May 28, 2017 the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery had their annual celebration of Decoration Day. Decoration Day is the roots of what we all now know as Memorial Day. Memorial Day began in 1865 by African Americans to honor Union soldiers that had been buried in a Confederate prison camp turned mass gravesite. African Americans of Charleston, South Carolina worked diligently to move the bodies to proper, honorable gravesites. Decoration Day continued as a tradition to celebrate those who have died serving the country and in 1868 was an official holiday known as Memorial Day.
For the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, Decoration Day symbolizes pride and remembrance of one’s community and the people that worked to form it. Festivities kicked off at City Space on the Downtown Mall with with a welcome address from Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond followed by thoughtful addresses and prayers from various Baptist pastors as well as devoted community members: Dr. Lehman D. Bates, II, Dr. Alvin Edwards, Sr., and George Gohanna, Jr. Mayor Mike Signer of Charlottesville spoke of his support and admiration of the Preservers that was followed by a yearly overview of the Preserver’s progress and recognitions. Dr. Steve Thompson, lead archaeologist on the site summarized the ground penetrating radar research but also encouraged the Preservers saying that their “quiet perseverance” has been exemplary.
Conversation at the 2017 Decoration Day ceremony was saturated with remembrance. Ms. Whitsett-Hammond remarked, “There is room for everyone’s story to be told, for everyone’s story to be heard” pushing all as members of the City of Charlottesville to be collective and own all of our history together.
After the ceremony light refreshments were provided by the Preservers as guest viewed the exhibit boards created by Professor Goff’s American Studies class that researched families buried in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery. Thankfully weather held and we were able to head over to the cemetery where individuals laid flowers on all the graves, taking personal time of reflection, concluding with a commemorating benediction.