Memorial Day 2017 is here, and it is the 149th year of its celebration. It started as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868. It is a federal holiday set aside to honor the memory of those who served in the American armed forces, and is traditionally observed on the last Monday in May. The founding of Memorial Day is traditionally attributed to several different organizations and cities by mainstream society. It has been recently discovered that Blacks held the first Memorial Day celebration on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.
For the sake of clarity, Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who died in service, while Veterans Day, honored in November, celebrates all servicemen.
A lot of people visit cemeteries and graves placing flowers on them in honor of lost loved ones on this day. Currently, however, Memorial Day is generally also celebrated with cook-outs, family reunions and other outdoor activities. It has come to represent the onset of summer. It also has become an excellent time to honor all of those who have passed on. It is fitting and proper that the community embraces this holiday because African Americans have served in every American war. Historically, it is recorded that the very first person to die in the Revolutionary War in the colonists’ fight for freedom from Britain was Crispus Attucks, who was gunned down March 5, 1770 in the Boston massacre. He was an escaped slave of African and Native American descent, and is arguably one of the most important heroes of the Revolutionary War.
The total number of Americans killed in all wars tops 1.1 million, and the number of African Americans killed in these wars were high. Even though that is the case, Black soldiers were generally maltreated in the armed forces. They endured segregated accommodations and it is said that they were treated worse than German prisoners of war during World War II. In spite of this, they served with distinction. Because of this, segregation ended in the armed forces in July, 1948 when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9948. This came upon the realization of the value African Americans brought to the war effort.
Today, African Americans are still dying in American wars. These include the Viet Nam War, the two Gulf Wars, and the War on Terror. Even though this is the case, Black people still need to fight for parity in American society. In spite of having had a Black president, Black people are still treated as second class citizens. The brown ceiling is still in place in many sectors of society. And with the new presidential administration headed by Donald Trump, there is another war brewing involving economic and socio-political attacks. Basically, though Black people have willingly fought in wars abroad, there is a continued need to fight for equal rights at home. Because of this, we might consider that another kind of war veteran be considered – those who fought for the sake of Civil Rights. This includes the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and others. And lastly, there is another newer war that has a high number of casualties – the Black-on-Black crime war. The Black community is currently at war with itself, as evidenced by the numbers of individuals who are losing their lives on urban streets. This is one of the saddest wars of all!
We look forward to the day when warfare is no longer a staple of the human family. That time may be far off, if it is ever to be achieved. But today, we are still burdened by this eradicator of sentient beings. War is hell, pure and simple. As we move to celebrate Memorial Day 2017, let’s remember those who came before us fighting the good fight, but who are no longer here. The root of “memorial” is “memory,” i.e., we must remember those who have gone before us. This is important because understanding and honoring the past provides clear guideposts for the future. With this said, The Free Press wishes for you and yours a safe, successful and memorable Memorial Day Holiday! A luta continua.