Driving down a road that I’d never traveled, looking for a photo opportunity, we traveled through a neighborhood which was mostly made up of beautiful, luxurious, three and four story brick homes. There were many driveways that snaked hundreds of feet through wonderfully manicured lawns, which ended at a two or three car, attached garage. An absolutely beautiful neighborhood. Dotted throughout that neighborhood however were several homes of a different sort. Single story, two or three room homes, in various stages of disrepair. Torn rusted screens hung from windows. Pine straw littered sagging gutters, which were once white, now aged to a muddy gray. Wooden porches broken and battered by years of weather, rain, heat and cold. In comparison, these other homes were almost shack like in appearance. It was fairly obvious that these homes were slowly being replaced. Their occupants for one reason or another having moved on, the property was purchase, or otherwise claimed. The old pushed aside, with the memories and history, and replaced with the newer. As we traveled along, we spotted some clues to what this place had once been.
In this neighborhood once lived Civil War veterans, that fought in what was then called the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Modern sensitivities have since morphed “Colored Troops” into “Afro-Union”. However, I think the original name does them more honor. It brings to mind the war that society waged against them, as they were asked to wage war against the south, and against slavery itself.
Although many of their homes, have fallen into disrepair, someone has taken great pains not to forget these men. Some of these men were likely sacrificed unwillingly, and others willingly sacrificed their lives, with no guarantee of a better country for themselves, but hopes for a better place for us.
Men and women who’s date of death is uncertain. Who’s date of birth even more uncertain, lay under tombstones of wood and stone. In some places here, a single misshapen chunk of concrete rests to mark were a grave is thought to be, with no other identifying mark. Much is unknown about the men and women that lay here, as the name of the memorial implies. What is certain, is that the blood of their sacrifice paves many of the freedoms I enjoy today. Being a veteran myself, and thinking about what I saw here, and what things I tried to see here, I left seeing a …beauty in these befallen…