Memorial Day’s origins & meaning; in praise of southern Unionists; US history as told in cemeteries; Roots get rebooted tonight


U.S. soldiers buried near the beaches of Normandy, France.

Today is Memorial Day, but is it appropriate to wish someone a “Happy Memorial Day?” Many of us do it because the day has morphed over time to simply mean to many people that it is the start of summer, and because it is an off day from work. Yet, we should NEVER FORGET the day is meant for much more than that. Further, some people have the misguided notion that the day is a blanket celebration of all men and women that have served our country in the military. No, that is Veteran’s Day. Today is meant to remember and decorate the graves of soldiers that lost their lives while serving in our armed forces. As such, it should be celebratory, yet solemn. Let’s not forget that today on our day off from work.

love this piece by Kevin Levin. I am a big fan of southern Unionists during the Civil War (southerners from states that seceded but who fought for the United States), so I like seeing Kevin use Memorial Day to remind the nation about their sacrifices to our country. I especially like that he puts them in the context of the debate about Confederate monuments. We hear people scream all the time that the removal of rebel monuments is “erasing history” (which is nonsense), so what about the fact that southern Unionists were pretty much erased from history by the South after the Civil War? (Hopefully, the upcoming movie Free State of Jones is about to help change that a little).  Where are their monuments? On a personal note, I have several ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, but the ancestor I admire the most is the one that fought for the United States during the Civil War (my great, great grandfather). His reasons were not completely noble (he liked Lincoln’s promotion of colonization–which the president later abandoned), but he did not come from a county that was a bastion of Unionism, so it took a special brand of courage to fight for the U.S. and then to come home to that same community after the war. I like to think I would have had the same courage, but who really knows? So where’s his monument? Hmmm, perhaps it is the United States flag that flies over his home state of Alabama now.

And speaking of “erasing” history, I dare say that a large percentage of Americans are totally unaware that Memorial Day has much of its roots in the efforts of the African American community of Charleston, South Carolina, to properly bury Union soldiers and dedicate their graves in 1865. This fact was long and purposely suppressed.

Memorial Day has its roots in the effort to preserve and dedicate Civil War cemeteries, but We’re History has a really interesting and unique list of 12 cemeteries that collectively tell the story of America.

Memorial day is not just recognized here at home. All across the globe, cemeteries contain the remains of our soldiers that died serving our country and fighting for the freedom of others. From England to Tunisia, their graves are being honored today. (Which is why I chose the picture of the US soldiers buried at Normandy for today’s image).

The remake of Roots starts tonight and will be simultaneously broadcast on three channels (History, A&E, and Lifetime). I think we are all dubious about this being a production of the History channel, but much of the reviews have been positive, and one can hope that if the show is successful the History channel will start doing more serious shows again. Others may doubt whether a remake should have been made at all. But, as this reviewer perceptively notes, it is in some ways appropriate because Alex Haley was able to tell the story in the first place because of how each generation of his family told and retold the story. (And in case you missed it, I did a piece in which I reviewed the original to see if it warranted a remake, concluding that the original does not carry the same punch it once did, and that you’d have to be a child of 60s and 70s TV to understand why).


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