Monday, May 28, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
Memorial Day always makes me a little blue. Mostly, because I think of my husband who died after the first Gulf War in 1991 from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Gulf War Syndrome, and then, to deny their complicity, the powers that be ignored reality and denigrated his memory by twisting the truth. It's not enough that he died a very tragic death for Middle Eastern oil, his mental and physical illnesses are dismissed and forgotten; his fighting a war he didn't believe in, overlooked; and on top of that, the military denied that he and others served from the location that they served from, thus denying them war pay and service pins. But, my sons and I know that my husband and their Father, Michael, was a human being doing the best he could at the time. He will always be one of our heroes. I honor him and all the others.
Throughout my life, I've had a "weird" way of looking at things, or so I've been told. While others were having parties and drinking and celebrating, I used to find a quiet place and cry for the lost lives of all those men and women from the Revolutionary War right down to the present. I would try to find ways to honor their contributions and salute their bravery and courage. I even celebrated and honored the nurses who were not actually considered soldiers, but who were in harm's way often tending to the wounded, or comforting the dying. I'm sure they suffered from PTSD too, but because they weren't wearing uniforms like the soldiers, their sacrifices seem to be celebrated on a lesser scale. I honor them all.
But, the secret I have kept for years out of concern that people would laugh at me or call me names (and now that I'm 57 years old, I couldn't care less who likes it!) is that there are other Americans who deserve to be remembered today too! Remember slavery? I have heard slavery excused by the notion that "Africans sold each other into slavery, so that's much worse than the slave traders who bought and re-sold them." While this is true in a broad sense, the deeper truth is that the Africans from Ghana who sold African people to slave traders had engaged in slavery for ages. Yet, their tradition was to hold slaves (actually more like indentured servants) for seven years, and then to set them free. Once freed, these former slaves would be free to marry into the "slaveholder's" family and would gain all the rights and privileges of any other family member. The Africans who sold their neighbors into slavery had no idea that this would not be so in America.
Currently in Ghana, the government has apologized for selling their People into the Diaspora (all the places the Africans were sent to, the Middle Passage---North America and the Carribbean---being only one of them). Many are the slaves who were tortured, starved, burned, beaten, lynched, mutilated, separated from families and tribal members, raped and mated with others to "breed superior stock." The pains of this People, like many others used by this Country, resulted in great wealth for the South. In addition, it is said that MILLIONS more African slaves lie on the ocean floor of the Middle Passage, having been tossed overboard due to disease and death. Predictably, those at the base of the stacks of human chattel were in no way able to avoid the vomit, urine or fecal matter that rained upon them from the upper levels. All these individuals died so that the South could regain some of its former wealth and status that it once had in England. I honor them all.
The practice and institution of slavery in this Country was brutal. Even among our so-called, Founding Fathers, there were tales of sordid treatment of slaves. For instance, there is the case of George Washington. Prior to the recruitment of White militiamen, George Washington used some of his own slaves in the early weeks and months of the Revolutionary War against the British. These unsung heroes were told they would be set free if they survived the war. Unfortunately, only those who looked like Washington (obviously his children by some poor slave woman or women) were freed; and the rest were willed---as slaves---to his wife, Martha, at the time of his death. And, lest we forget, many, many Native people died during the "founding of America." The Native people whose country we STOLE and called it our own, were exterminated through a genocide used to prevent anyone from challenging America's ownership. I honor them all.
Some Blacks were sent as decoys into hopeless battles in America's early history, where it was obvious they would not survive, but it would give time to their White counterparts to be prepared. These Black men went willingly to death fighting for the America they hoped to gain equality in one day. Some Blacks were maimed or murdered for learning to read or for teaching other slaves to read. And, later, the Black warriors of both North and South were, also, fighting with the hope of being rewarded their freedom after the Civil War. In the South, most returned to their former "masters" realizing they had no idea what it meant to be free and no means of supporting themselves and their families. Similarly, the Black men who went to the Korean War, WWI and II, and Viet Nam, fought valiantly despite the racism that existed even in their regiments and companies. Worse yet, all these brave heroes returned home to the same racism and discrimination they suffered before the war. I honor them all.
I, also, honor those who made it possible for me to befriend some of you and sit with you in restaurants, because theirs were huge sacrifices as well. Whether or not you understood their messages, men like Dr.Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and many, many others suffered and died trying to find a way out of persistent racism that prevented Blacks ready access to the American Dream. How frightening it must have been to see dogs set upon you! Or perhaps to be billy-clubbed into unconsciousness! Then, there are those who were the first Blacks to attend the good White schools or the prestigious White universities, who were pranked, spat upon and humiliated on a daily basis. If not for them, this country would still be in the dark ages and I wouldn't even be allowed to write a page such as this! I honor them all.
And, last, but not least, I want to mention those who risked dying or died trying to right a serious wrong. People like the "Black Strings" in a region in Ohio who vowed to help runaway slaves escape along the Underground Railroad, and who wore a string of black thread so that they could recognize one another: they are heroes too. They were brave enough to commit what at the time was considered "treason" by not returning slaveholders' "property." These men had wives and children and prominent positions in the community, and they knew they were not large enough in number to defeat the whole country, but they did the right thing for the right reasons! I'm sure there are other stories, like the White college students from the north who deliberately sat with their fellow Black students at lunch counters of the 1960's where signs announced that Blacks were not welcome. Many of them were murdered or came up missing and were presumed dead. There were people of all races and genders who marched with Dr. King, some of whom paid the ultimate price. I honor them all.
Some of the brave folks are our White Sisters who hid Black families in basements, spare rooms and storage areas so that they would not be returned to slavery. One story in particular that makes me cry every time I think of it is the story of a White woman from the northeast part of the US who left her children and her husband because she had heard of the atrocities that were being committed in the south in the 1960's. She was in the crowd listening to one of Dr. King's speeches and when it was time to leave, she offered a ride to a young Black man. Along the road, they were attacked and killed by racist Whites. But, this woman died doing exactly what she wanted to be doing: fighting for justice, compassion and freedom for another human being whose skin happened to be a different color, but whose blood splattered onto the streets in exactly the same hue as her own. I honor them all.
This may sound melancholy or, perhaps, you think I'm racist for even mentioning these things. I believe that we all deserve to be treated like the precious children of God that we are. I think it's time we put the truth out on the table and deal with it. It seems to me that by denying how horrific the Black Holocaust was we are no better than those who deny the occurrence of the Jewish Holocaust. It's time we valued the lives and deaths of our Black Brothers and Sisters and all the other Peoples of Color just as much as we do our White Brothers and Sisters. We all have a lot to be grateful for and we all have many who have made it possible for us to have what we do today.
I hope you will join me in HONORING ALL THOSE WHO DIED TRYING TO PROTECT, DEFEND AND IMPROVE THIS COUNTRY! On this Memorial Day, pause and reflect on the sacrifices made on our mutual behalf. Meditate or offer a prayer of thanks for people who were willing to risk their lives doing the right thing and for the families and friends they left behind to mourn them. Pray for our returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, for their loved ones, for those who are still in the war and for their loved ones as well. And, please pray especially for the families and friends of ALL who have paid the ultimate sacrifice throughout the history of America, that we might ALL have the privilege of being Americans.
*Revised and reprinted from Memorial Day, May 26, 2009
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