Who Will Visit My Grave On Decoration Day by vagabond ©

From Decoration Day To Memorial Day To Forgetting


Who Will Visit My Grave On Decoration Day by vagabond ©
Who Will Visit My Grave On Decoration Day by vagabond ©

“What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause.

These days, Memorial Day is arranged as a day “without politics”—a general patriotic celebration of all soldiers and veterans, regardless of the nature of the wars in which they participated. This is the opposite of how the day emerged, with explicitly partisan motivations, to celebrate those who fought for justice and liberation.”Ben Becker

i came across this article on the origins of Memorial Day being rooted in an African American holiday called Decoration Day which remembered Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The article was called The Revolutionary Origins Of Memorial Day And It’s Political Hijacking – A day celebrated for Black liberation used for white supremacy. i found the article on a blog that i follow called Moorby’s which focuses on issues from a Nu-Afrikan perspective. The article was written by Ben Becker and was originally posted on the web site Liberation News which is put out by the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

After reading the article i was inspired to create the piece of art that is at the top of this post. i call it Who WIll Visit My Grave On Decoration Day. It’s a digital triptych that in a way tells a story from left to right. It begins with a recruitment poster targeting former Black slaves into the Union Army who will then be segregated into Colored Regiments. The center is a photo of a Black Union Army soldier posing with his pistol. The marked grave in the final third of the triptych is of an unknown colored soldier. From left to right the story of Black soldiers in the Civil War is told.

Incorporated into the triptych are two images of lynchings of Black men hung and swinging from trees with the confederate flag and the then Union Army flag imposed over them. The Civil War may have ended slavery but the vestiges of racism still haunt us, whether you be in the North or in the South, whether the flag be Confederate or American there is no escaping the ongoing nightmare that is racism in this country.

And for those who are reading this and confused as to how we can still have racism in America with a Black President look no further than the NYPD’s Stop And Frisk policy which targets non-whites 85% of the time. Or the complexities of the Trayvon Martin case. A Latino male racist treated by the police as a white male because he was doing the work of white supremacists.

The final element in the piece is the type FATHER SON HOLY GHOST that both cuts across the center and unifies each section of the triptych. The concept of a triptych always brings to mind the Christian trinity for me. It’s something you can find a lot in my work as a filmmaker and in my writing and even in my art. The idea of the trinity is that the FATHER is America, where this particular brand of slavery and racism begin.

America the FATHER gives birth to the layered and complex SON of slavery and racism. That SON is burdened with not only with being the object of hatred but is also forced to undo the damage of that hatred as this Black Union soldier did. The sad part of it all is that this tyrannical destiny we are locked into will eventually kills us making us a restless HOLY GHOST that haunts the present and potentially haunts the future with the work that goes undone in undoing racism. It’s a HOLY GHOST because as the saying goes… ‘Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to god’…

The final element of the triptych is the flowers placed on the grave. Decoration day was a day set aside by Blacks to tend to the graves of those who sacrificed everything to end slavery and to decorate those graves with flags and flowers. The Decoration day served as a reminder of those who sacrificed everything so that the next generation would be free from the burden of being haunted by these vestiges of slavery. Instead of that happening Decoration Day becomes Memorial Day and it’s origins are diluted into an attempt to forget the shame that if America would stop denying would lead to true and complete emancipation. Both for the oppressed and the oppressor…

Check out the article by Ben Becker. It’s a great piece of writing and yet another painful piece of hidden American history.

Shortlink: – http://wp.me/p1eniL-KT

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14 thoughts on “From Decoration Day To Memorial Day To Forgetting”

  1. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of historical evidence to show that the Becker article is well off base as to the origins of Decoration Day. For a brief recap, including all the places that laid claim to the origin of Decoration Day, see History.com.

