The first, original Memorial Day

I’ve read about so many historical events that later proved to be attributed to the wrong, people, places, or things.  People tend to believe what they want to believe or are influenced by first impressions which may be wrong.

Sewell Chan wrote a piece for the New York Times, Race-Related Section, Saturday, May 26, 2018.  In his article, he describes that the official Memorial Day dates back to 1868; the idea came from something called Decoration Day, in which citizens and Vets would drape Vets’ graves with flowers.  Originally, a Union Major John A. Logan set the first date as May 30-the holidays initial commemoration took place at Arlington National Cemetery.

However, herstory is always changing and flexing (and is stranger than fiction) with new information.  David W. Blight, a Yale Historian, differs on the source and perceptions of history of Memorial Day. Blight asserts that Memorial Days origins have their source in “a series of commemorations that freed black Americans held in the spring of 1865,…” (Ibid., p.1).

This “series of events” included:

  • At a mass grave of Union soldiers, on May 1, 1865, black soldiers exhumed the bodies, gave them proper burials, erected a fence around the cemetery, and built an archway that had the words Martyrs of the Race Course over it.

*The next event was a protest by 10,000 African-Americans, followed by a procession of people in mourning, they sang “John Brown’s Body,” and black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses.

  • “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance & consecration, Dr. Blight wrote in a 2011 essay for the New York Times, the war, they had boldly announced had been about the triumph of the emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic.  They were themselves the true patriots (Ibid.,p.2).”

 

  • “The African-American origins of the holiday were later suppressed, Dr. Blight found, by white Southerners who reclaimed power after the end of Reconstruction and interpreted Memorial Day as a holiday of reconciliation, making sacrifices by white Americans (my emphasis)-on both sides.  Black Americans were largely marginalized in this narrative-my emphasis)” (Ibid.,p.2).

Without getting into “conspiracy theories” (which there’s no need to do, and wouldn’t even if I could), what strikes me about this issue is that the white narrative wins out as the real Memorial Day.  Um, I wonder why?

One thing I’ve learned about racism, is that the white-privileged leaders will do just about anything they can to stop persons-of-color in achieving or accessing the resources to further their goals, and getting the facts for their own, private affliction of white privilege.

Just as a human body can’t get well if any particular number of the parts of the body are sick.  Those who think they’re the heads are unwell with a disease called racism, and this affects the rest of the entire body, or in this case, society.

So, what does this tell us?  We must always get the facts; we must always listen; we must always observe; we must always use our critical thinking skills.

It’s not necessary to see a demon in every dark hallway-there’s plenty of the reality of racism to probably see it or interact with it every day, even when we don’t want to see it.  Unfortunately, it’s an embedded illness in our national culture; nothing short of a change of universal proportions in consciousness-raising, will bring any change in our racialized society.  It’s we who will radicalize society by Racial Justice.  And that’s the real deal!

copyright: christopherbearbeam May 27, 2018

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