Richmond sent her boys off to war in 1917-1918. Some came home, some didn’t. Their stories are compelling as are my great-grandfather’s images of those young men. Harry Stilson captured recruits off to boot camp, soldiers going to war and coming home. His photographs of Richmond’s African-American soldiers provide a rare glimpse of Jackson Ward’s patriotism. That devotion is considered by some as striking in a country that offered freedom and opportunities to all…unless your skin was dark.

The day after the African-American Soldiers' parade in Jackson Ward

The day after the African-American Soldiers’ parade in Jackson Ward

Harry’s elder son, Leon, was one of the Richmond boys to go to France and his letters and post cards provide the basis for my fourth book. I’ve been gathering oral histories of other Richmond soldiers and am praying for more. If you know someone who had a relative in World War who left Richmond for Europe’s war, please contact me. I want as many memories as I can collect because every family’s story is unique. Many of those boys had never left home before so traveling across an ocean to another continent was exhilarating as well as terrifying. Veterans’ Day inspires reflection on all the young men and women who have served our country over the year but Richmond In Sight is dedicated to the early 1900s so we’lll focus on World War I. The United States entered the Great War in 1917. Here are a few photographs of the boys who left Richmond and returned, if they were lucky, as men.

Leon Stilson, WIlliam Grubbs, and others off to Camp Lee

Leon Stilson, WIlliam Grubbs, and others off to Camp Lee

Leon Stilson left for Camp Lee from Shockoe Bottom. One of his companions, William Grubbs, came home, returned to farming and his ferrier business, and nearly a century later, his granddaughter saw this photo in the Richmond Times Dispatch and contacted me.

Sam Beasley & brother

Sam Beasley & brother

I’ve researched Sam Beasley and his brother (labeled in Harry Stilson’s notes) but I can’t find them. Many boys enlisted with siblings and went off to France, confident that they could keep each other safe.

Soldiers at Broad Street Station, now Science Museum

Soldiers at Broad Street Station, now Science Museum

Grays returning from France on Broad Street

Grays returning from France on Broad Street

When the war ended and Richmond’s soldiers returned, a week of celebration rocked the city. The white troops, including the Blues and the Grays, came home a week before the African-American troops. The parade in Jackson Ward was memorable and Harry Stilson recorded it all, from preparations to the long-awaited parade led by the Elks.

Set up for parade of black troops, on Bowe Street, at Leigh Street, looking north

Set up for parade of black troops, on Bowe Street, at Leigh Street, looking north

Elks leading parade on Clay Street just west of Norton

Elks leading parade on Clay Street just west of Norton

Richmond's African-American troops return from France, June 14, 1919

Richmond’s African-American troops return from France, June 14, 1919

For years after the Armistice, parades were held each November 11th. Sadly, the days of parades and bands are gone but our veterans, all of them, from all the wars, and all the services, are heroes. Our gratitude shouldn’t be confined to a single day. Thank you for your service should be heard all year long.

Armistice Day parade

Armistice Day parade

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