Memorial Day drew thousands of people to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects to our nation’s fallen military men and women. Others came to visit loved ones. This place of peace and honor holds a special significance in our nation’s history. It holds a special place in Black History, as well, according to the cemetery website.

*The person who dug the first graves at the cemetery was James Parks, who had been enslaved on what was once known as the Arlington Estate. Parks is the only person buried in the cemetery who was born on the property.

*About 1,500 U.S. Colored Troops are buried in Section 27, a special location designated for Blacks during segregation.

* The Colored Troop’s headstones are marked with “U.S.C.T.” for U.S. Colored Troops.

*Almost 4,000 people who were formerly enslaved at Arlington Estate are also buried in Section 27.

*Once the gravestones of many of the formerly enslaved people were marked “Contraband.” The word was later changed to “Citizen” or “Civilian.”

Ransom Williams, 64, who spent 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, visited the cemetery on Memorial Day. He said it is important that African Americans and others learn the rich history of the cemetery.

“I think it’s imperative for everybody to get in touch with their roots,” he said.

Among the families visiting the site were Ann Vigilant and her son, Richard. They go to the cemetery several times a year to pay tribute to Ann Vigilant’s oldest son, Ronny, who served in the U.S Navy and died three years ago at the young age of 30. He was not only the first African American to be awarded the Information

Defense Warfare pin, but the first in the entire U.S. Navy, she said. His tombstone is marked with the letters IDW.

“He loved serving his country,” she said. “He enjoyed what he did. He thought he was making a difference. He was a leader.”


Kelsey Tisdale

Special to the AFRO