In a story last week on the James Parks family reunion, the name of the family member conducting the reflections part of the ceremony should have been Tamara Moore, a cousin of Louise Gray and great-granddaughter of James Parks. She lives in Arlington and is a federal government employe. Carol Huntley of Springfield, daughter of Louise Gray, conducted the candle lighting ritual. (Published 9/3/87)
Saturday was James Parks Day in Arlington County. About 100 celebrators gathered in historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church in South Arlington and cheered the proclamation by County Board Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg. They represented the descendants and friends of the family of Parks, who 58 years ago became the first civilian to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Parks, once a slave to George Washington's grandson, George Washington Parks Curtis, helped convert his owner's Arlington plantation into a national veterans cemetery. Parks, who lived 90 years, was an indispensable human record of Arlington and U.S. history.
"Mr. Parks was widely respected and sought after for his ability to give accurate accounts of historic events and times," Eisenberg said. "He was the last source of first-hand accounts in the family life of the first president of the United States."
Parks' fame inspired his great-niece Louise Parks Gray, 78, of Arlington, a retired General Services Administration employe, to organize last weekend's jubilant family reunion. Two-thirds of those gathered were family members.
"We've been getting our roots together since January of this year," said Gray, dressed in a pre-Civil War white cotton dress. "We felt that, due to the historical background of our ancestors, we should get together to pass on our findings to the younger generation and strengthen our own relationships."
Gray beamed as she circled the church's paneled basement, temporarily transformed into a museum of Parks' memorabilia. Displayed were old pictures of plantation life, a 1928 Washington Star interview with Parks and a polished musket given to Parks by Curtis' son-in-law, General Robert E. Lee.
Gray's pride extended to the living representatives of her family as they crowded around the buffet tables and eagerly introduced themselves. They mentioned schools, playgrounds and neighborhood landmarks in an effort to discover mutual acquaintances. "Many of them are meeting cousins they never knew existed," Gray said. "I am."
Parks was married twice and was the father of 22 children. Most of his descendants have remained in the Northern Virginia area. The Rev. Charles Green of Arlington, one of the descendants and pastor of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in the District, presided over a commemorative ceremony, which began with a rousing chorus of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," followed by family members' speeches. Gray's childhood memories shed light on local history.
"When I was a little girl in Ballston, Virginia," she recalled, "one of my chores was to clean lampshades in the day so we could have bright light at night. Do you know the best way to clean lampshades? With a newspaper."
Only during a candle-lighting ritual for deceased relatives did the mood turn solemn, then reflective when Gray's daughter, Tamara Moore, 36, a Springfield housewife, spoke for the younger generation.
"When you begin changing places with your parents," she said, "when you have your own kids, and your kids begin to have kids and you become grandparents, then all of a sudden their history is very important."
After the ceremony, the group climbed aboard four buses and shuttled to Arlington Cemetery, where a wreath was laid on the grave of James Parks, distinguished from the military graves by a long inscription. The man who had so well remembered his past was remembered by his future.