bertie County, Japan, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Stories in Stone, Tombstone Files, Tombstone Tales, Virginia