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African American veterans honored at Rox ceremony

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
African American veterans honored at Rox ceremony
local11a.jpg (Photo: Sandra Larson)

 Veterans marching up Shawmut Avenue toward the African American Military Heritage Day ceremony on May 19.

The Organization of Afro-American Veterans (OAAV) hosted the ninth annual African American Military Heritage Day in Roxbury on May 19. Local residents and elected officials gathered under a brilliant blue sky at Edward O. Gourdin Veterans Memorial Park in remembrance and respect for the contributions of African American veterans in wars past and present.

Each year the OAAV chooses a significant local veteran or organization to recognize at the event, said Ralphe Browne Jr., the organization’s president.

This year’s ceremony paid special honor to Sgt. William E. Carter, an African American veteran of the Spanish American War and World War I, and to the current members of the William E. Carter American Legion Post No. 16 in Mattapan.

Carter, whose name graces a Boston public school and a playing field as well as the American Legion post, joined the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in 1878. He served in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and in France in World War I, where he was killed in action in 1918.

“William E. Carter walked this neighborhood,” said Carter’s great-grandson Emanuel Horne, who reminisced about growing up in the neighborhood, hearing stories of Sgt. Carter at his great-grandmother’s home on nearby Hammond Street.

Horne acknowledged his great-grandfather’s dedication and sacrifice in making the military a lifetime occupation. “It gives some big meaning to the individuals who have served, and continue to serve today,” he said, noting that less than 1 percent of Americans are choosing to serve now.

The ceremony also featured a descendent of Edward O. Gourdin, the Harvard College and Law School graduate, Olympic medalist, judge, and World War II veteran for whom the Dudley Square park is named.

Gourdin’s great-nephew, Randall Tatum, said many African American veterans have gone unrecognized, and events like these — especially with families and children present — will help future generations know their history.

“My great-uncle, and Sgt. William E. Carter — these are people who laid the foreground for the future generations we have coming up,” he said. “It’s good to see children here. Without knowing the history, how can they go forward?”

A short parade from Ramsay Park to Gourdin Park preceded the ceremony, and residents watched from porches and windows as the veterans marched by, accompanied by the 215th Army Band.

The Massachusetts National Guard 54th Regiment, Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Society, Ramsay/Toy VFW Post, Tri-Ad Veterans League, Inc., 60 Plus Veterans Group and local high school ROTC units participated in the day’s event.

Elected officials in attendance included State Reps. Byron Rushing and Gloria Fox, State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Boston city councilors Charles Yancey, Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson and Felix Arroyo.

The master of ceremonies was Howard Manly, executive editor of the Bay State Banner.

After the ceremony, members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Boston milled about the park. The club’s name pays homage to African American military contributions in the post Civil War era, but club president Dana Smith said the group aims to give back to today’s community, with events such as its annual ride to benefit Boston Medical Center’s SPARK (Supporting Parents and Resilient Kids) Center.

As for this day’s veterans ceremony, Smith said, “It’s about letting people know that average people have done great things. That’s not always talked about.”