Biography of James Parks

The first graves in Arlington National Cemetery were dug by James Parks, a former Arlington Estate slave. Parks was freed in 1862 under the terms of the will of his former owner, George Washington Parke Custis. He still lived on Arlington Estate when Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton signed the orders designating Arlington as a military burial ground. Parks served in the U.S. Army from 1861 to 1929 by working as a grave digger and maintenance man for the cemetery. 

When James Parks died on Aug. 21, 1929, Secretary of War Stanton granted special permission for him to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. James Parks is the only person buried in Arlington National Cemetery who was born on the property (1843). He is buried near Selfridge Gate (West Gate) in Section 15, Grave 2 (Grid G-26).