MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - More than 200 African-American soldiers were killed 153 years ago during one of the most controversial events of the American Civil War. Instead of the soldiers being taken as prisoners of war, they were killed. There are over 109 unmarked graves that honor those soldiers at the Memphis National Cemetery.
On Wednesday, those soldiers were honored on the anniversary of their death.
The names of those soldiers and civilians killed at the Battle of Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864 were read aloud during the ceremony Wednesday.
Their families arrived in a full procession at the Memphis National Cemetery where the graves were placed in 2016.
Grassroots organizer Callie Heard helped coordinate the wreath laying commemoration.
"Because they were massacred and nobody knew who they were, we were compelled to give their names," Heard said.
White flowers were laid at the graves of unknown soldiers and libations were poured to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"Many of them knew that they would not see the freedoms that we enjoy today, but they did so, so we might benefit," Army veteran Robert Bell said.
Joe Williams said he is a direct descendant of 35 soldiers killed at Fort Pillow.
"It's amazing that it's taking place," Williams said.
Members of the military and Memphis Police Department attended the ceremony.
"Glad to see my officers and our mounted patrol out here so they can learn some history that we don't know very well," MPD Director Mike Rallings said.
Professor Clarence Christian, a champion of African-American studies, encouraged the next generation to go back to their roots.
"We wish that our young people would know and what we want them to know, but I guess my biggest response to all of that is if we don't teach them, they'll never know," Christian said.