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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Memorial Day has its roots in 1868 when a day to decorate the graves of fallen Union soldiers was called for in a country that was anything but united after four years of a bitter Civil War.

And, amid bitter feelings after a chaotic and sometimes violent aftermath of the 2020 elections, this year’s remembrances on Monday seem stark in cultural lines crossed during a time of division.

Families of people of all races who have served and sacrificed their lives in service to their country join together to honor them each year reminding us of the universality of service to country.

Black Union dead honored

In Oklahoma City each year, families of Black Union soldiers gather at the Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery on the hill across the street from the 45th Infantry Museum on N.E. 36th Street and Martin Luther King Avenue to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the freedom of all Black people in the U.S.

The remembrance at the museum each year is an example of the cultural lines crossed by military service. Here is our coverage from 2018: Diversity marks generations who came to honor war dead in OKC

The gathering was held again this year while trying to find spots in a heavy downpour when they could hold the ceremony.

In 2019, Free Press attended the Memorial Day service at the cemetery and learned the origin of the well-maintained graves there.

Most of those in the graves in that Union cemetery are of those Black veterans of the Union Army who died after the war in Oklahoma. Over the years families have helped researchers find the graves of the Black Union Army dead and re-interred them in the cemetery in Oklahoma City.

In 2019, the ceremony honored Sgt. Monroe Kennedy, born in 1841 and died in Oklahoma in 1896. He had served in the 12th Regiment Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops, Tennessee.

Nationwide remembrance

Monday, President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris went to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. for the annual commemoration at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a hallowed place within the sprawling cemetery where remains of an unidentified soldier killed in France during WWI is interred as an honor to all U.S. soldiers who have died in wars over the country’s history.

Biden used the occasion to call for unity amid the dangers of division only months after President Donald Trump refused to concede the election, called supporters to Washington, D.C. for a rally on January 6 to “stop the steal,” and stayed silent for hours after his supporters violently attacked the Capitol Building to stop the Senate from certifying the results of the election.

Biden won the election by over 81 million votes more than President Donald Trump.

A Capitol police officer died in the fighting, another committed suicide soon after, and many officers on duty that day suffered multiple injuries, some by being hit or stabbed with flag poles with American flags on them.

“Democracy must be defended at all costs,” Biden said according to the Washington Post. “Democracy, that’s the soul of America. And I believe it’s a soul worth fighting for. And so do you. A soul worth dying for.”

It was the second Memorial Day ceremony in which Biden participated. The day before on Sunday, Biden spoke about the sacrifices the day helps Americans remember.

“As a nation, we must always remember — always remember,” Biden said Sunday. “We must remember the price that was paid for our liberties.”

History of Memorial Day

In all, an estimated 620,000 Americans died as a result of the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Only two years after the war, the decorating of graves revealed the deep divisions in the country at that time.

Southern women had started using flowers to decorate graves of fallen Confederate Soldiers soon after the cessation of fighting, by some reports as early as later in the year of 1865. In some cases, they carefully avoided decorating graves of Union soldiers buried in the same cemeteries.

Black families in the south as early as 1865 began decorating graves of fallen Black Union soldiers very often buried in separate cemeteries from their white comrades and ignored by white southerners.

The establishment of “Decoration Day” as it was called for many years can be traced back to the practice then spreading into the rest of the U.S. The honorary “Commander-in-Chief” of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Civil War veterans’ association, declared May 30, 1868, to be a day for decorating the graves of Union soldiers across the U.S.

Eventually “Decoration Day” evolved into the national holiday of Memorial Day when all who sacrificed their lives in service to their country are honored.


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Last Updated May 31, 2021, 2:42 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor