Updated: Dec 1, 2021
We have entered what the church calls “ordinary time” — ordinary, yet no less sacred.
Approaching Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as it is familiarly known, I’ve been thinking a lot about remembrance, which is, if ordinary, profoundly sacred. Today, we remember those soldiers who have died in their often extraordinary service. We place ﬂowers on graves. We hold soldiers, those who grieve the fallen, and all impacted by the ravages of war in our hearts. And we dream of a time when our remembrance would make peacemakers of all of us.
Memorial Day was ﬁrst celebrated in our nation on May 1, 1865 by formerly enslaved African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly 10,000, mostly Black and some white missionaries, teachers, and soldiers, gathered at a digniﬁed cemetery that Black community members had transformed out from a former Confederate prison and mass gravesite. 3,000 Black children, carrying ﬂowers and singing, “Glory, glory Hallelujah. His soul goes marching on,” led the way, and Black soldiers from the 54th, 34th and 104th regiments concluded the parade. A dedication led by Black ministers who drew from scriptures and spirituals alike was followed by a time of decoration of the graves. The day concluded with picnicking on the grounds, not merely honoring the dead, but living into and enjoying the promise of freedom that the fallen had sought to assure.
This ﬁrst Decoration Day was obscured by those who in the wake of Reconstruction sought to undo advancements of freedom and equality by installing racial inequality in local, state and national law and policy, enforcing inequality and racial fear through terrorism, and deliberate miseducation that erased history. The latter efforts sought to hide and return to what the Civil War had uncovered and Reconstruction had sought to repent from and repair: our nation’s original sin of racism, enslavement, and white supremacy. These patterns of erasure happened throughout the 20th century: we remember, too, today, the 100th Anniversary of the massacre of the Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Learn more here.). And they continue today by those who would seek to bar the teaching of this crucial history in our schools.
God’s Peace and Love, Rev. Ally