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Memorial Day From Black America

On the last Monday of May, America will once again celebrate Memorial Day, a federal holiday devoted to military members who lost their lives in wars around the world defending freedom. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been a federal holiday giving government employees the day off to appreciate the service of veterans of all generations. This holiday is normally spent grilling hotdogs, watching parades and honoring veterans within the family. Celebrating this holiday is baked into American culture, but where did it come from?


Several sources for the origin of Memorial Day have concluded that it began after the end of the Civil War. Thanks to an article published by Dan Roos for History.com, it has been revealed that David Blight, an American history professor at Yale University in 1996, discovered some documents that led him to multiple newspaper articles that reported the event. According to Professor Blight, "a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves with some white missionaries, staged a parade around the racetrack. Three thousand Black school children carried bouquets of flowers and sang “John Brown’s Body.” Members of the famed 54th Massachusetts and other Black Union regiments were in attendance and performed double-time marches. Black ministers recited verses from the Bible.``


Roos' article revealed that the New York Tribune and the Charleston Courier reported the first recorded Memorial Day celebration, which took place in Charleston, South Carolina. This event was organized by Black soldiers, who were former slaves, to honor Union soldiers at the Charleston racetrack who died as prisoners of war.


Although this information is old, it may serve as new information for others, which could change how people view Memorial Day. It could also impact the way people think about patriotism concerning Black Americans since their patriotism is questioned during conflicts centered around racism. The implication or accusation that Black Americans do not value patriotism to the same degree as mainstream Americans is a revelation of something fundamentally wrong with how America operates.


Black people have fought for the opportunity to vote in peace, paid taxes and built America. Despite chattel slavery lasting more than 240 years, the Jim Crow Era lasting more than 100 years and the fact that Black people still do not have equality, Black people have participated in every conflict and war in American history.


Yet, when Black people like Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Serena Williams, Tommie Smith, Venus Williams, John Carlos, Lebron James, Bill Russell, Craig Hodges, Arthur Ashe, Naomi Osaka, and many others have protested or demanded equality, they were called racial slurs and deemed unpatriotic.


When we think of celebrating holidays dedicated to veterans, who do those veterans look like in the mind? America portrays an image of a country that loves and appreciates its veterans, many of whom have died fighting for freedom or defending democracy. However, when America celebrates its veterans, it typically forgets to celebrate Black veterans.


During World War I and World War II it was not uncommon for Black veterans to be targeted with death and violence. This was the case for Wilbur Little, Charles Lewis, Joe Nathan Roberts, Isaiah Nixon and countless other Black veterans. While these veterans were fighting forces of evil for the freedom of others, they were denied that very same freedom at home by Jim Crow laws at home.


For other veterans of World War II, a new program called the G.I. Bill was introduced in 1944 that focused on college education and purchasing homes. Although these benefits were created for all veterans, the majority of Black veterans were denied their right to use these benefits, due to issues like redlining and segregation. This denial of benefits is still impacting Black communities today.


If anything, Black people are more patriotic than any other group, when considering all of this information. It is easy to love something that has been good, especially when it provides privileges and profits. It takes true love to continue to appreciate something abusive and relentless, even if it serves as a toxic relationship.


When Black people talk about negative aspects of America's history or its current mistreatment of them, it is not unpatriotic behavior. As citizens of a country that was built on the idea of freedom, it is hypocritical to deem one citizen's protest acceptable and another's unacceptable solely because of their skin color.


The notion that making negative comments about the history of America as unpatriotic is problematic as well. At some point, there has to be room for constructive criticism and critical thinking, especially when it comes to the life and death of its citizens. Just as the forefathers desired a better way of doing things to improve the lives of their people, so are the Black activists who are called troublemakers and told to leave this country. If there is no room to criticize the government, it becomes a quick road to authoritarian governance, which is why the founding fathers fought for independence from England.


Moving forward, it is highly important to understand why Black people protest instead of immediately labeling them in a negative light and be willing to include Black veterans when celebrating holidays related to the sacrifice and service of veterans, whether it is parades, conversations, monuments or public events. If there is one thing Black people have failed to be beyond temptation it is the stereotype of "un-American."


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Emily Young
Emily Young
May 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic article, Cliff. I never really gave much thought to the holiday and now I see it in a completely different light. This opens up a very important discussion!

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