We welcome to our pulpit today for the 10:55 service, Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, National Director of Healing Communities and adjunct professor at Howard School of Divinity. Dr. Trulear has focused his ministry on the effects of incarceration on Black families and churches. We are honored that he is with us and look forward to an inspiring message of hope.
On Monday, May 28, 2018, our nation will observe Memorial Day. There will be barbecues, parades and various and sundry activities. To most, the importance of this day is that it functions as the unofficial beginning of summer; snowplows, wind-chill factors and frigid days will have yielded to beach vacations, amusement parks and baseball. In the midst of enjoying the commencement of summer, let us not forget the bloody history that led to the establishment of this holiday.
Memorial Day began as Decorations Day, a custom originated when graves of men and women who died in war were decorated, and cookouts were often held at grave sides and churches to commemorate the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation. The move to nationalize this observance began as an attempt to heal the gaping hole left in the American psyche from the Civil War; a war in which more than 600,000 Northern and Southern troops lost their lives. General John A. Logan, leader of the Civil War Veterans Association in 1868, chose May 30 for the observances; a day during the Civil War when no battles were fought. By 1890, Decoration Day was observed by all of the northern states. Waterloo, New York is commonly referred to as the location where Decoration Day, as a national event, was first observed.
But we must never forget, as we enjoy our cookouts and pool parties, that the Civil War and the struggle to end it is the genesis of today’s racial antipathy in America. The South never forgave Blacks for ending their lucrative agrarian lifestyles. Northern immigrants never got over that freed Black slaves became their chief competition for menial jobs.
The Civil War left scars on this nation that have yet to heal. The bitterness of the divide is typified by the fact that southern General Robert E. Lee’s plantation in Arlington, Virginia was used as the nation’s Memorial Cemetery. The raging debate over Civil War monuments in the South, most of which were erected during Reconstruction to frighten Blacks to stay in their place, is another indication of how the Civil War continues to live in the American collective conscience.
I don’t know if I will attend any holiday cookouts, but wherever I am, I will reflect on the massacre at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, the site where the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment — the first Blacks to fight in the Civil War — were sent on a suicide mission to take that fort. As depicted in the movie, Glory, the 54th Massachusetts was slaughtered trying to prove that Blacks are equal to whites. The watermelon and other cookout favorites will not taste as savory as I reflect on the bitter legacy of the Civil War for Blacks and for the entire nation, and that Memorial Day originated as a result of that same Civil War.