Time to Cancel Memorial Day?

For context, read Robin Beres’ uplifting tribute to the Arlington National Cemetery in the post below. Then, if you can stomach it, read Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro’s take on Memorial Day today. Memorial Day, he writes, “began as a commemoration by Southerners of husbands, fathers and sons who perished in the 19th-century Confederate revolt to preserve Black slavery. ”

“Time,” concludes Schapiro, “has obscured the Southern roots of Memorial Day and the paradox that a holiday that is supposed to be about national unity was born of regional revolt.”

Well, Memorial Day was a holiday about national unity — celebrated no less in the South than anywhere else in the country. But don’t be surprised if the holiday becomes collateral damage in the culture wars.

If anyone is undermining the sense of national unity on Memorial Day, it’s not patriotic Southerners weeping for a lost cause, it’s those who never tire of reminding us of America’s grievous flaws throughout its history. Maintaining the leftist narrative requires dwelling obsessively upon the sins of the past as a means of distracting from the manifest and manifold catastrophes of leftist governance today.

The origins of Memorial Day are more complicated than Schapiro suggests. On May 1, 1865, according to Wikipedia, formerly enslaved Black adults and children held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union soldiers. Shortly after the war, Georgian Mary Ann Williams originated the “idea of strewing the graves of Civil War soldiers — Union and Confederate” with flowers. In 1868 Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed Decoration Day to honor Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. In 1873 New York was the first state to recognize Memorial Day as a state holiday. Congress proclaimed Memorial Day in 1971.

Whatever the holiday’s origins, nearly all Americans, including Southerners, have forgotten them. What matters — or should matter — is how people view the holiday today. Almost all Americans use the occasion of the holiday to honor the sacrifices made by all fallen American veterans. End of story.

What I find so profoundly disturbing about Schapiro’s column is that it invokes America’s racist past to taint an institution that, whatever its origins, has been free from the obsession with race for many years. Americans honor veterans of all races and backgrounds who died for their country. While Schapiro did not call Memorial Day to be cancelled, he has introduced the issue of slavery and race, thus providing an intellectual justification for others to do so.

To his credit, Schapiro does close on a conciliatory note, quoting John Coski, a historian retired from the American Civil War Museum: “I think most people understand the universal need to honor war dead and to make sense of and find meaning in their sacrifice.”

Perhaps that’s the sentiment he should have invoked at the start of his column.