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2017 Memorial Day Celebration ~ Block 27, Stockton Rural Cemetery
Today, the nation follows an ancient tradition on Memorial Day 2017, in Stockton, California we continue the journey to honor the founders and early members of the Rev. Jeremiah King, Stockton African Baptist Church and Rev. Virgil Campbell, Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Historic Stockton Waterfront District. Many are interred within Block 27 ~ Stockton Rural Cemetery in unmarked graves, without grave markers and/or with graver markers in needing repair.
Memorial Day began May 1865, when a group of former enslaved Africans in Charleston, South Carolina began the task of giving a proper burial to 257 Union soldiers who were put into a mass grave. Many were US Colored Troops who were interred, paying the ultimate sacrifice during the US Civil War, showcased in the movie starring Denzel Washington, Glory.
Many soldiers during the US Civil War lived in horrible conditions and a leading cause of death, the minié ball or iron bullet, was a leading cause of death, in the name of brain fever. The vast majority of US Colored Troops died from exposure and this wicked disease. Today, the nation follows this ancient tradition on Memorial Day 2017, in Stockton, California we continue the journey to honor the founders and early members of the Rev. Jeremiah King, Stockton African Baptist Church and Rev. Virgil Campbell, Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Historic Stockton Waterfront District. Many are interred within Block 27 ~ Stockton Rural Cemetery in unmarked graves, without grave markers and/or with graver markers in needing repair.
A total of 28 formerly enslaved African men went to the site and re-buried the men properly, largely as a thank you for helping fight for their freedom. They built a protective fence around the cemetery, and on the outside, put the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
When Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse to Union Army General Robert E. Lee, many other Confederate armies were still in the field and fighting. Long after the US Civil War, many enslaved Africans continued to be held in chattel slavery throughout America, especially in those “slave states” that remained loyal to the Union.
On April 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston would surrender his forces to William T. Sherman in North Carolina, General Richard Taylor's forces in Alabama surrendered on May 4th. On June 2, 1865 General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at the Port of Galveston Island with over 2,000 federal troops to beginning a 7 week campaign throughout Texas on behalf of the federal government to secure the final southernmost Confederate Ports, La Salle, Brazos de Santiago and Brownsville, the overland border with Mexico and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, the background to Juneteenth Celebrations across America.
On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Island Ashton Villa, former headquarters of the Confederate Army in Texas, General Granger shared the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of enslaved Texans and later issued additional “General Orders”:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
In South Carolina and throughout the South, people of African ancestry began the task to bestow honor, dignity and respect for fallen Soldiers that today is called Memorial Day throughout the United States of America.
Many believe this act began a renaissance of the restoration of an African concept of an afterlife. The ancient notion of a monotheistic belief system with a reunion with the creator of all things seen and unseen, connecting the supreme being of the universe in a ritual connection through revered ancestors.
This ancient connection to “proper burial with honors” by people of African ancestry in Charleston, SC was consecrated by the new cemetery with “an amazing parade of over 10,000 people.
Together, we will honor the past as an example of the work today, by bringing the historic Stockton faith-based communities together, celebrating a historical legacy worthy of preservation throughout the City of Stockton, seat of San Joaquin County, in the Great State of California.