    1. History.com like the History channel is very much interested in keeping this kind of history a mystery until so much pressure is brought to bear that it is forced to recognize these intentionally hidden histories…

      The History channel and History.com are very much interested in propagating the mythology that America has always been on the right side of history when nothing could be further from the truth… The History channel and History.com are about making money not about scholarship… and the last thing they want to do is shake their audience out of their comfortable accepted mythology with real hardened research… To do so is to risk loss of audience and the loss of audience is the loss of revenue…

      Why would the origins Of Memorial Day in Decoration Day mean a loss of audience? Because America has so much shame to face in terms of race that this country that isn’t prepared to deal with the facts… It’s that cowardice in facing what this country has done with people of color throughout its history that keeps it from being great…

      1. Then I refer you to the many articles that saw the origins in Southern Ladies decorating the graves of fallen confederates during the war and after. This brought rise to the desire to do the same for Union soldiers after the war. You can insist on some sort of conspiracy history, but where is the scholarship to support it?

      2. You need to re-read the article by Ben Becker… He quotes Historian David Blight extensively…

        From Historian David Blight…
        “During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some 28 black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

        Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freed people. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

        At 9 a.m. on May 1, the procession stepped off led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.

        Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. (“The First Decoration Day,” Newark Star Ledger)”

      3. I am not sure if you got my response as I had a computer glitch near the end, so maybe it came across. Despite the Newark Star Ledger’s pointing to a wartime event to show what went on there, I think we need to look at the practice throughout the south and the eventual declaration by politicians of Decoration Day.

      4. i understand that there were other ‘Decoration Days” in the South but the 1st one was begun by Black people with the intention of honoring those who fought against slavery… The easiest way to whitewash that is to talk about the everyone else’s remembrance… But the idea of a remembrance for those who suffered in the Civil War comes from a perspective of Black liberation…

        America is completely uncomfortable with the idea of racism the chasm between what America thinks it is and what it actually is, is immense… The origins of Memorial Day being in the Black liberation holiday of Decoration Day is just one example…

        Why isn’t their a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in America? Because America bastardized it into Memorial Day in an effort to whitewash the history of shame that this country has with race…

        That doesn’t take away from Memorial Day… It doesn’t take away from the veterans who are remembered today… But it does take away from America’s myth that race doesn’t matter in America… If a white ethnic group started Memorial Day then everyone would know the history of it…

        But because it’s origins are in Black liberation and those issues bring a whole host of baggage with it, it’s better to whitewash the whole thing…

      5. I wrote another long response that disappeared near the end and I am frustrated with that. I should go back to your site rather than respond in these little boxes here. At this hour I will just leave it that we see certain, not all, aspects of this differently.

      6. Apologies on your issues with posting… i think that the impetus of this idea of Memorial Day comes out of Black liberation… America has a history of either rejecting or absorbing the history of Black liberation in an effort to dilute it… MLK was a pariah to the US gov’t as was Malcolm X but now you can get them on a US postal stamp…

        If the US gov’t wanted to do something about MLK’s or Maloclm X’s legacy they might start with ending wars, ending poverty, ending racism… But it’s easier to put them on a stamp…

        It’s the same with the origins of Memorial Day… It may have been something that was done in the South by Southern ladies decorating the graves of fallen soldiers but it’s impetus in this first Decoration Day is more political and much more highly charged in terms of Americas issues with race… But that has been forgotten and i charge it’s been forgotten by force… America doesn’t want to give this history credence because it means that America has to look at what’s it done to undone the damage and that’s something America isn’t prepared to do…

      7. Most countries would rather hide their dirty laundry than air it on. Here is no different and there are a number of groups that can attest to that. I do not think I am willing to concede the Decoration Day origins but it is a certainty that a lot of Black History is lost or sanitized for public consumption. Some is lost because there were very few willing to report the actual news of the day, especially if it did not fit the limited scope of their readership. Some is surely lost because it was surpressed at many points in history. In one of my previous attempts I wanted to add that in some places blacks found greater freedom after the Civil War due to land grants and formation of their own societies than in the sorry history of the 20th Century. These gains were short lived as I am sure you know. Today prejudice is more insidious since it is usually hidden from view, unlike much of the last century when it was on display. We remain divided and I will stand by my blog version while you can stand by yours. We remain agreed on the loss or supression of history, however.

  2. It was all good and I was about to disseminate until I clicked what I thought would be a relevant link to “Decoration Day” instead I get a fkin commercial. I guess the Revolution will be televised, with commercial interruptions.

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