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Remembering Their Forefathers

By designating the Sons and Daughters Cemetery as a town historic site, citizens honor Vienna's black heritage.

In observance of Memorial Day, Mary Sulton of Vienna placed a flag near the new historic marker for the Sons and Daughters Cemetery in Vienna. As a great-great-granddaughter of one of the trustees responsible for the cemetery's creation, she wanted to honor her forefather's life as well as the lives of other members of Vienna's historic black community.

"I feel it's long overdue. It's a feeling I can't explain," said Sulton of the cemetery's designation as a town historic site. "Today is the culmination of our forefathers' good works and deeds."

Members of the Vienna community, including members from the First Baptist Church of Vienna and the Vienna Town Council, honored the memory of Vienna's forefathers on Sunday, as they gathered to dedicate the Sons and Daughters Cemetery on the 500 block of Orchard Street Northwest as a town historic site.

The Sons and Daughters Cemetery, now under ownership of the First Baptist Church of Vienna, has over 200 unmarked graves of freed slaves, their descendants, and Union Army soldiers under Capt. Harman I. Salsbury.

"This is the day that we recognize the deceased," said Ted Thomas, a member of the First Baptist Church of Vienna and a former cemetery trustee charged with caring for the cemetery's upkeep. Thomas also led the effort to declare the cemetery as a historic site. "It's Memorial Day. This is the day we decorate the cemeteries."

THE CEMETERY was originally part of the land owned by Salsbury, a Union Army captain in charge of Company D, the 26th Regiment of the Colored Infantry troops. When the war ended, he purchased land in the Vienna area, dividing it into small lots for ex-slaves and black freedmen for a small payment over an extended period of time.

Salsbury sold the land that would be used as a cemetery to Andrew Miner, William Conway and Silas Borgus, who were trustees of the United Order of the Sons and Daughters Liberty Lodge No. 9. The Lodge established the cemetery in 1892. Many of the cemetery's graves are unmarked because instead of placing tombstones as grave makers, families would plant a bush or flowers.

In 1986, the First Baptist Church of Vienna received ownership of the cemetery, which is still in use today.

"Vienna was not built by whites alone. It took both black and white citizens to make Vienna a town to be proud of," said direct descendant Naomi Pearson, who added that the First Baptist Church is Vienna's oldest church at 136 years. Her parents, several cousins and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law are buried in the cemetery. "Thank you for remembering our forefathers' struggle to survive and have someplace more than a field to be buried in."

Declaring the cemetery as a historic site enriches the town's heritage for future generations, said several speakers during the dedication cemetery.

"You today are giving a gift to the whole community of Vienna," said Councilmember Maud Robinson, who helped Thomas in the efforts to designate historical status for the cemetery.

First Baptist Church of Vienna pastor Kenny Smith agreed. "No matter who we are, where we are, somebody paid a price for where we are today," he said.