Monday, May 30, 2016

Black Folks Started Memorial (Decoration) Day

Cold Harbor

From The Ramparts
                                               Junious Ricardo Stanton
                              Black Folks Started Memorial (Decoration) Day

“On this date in 1865, former Black slaves started Memorial Day in America.

            As with almost every aspect of our experiences in this country, our contributions, genius and humanity have been ignored, suppressed and denigrated. Today is Decoration Day renamed Memorial Day in 1971when it was made a federal holiday.  Decoration Day is the day Americans honor the sacrifices of fallen heroes and servicemen and women. Today is not to be confused with Veterans Day which is a day set aside on November 11th to honor the living soldiers from America’s numerous wars.
What is not known is Africans in bondage were the first to acknowledge the service of Union soldiers who had been held captive in a makeshift prison in Charleston South Carolina. According to Yale Professor David W Blight who is white who came across some documentation about this when he was doing research for his book Race and Reunion about the War Between the States and its aftermath. According to Blight, before the war formally ended Africans in bondage reinterred the remains of 257 fallen Union prisoners of war who died in captivity and buried in a mass grave inside the prison camp and gave them a ceremonial burial. They later held a huge parade in their honor on May 1, 1865.
            The back story to this event is that the Confederate Army converted a Charleston South Carolina race track named the Washington Race Track and Jockey Club into an open air makeshift prison camp to hold captured Union soldiers. Conditions there were extremely poor and many of the captives died from disease and wounds. By the spring of 1865 Charleston had been abandoned by whites because the city was in ruins. The first shots of the war began on April 12, 1861 when Confederate batteries fired on the Union fortress in Fort Sumter located in the Charleston’s harbor. That bombardment was the beginning of the War Between the States (there is no such things as a “civil war”).    
            The Africans in bondage and their free compatriots in Charleston South Carolina viewed the war as a vehicle for their freedom and supported the Union efforts. Another little known fact is Africans in America fought on both sides of the war. Over 189,000 African men served in the Union army and navy while about 3,000 - 6,000 Blacks fought for the Confederacy which only allowed Black enlistment near the end of the war because their cause was failing so miserably.
            The Blacks in Charleston knew about the conditions in the prison camp. Even before the formal end of the conflict, they were determined to give the Union soldiers a proper ceremonial burial. They dug up the bodies and reinterred them giving them a ritualistic burial. It took them two weeks to reinter the remains.  Later working with the white missionaries and teachers they planned and executed a parade to honor the Union soldiers. The event was even covered by Northern newspapers like the New York Tribune. Over 10,000 people attended the parade, they placed flowers on the new graves and according to eye witnesses the Blacks constructed an enclosure and an entrance arch that declared “Martyrs of the Race Course”.
            Professor David W. Blight stated that this was the first Decoration Day May 1, 1865. Keep in mind the activities and this event by Africans had no bearing on the creation of an actual ceremonial holiday to decorate and place flowers on the graves of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States. This was done by Black people to demonstrate their appreciation for the Union soldiers who fought in a war they (the Africans) felt was a vehicle for their liberation, regardless of the reasons and rationale of the whites on the North or the South for the war.  
            Speaking of rationale for wars, we must free our minds of the propaganda and indoctrination by the ruling classes for all the wars they’ve created, caused and used the innocent and gullible masses to fight. The fact of the matter is, the only war this country ever fought that was purely in defense of its territory or independence was the War of 1812. Every other war, police action, intervention or covert operation was based upon greed and the desire for territorial expansion, geo-strategic hegemony, control of resources and markets or empire. Remember this when you are placing flowers on the graves of your deceased loved ones, or mindlessly gorging yourselves with food and drink on this “national holiday”.



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