My Memorial Day: The Emancipation of a Slaveholders’ Republic.

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LBD20130526(Flag)There are many stories about how  Memorial Day came to be.  This is one of my favorites.

In the wake of the Civil War, 28 newly-liberated African-American men in Charleston, South Carolina, descended on a former  POW camp where the Confederate Army imprisoned captured Union soldiers.  The men cleaned the field, buried bodies of Union soldiers left behind, and built a tall enclosure around the area.

The men then named the field: “Martyrs of the Race”.

Though one can dispute whether this May 1865 gathering was when the nation celebrated its first “Memorial Day”, the celebration 250 years ago is markedly similar to what it is today: thousands gathered at the field to hear speeches, watch parades, and then head home for picnics:

The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not…merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.

250 years later, Memorial Day has become almost exclusively a day to commemorate uniformed soldiers who gave their lives in service to their nation.  Over the past few years, I have seen an increase in articles chastising the American people for holding picnics and failing to commemorate the sacrifice of our nation’s soldiers.

Especially in the face of those that wish to dictate how we should celebrate a holiday, I can think of no better way to commemorate freedom than to be free.

In many ways, we are all still living in a “slaveholders’ republic” – we just have new slaves and new masters:

So, at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, when we have a national moment of silence to remember those who have given their lives in service to their country, I will be thinking of men and women who died over the past year – uniformed soldiers or not – who fought  to preserve that “triumph over a slaveholders’ republic”.

Here are 3 people I will remember:

Lawrence Guyot

Lawrence Guyot

Born:  July 7, 1939.

Died: November 26, 2012

When people say that the fight against racism is over, I think of Lawrence Guyot.  Mr.  Guyot was a civil rights activist in the Deep South in the 1960s.  He was routinely beaten by white folk trying to keep integration and acceptance out of their communities.  In June 1963, he went to Winona, Mississippi to bail out 3 civil rights workers who had been arrested for entering a “whites-only” bus station.  Mr. Guyot was beat with the butts of guns by nine police officers. He was stripped naked and the police threatened to burn his genitals.  He was beaten like this for 4 hours – until a doctor intervened & advised the officers to stop. 60 years later, the beating of men and women of color – for their color – persists.  The struggle for equality for men and women of color will continue for hundreds of years, accelerated only by the sacrifice of men like Lawrence Guyot.

Maureen Dunn

Maureen Dunn

Born: 1941

Died: May 10, 2013

Fighting against a government that can’t, or won’t, talk to its citizens is a crucial aspect of freedom, and Maureen Dunn knew it.   On Feb. 14, 1968, Maureen Dunn’s husband (Navy Cmdr. Joseph Dunn) was shot down over the South China Sea during the Vietnam War. His parachute opened as he bailed out, and he survived to land on the ground and activate an emergency beacon.  After that, the military would never tell her what happened to her husband: she lived another 44 years not knowing if her husband was alive or dead.  Maureen Dunn was one of the founders of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. You know this group by its black POW/MIA flag. The sacrifice of women like Maureen Dunn reminds us that freedom will fade when we stop demanding answers from those we select to govern Us.

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Born: February 18, 1922

Died: August 13, 2012

Barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.  Many men still think this is the role women should fill.  Helen Gurley Brown didn’t think so:  she helped  a generation of women emancipate themselves from the shackles of a male-dominated society & pursue what they wanted in life – not what men told them they should want.  As an author and writer, her self-professed goal was to teach a generation of women ”how to get everything out of life — the money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity — whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.” Her first book, “Sex and the Single Girl“, encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage: it sold 2 million copies in the first 3 weeks it was published in 1962.  Even in the face of a persistent  backlash against women seeking what they want out of their lives, our sons and daughters would do well to commemorate women like Helen Gurley Brown,  who help us all recognize that we can choose how to live our own lives.

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