Ceremony honors black vets

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

WASHINGTON -- About 100 people gathered Monday to pay tribute to black veterans, including 18 former slaves who fought in the Civil War and later founded the village of Unionville, Md.

After returning from battle, the soldiers built the village in 1867, on land leased to them by their former owners.

"They took an opportunity for freedom to do something special and they created a community -- a community that is still standing strong," said Charles Robinson, pastor of St. Stephen's AME Church. The church is one of the village's original buildings.

Unionville, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has about 150 residents, many of whom are descendants of village founders. Some 25 descendants attended the Veteran's Day wreath-laying ceremony at the African American Civil War Memorial.

The ceremony "brings up a lot of pride," said Harriette Lowery, whose great-great grandfather Benjamin Demby was one of Unionville's founders. "People of all races hear again that we contributed, and that really is important for people to know that, especially our children and our grandchildren."

A 'quaint village'

Lowery, 51, described Unionville as a "small, quaint village" with a church, a now-closed one-room school house and a mostly elderly population. She moved back to Unionville from Baltimore two years ago and now lives on land once owned by her grandfather.

Participants in the ceremony sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and prayed for American troops engaged in the war against terrorism.

"You only have to look around to see the makeup of our forces -- Americans," said Col. Oliver Norrell of the Army National Guard. "Veterans Day is not a white celebration ... not a black celebration. It's a celebration of Americans who gave their lives."

The memorial's wall of honor lists the names of 209,145 black soldiers who fought in the Civil War and is inscribed with the words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass: "Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even die free than to live slaves."

A statue depicting uniformed black soldiers preparing for battle stands at the center of the plaza.

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