Norfolk's monument for Black Civil War veterans is a rarity in the South. Some say it’s been neglected.
- Written by Steve Walsh
- Category: Local News
- Published: 25 May 2023
In the middle of West Point Cemetery stands a statue to Sgt. William H. Carney.
Born in Norfolk to enslaved parents, Carney enlisted 160 years ago 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 Ameiricans 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.
The city of Norfolk decided not to spend $350,000 for a columbarium at Elmwood cemetery, which is adjacent to West Point. There's no more room for graves at the city-owned cemetery and the columbarium would have provided 288 spaces for cremated remains.
The approved budget didn't set aside any new funding for cemetery maintenance or improvements.
"They were fighting for themselves"
West Point sits outside the brick wall that encloses Elmwood. Ironically, the only way to get to West Point is through the main gates of the once-segregated Elmwood cemetery.
After the war, African Americans, including Civil War veterans, demanded a formal place to bury their dead. James E. Fuller, a veteran and a Norfolk’s first Black councilman 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.
“And so 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.”