Local Black Veterans of the Civil War remembered

Black veterans were honored with headstone posters representing their removed grave markers. Photo credit: Shirley Jones White.

It was probably the first time in more than a century that United States Colored Troops veterans buried in unmarked graves in an abandoned cemetery in Westtown Township were honored.

A ceremony was held May 25 on the steps of the courthouse in downtown West Chester, PA to honor 15 Black Civil War veterans buried in unmarked and neglected graves at what was Shiloh AME Church cemetery in Westtown Township, PA. The graveyard was part of the thriving Shiloh AME Church, which no longer exists.

The veterans were acknowledged by the Friends of Shiloh AME Church, a group of volunteers working to restore this historic cemetery; and provide access to the graves of these veterans and some 140 others interred at the Shiloh AME Church site. The event sought to recognize the soldiers and call attention to the poor condition of the cemetery. Despite the fact these soldiers served their country faithfully, their tombstones were removed long ago, and reportedly used as patio pavers.

Dave Walter, representing the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, spoke to the audience at the courthouse. “Two million soldiers and sailors, including 200,000 Black men, preserved the Union and ended the foul stench of slavery.”  He then recited the names of the 15 USCT veterans who had no grave markers. A procession of supporters displayed posters representing the tombstones of the soldiers, along with their service ranks. A bugler then played the iconic ‘Taps’.

The audience heard presentations from speakers including Rev. Dr. Richelle Foreman-Gunter of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, historians Bertha Jackmon, Dr. Cheryl Renee Gooch, and others supporting the project. Stephen Lyons, chair of the Friends of Shiloh AME Church group, officiated.

Lonnie Nichols made the trek from Ocean City, MD to honor his great-great grandfather Richard Bye and his great-great uncle Alfred Bye, both buried at Shiloh AME. “The spirit that was produced from these brave soldiers has a legacy and I stand here as an example of that legacy…. What they sacrificed what they allowed us to do, what they allowed us to become is very meaningful and it lives, its alive.” (Alfred Bye’s tombstone is the only marker that survives today and is preserved by a member of the FoS.)

If you believe you have family interred at the Shiloh AME Church cemetery in Westtown, or if you would like to learn more about the activities of this group, contact Shilohamefriends@gmail.com

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