“African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution:” – David W. Blight, Professor of American History, Yale University.
While there are competing narratives about which Memorial Day came first, above is the story I find most evocative – the idea of African Africans gathering on May 1st, 1865 to create “the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”
A day to wear red poppies.
This weekend America celebrates Memorial Day. For most, it’s a three-day holiday, barbeque, boats in the water and the Indianapolis 500 – a celebration of the coming of Summer.
Baseball, sunburns and beer.
Too few red poppies.
Most importantly, I believe, it’s the somber moment when America pauses to honor the memory of the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
A time to remember and pray for those who serve today, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in America’s theaters around the world.
Memorial Day: a time to reflect on our history, to cherish our memories of the fallen, and to tend graves.
To wear red poppies.
There are days when I think life would be so much easier if I was more spiritually and politically quiescent. If I didn’t expect the public square to be to be more civil and ethically informed would life be easier?
Would life be easier if I didn’t expect everyone to embrace truth and beauty as virtues?
Would life be easier if I didn’t expect every American to consider the health of the public square; a place today where poppies are forgotten, where truth is ignored and harmony is but a memory?
Although there are dark days when I envision our national altar as littered with the corpses of virtues and values cannibalized by opportunistic politicians, plundered by plutocrats, picked clean by vultures, I remain hopeful.
America has come a long way from those African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina that celebrated the first Memorial Day. A lot of Americans have fallen, in many wars and conflicts, to protect us, and our freedoms.
Today, do we stand worthy of their sacrifice? I think not. Not today.
Today, we must still be vigilant of those who want to incite fear and bigotry among the citizenry.
Today, we must still be vigilant of those who want to elevate religious law above the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
Today, we must still be vigilant of those will tell us what books we can read, what medical treatment we can have, who we can marry and what we can do in our bedrooms.
Today, many attacks on the President of the United States are still tinged with racism and xenophobia. The presumptive nominee for the Republican Party still embraces the leader of the “Birther” movement, Donald Trump. When a supporter accused President Obama of treason Mitt Romney didn’t have the courage to push back against her, to defend the President.
Racist and xenophobic. Is that the America they fought and died for?
When President Obama, as part of the Affordable Care Act, pushed for the protection of choice and reproductive rights for women all hell erupted. The Catholic Bishops rended their vestments, railing that their First Amendment rights were being infringed upon. When some Catholic nuns expressed dissent, the established patriarchy rose up against the Sisters and put them under their control.
A fight not about rights but about power. Power over women. Power over rights.
A cynical battle to delegitimize the president and diminish the separation of Church and State.
Delegitimize the President.Is that the America they fought and died for?
A priest who served in New York City told me about a Catholic Sister, a MD, who ministered to young girls, to whom she occasionally provided contraception assistance. When challenged, she said, “The best contraception is hope…. not the delusional kind “here’s hoping I don’t get pregnant” hope – no, that’s rubbish, and the girls discover that too quickly. The best contraception by far is their hope in their future. I give them a chance to get to that future.”
Hope in a future: an America willing to embrace universal values of fairness and social justice. That is the America they died for.
Guantanamo has been a detention center, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. civilian courts and rules of evidence since 9/11. President Obama promised to close “Gitmo” within a year of his inauguration. Almost 800 people have been detained there; 169 remain. The government alleges that forty-six are so dangerous they will be held indefinitely – without trial.
Without trial. Is that the America they fought and died for?
Recently, a federal court struck down a section of the new National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military, without due process, to detain indefinitely anyone, including American citizens, who are deemed by authorities to have “substantially supported” terror, a section considered by many civil libertarians as unconstitutional. Reflexively, the House of Representatives reaffirmed the section without any consideration of civil liberties.
Without due process. Is that the America they fought and died for?
Perhaps, on this Memorial Day, we should think about creating the Third American Revolution. Let us announce to the politicians with our votes, our feet, our flowers, poetry and song that we reclaim our public square. We will harrow once sacred ground, long hardened through neglect, nourish our collective fields and hearts, and water the poppies.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.