Remember, Memorial Day was started by African-Americans

Posted May 27th, 2016 by
Category: History Tags: , , , ,

In honor of Memorial Day, we are reposting this blog entry from 2013, which recounts how the first Memorial Day was celebrated by free black troops and civilians in Charleston, S.C. at the end of the Civil War.

St. Michael's Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865As we pause today to remember the nation’s war dead, it’s worth remembering that Memorial Day was first celebrated by black Union troops and free black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina at the end of the Civil War.

As historian David Blight recounts in his masterful book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), Charleston was occupied by Union troops in the spring of 1865, most white residents having fled the city. In this atmosphere, the free black population of Charleston, primarily consisting of former slaves, engaged in a series of celebrations to proclaim the meaning of the war as they saw it.

The height of these celebrations took place on May 1, 1865, on the grounds of the former Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, an elite facility which had been used by the Confederates as a gruesome prison and mass grave for unlucky Union soldiers. Following the evacuation of Charleston, black laborers had dug up the remains of Union soldiers, given them a proper burial, and built the trappings of a respectful cemetery around the site to memorialize their sacrifice.

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Black soldiers achieved something “virtually unheard of” at the Battle of Nashville in 1864

Posted December 16th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , ,

The Battle of NashvilleToday marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville, which, between December 16-17, 1864, broke General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and left Tennessee in Union hands for the duration of the war.

In a military sense, the 13th United States Colored Troops, despite their bravery and sacrifice on the first day of the battle, “contributed nothing to the Union victory.” Yet this African American regiment achieved something “virtually unheard of in the war” with their courage and sacrifice: they “not only earned the awed respect of white Union troops who witnessed their efforts; they also garnered heartfelt praise from an opposing Confederate general in his official report.”

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50th anniversary of King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Posted December 10th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , ,

Text of King's Nobel Prize acceptance speechToday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964. He was, at the time, the youngest person ever to receive that honor.

As the nation is embroiled in protests over the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, let us pause for a moment to consider how much, and how little, has changed in half a century:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.

I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death.


“The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”

Posted July 4th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , ,

Frederick DouglassThis post was originally published on July 4, 2013 and is reposted today in commemoration of Independence Day, in all its meanings.

It is always worth making time, on the Fourth of July, to remember those people and movements whose courage and sacrifice advanced and improved upon the ideals on which the United States was founded. This is true even for those which may have seemed radical, subversive, or even unpatriotic at the time.

In that light, we highly recommend the Fourth of July oration delivered by abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y. on July 5, 1852, entitled “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”1

The following brief excepts from Douglass’ speech illustrate not only his burning hatred for slavery and his withering scorn for those who would not extend the nation’s liberty to all its children, but also his praise for all that is good in the American experiment, and his optimism for the future:
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  1. Our thanks to Mass Humanities, among others, for laboring diligently to make this speech, and its spirit, an integral part of our Independence Day celebrations each year. []

50 years ago today, the U.S. Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Posted June 19th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , ,

President Lyndon Johnson speaks with Senator Richard Russell, Dec. 7, 1963Fifty years ago today, the U.S. Senate passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, after ending the longest continuous debate in Senate history.

America grows. America changes. And on the civil rights issue we must rise with the occasion.

— Republican Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen,  announcing he would help Democrats pass the Civil Rights Act

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Remembering the first Memorial Day

Posted May 26th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , ,

In honor of Memorial Day, we are reposting this blog entry from last year, which recounts how the first Memorial Day was celebrated by free black troops and civilians in Charleston, S.C. at the end of the Civil War.

St. Michael's Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865As we pause today to remember the nation’s war dead, it’s worth remembering that Memorial Day was first celebrated by black Union troops and free black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina at the end of the Civil War.

As historian David Blight recounts in his masterful book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), Charleston was occupied by Union troops in the spring of 1865, most white residents having fled the city. In this atmosphere, the free black population of Charleston, primarily consisting of former slaves, engaged in a series of celebrations to proclaim the meaning of the war as they saw it.

The height of these celebrations took place on May 1, 1865, on the grounds of the former Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, an elite facility which had been used by the Confederates as a gruesome prison and mass grave for unlucky Union soldiers. Following the evacuation of Charleston, black laborers had dug up the remains of Union soldiers, given them a proper burial, and built the trappings of a respectful cemetery around the site to memorialize their sacrifice.

Read the rest of this entry »


50th anniversary of the War on Poverty

Posted January 8th, 2014 by
Category: History, Living consequences Tags: , , , ,

Lyndon Johnson delivers his State of the Union, January 8, 1964Today is the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon Johnson, in his State of the Union address to Congress, dramatically announced:

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

On this occasion, I think it is worth remembering that Johnson was intimately familiar with poverty, having had what biographer Robert Caro calls a “terrible boyhood” filled with the insecurity and humiliations of poverty: living in a home that could be taken by the bank at any time, and often depending on neighbors to bring dishes of food to eat. This seems to have filled Johnson with a passion to fight poverty, which he began planning with his advisers within hours of the assassination of President Kennedy.1

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  1. See Robert A. Caro, Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). []

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