Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Norfolk's monument for Black Civil War veterans is a rarity in the South. Some say it’s been neglected.

A person wearing a dark red top stands and looks at a monument marked with flowers
Steve Walsh
Historian Cassandra Newby-Alexander overlooks the monument for African American soldiers at West Point Cemetery.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

In the middle of Norfolk's West Point Cemetery stands a statue to Sgt. William H. Carney.

Enslaved at his birth in Norfolk, Carney enlisted in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

He joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and was eventually awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Though he was not buried in Norfolk, this statue became a symbol of what local African American soldiers accomplished during the war.

Historian Cassandra Newby-Alexander, professor of Black history and culture at Norfolk State University, said she doesn’t think the city has done enough to recognize the rare monument to Black Civil War veterans.

“There should be a gate coming into the cemetery really announcing the entrance way of this cemetery in the same way that a gate announces the entry into Elmwood Cemetery,” she said, while touring the cemetery.

West Point sits outside the brick wall that encloses Elmwood, a formerly segregated cemetery. Ironically, the only way to get to West Point is through Elmwood's main gates.

After the Civil War, African Americans, including veterans, demanded a formal place to bury their dead. James E. Fuller, a veteran and a Norfolk’s first Black councilor led the effort. The Black community helped raise money for a monument with bake sales, raffles and dinners.

The statue of Carney wasn’t added until 1920, after Fuller’s death.

Over the years, the cemetery was neglected, Newby-Alexander said.

“A, lot of the vacant field that you see used to have headstones, and they were just destroyed by vandals,” she said.

Though the cemetery is now protected by a fence, Newby-Alexander said the city needs to do more. West Point is one of a few memorials to Black Civil War veterans in the South.

“They were fighting for themselves, and most importantly, for their families and their descendants.”

The city's approved budget for the next fiscal year didn't set aside any new funding for cemetery maintenance or improvements.