1,500 African American soldiers who served in the Union’s U.S. Colored Troops and thousands of freed slaves housed on the Arlington Estate grounds were buried in the cemetery’s Section 27, which was neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair. The cemetery was ordered to correct this shameful situation almost two decades ago.
Cosmetic changes compounded the institutional disrespect, reports Salon‘s Mark Benjamin. 500 graves now lack headstones, previously identified burials are now marked “Unknown,” some graves are misidentified, and records claim that one man is buried in two places. Cemetery Superintendent John C. Metzler, Jr. who told Congress that neglect of Section 27 would be rectified, still holds his position today.
The national military cemetery is located on the grounds of Arlington Estate, once owned by Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War the estate was used as a Union Army base, a temporary camp for newly freed slaves, and a military burial ground. James Parks, born a slave on the estate, assisted with many Civil War era burials. Mr. Parks is buried in Section 15.
Arlington National Cemetery Section 27 Historical Facts, Arlington National Cemetery Official Website.
Governor McDonnell’s original proclamation, via The Root.