Quick Point: Memorial Day Whitewash

This is Serena Blaiz with a quick point from Pointing Left Media.

quick pt graphic sqIt’s Memorial Day, a holiday that may be the most blatantly mythologized and hypocritical one we have in the US. It’s ostensibly designed to honor those who died fighting our wars. In reality, today, it’s about big sales at the stores and barbecue in the back yard. If war dead are mentioned at all, it’s to (falsely) claim that they died “fighting for our freedom.” Which 99.99999% of the time is a big load of corporatist propaganda, designed to encourage the impressionable young to sign up to take a chance on becoming war dead themselves. Better to just focus on sales and BBQ than promote that, in my opinion. Col. Smedley Butler said it best: War is a racket. (more below the video)

What later became named Memorial Day began right after the end of the Civil War, that much is not in dispute, but the other details are debated. Here’s the story I like, and I got this info from African American Registry, aaregistry.org, and Wikipedia.

In mid April 1865 — and this is just days after the war was officially over, remember — former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, wanted to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. When the fighting stopped, they dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom — in this case, literally true. With the task completed, on May 1, nearly 10,000 people marched, sang and celebrated. The event was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers.

Who were the participants? About 3,000 Black school children newly enrolled in Freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, Black ministers, and White northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to be placed on the burial field, on land that is now a park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

David W. Blight, a lauded historian who specializes in the slave era, described the day like this: “This was the first Memorial Day. 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.”

Ben Becker, in an essay entitled How Memorial Day Was Stripped of Its African-American Roots shows how this holiday was literally whitewashed.

Here’s a short excerpt from his piece:

The concept that the population must “remember the sacrifice” of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

To truly honor Memorial Day means putting the politics back in. It means reviving the visions of emancipation and liberation that animated the first Decoration Days. It means celebrating those who have fought for justice, while exposing the cruel manipulation of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who have been sent to fight and die in wars for conquest and empire.

We best honor the war dead by making sure there are no more such sacrifices  — on either “side” — to memorialize in the future,  by ending war forever, as an idea or practice.

Here in central Oklahoma, there’s an organization dedicated to that pursuit: The Center for Conscience in Action. Full disclosure: I work with CCA. We work to oppose war through education, resistance and empowerment. We are the state chapter of War Resisters League, and a member of World Beyond War and the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth. You can find out more at centerforconscience.org. Join us, donate, spread the word.

Don’t let “honor war dead” continue to be corrupted into “honor war.”

The Quick Point podcast is part of the Oklahoma Activist project. If you have a quick point to share via this podcast, go to oklahomaactivist.com and sign up to become a contributor.

Produced under a Creative Commons license. 2016 Oklahoma Activist.

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Mass Incarceration in Oklahoma: When Will It End?

Panel discussion in Oklahoma City on April 19, 2016, featuring Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, TEEM Director and former Speaker of the Oklahoma House Kris Steele, and Rev. Jesse Jackson of the East Sixth Street Christian Church, OKC.

For more information, see the story on Oklahoma Activist.

Rev. William Tabbernee of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches opens the event.

From promotional materials:

Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate (behind only
Louisiana) in the United States and it continues to grow annually, while
prison populations nationwide have fallen each year since 2009.
Oklahoma has had the highest incarceration rate for women since 2011 and
incarcerates women at more than twice the national rate. Oklahoma also
has the highest rate of prisoners housed in private prisons.
Approximately 28,000 adults are presently incarcerated in Oklahoma.
Another 31,000 adults are under community supervision (probation and
parole). Oklahoma’s prison population in 1983 was 7,000.

Prater has been District Attorney of Oklahoma County since 2007. He
served as an Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County from 1993
through 2001 and as an officer in the Norman Police Department from 1980
through 1988.

Steele is Executive Director of TEEM (The Education and Employment
Ministry), a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and
incarceration in Oklahoma. Mr. Steele served in the Oklahoma House of
Representatives from 2001-2012 and as Speaker of the House in 2011-2012.
He is the leader of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition
of community groups that seeks to get two initiative petitions on the
November ballot; the petitions seek reduction of sentences for drug
possession and property crimes and community treatment for drug
addiction and mental health.

Rev. Jackson is the pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1139 N.E. 6th.
He is the President of the National Convocation of the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ), a national organization of African-American
Disciples of Christ. Rev. Jackson last summer organized an initiative
called Occupy the Corners–OKC to curb gun violence in northeast Oklahoma

The program will be moderated by Rev. Don Heath, pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The event is sponsored by the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, VOICE
OKC, Restoration Church at the Dome, and Edmond Trinity Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ). Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service/Campaign

Healing the Breach: A Community Conversation on Law Enforcement and Citizen Rights

In observance of the International Day of Peace, on September 21, 2015, the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty participated in a community discussion on Healing the Breach between law enforcement and minority groups. The event was held at the Great Hall in the University Center at Oklahoma City University.

0:00 Welcome from Priya Desai of the United National Association
5:21 Music by the Starvation Army Band
12:15 Panel discussion begins, followed by Q & A
For more information, see the story posted at Oklahoma Activist.