Celebrating Memorial Day may be difficult for African Americans in 2018. There is so much evidence of racism woven into American fabric, that the difficulty isn't hard to understand. As a Black Woman and the Mother of a five year old Black boy, I think about Memorial Day and have very mixed feelings but the truth is there are many soldiers that died fighting for our freedom. From what we know today, conditions in the colonies were horrendous for black people because we were subjected to one of the most brutal forms of slavery in the world. Nat Turners rebellion some 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 shows the desperation of many to not only escape that inhumane treatment but also hold their captors accountable while freeing their families from the violet grasp of their 'masters'. What we very rarely talk about is Black participation in the Civil War and how soldiers were treated. On Memorial Day, I like to remember that more than 300 Black soldiers were murdered in cold blood by Confederates while their white counterparts were taken in as Prisoners of War. Now, while I realize this isn't a pretty picture to paint in my head annually, I think it's the only way I can really acknowledge Memorial Day as a day for celebration as a person of color in the present day United States.
Fort Pillow isn't a thing that was talked about regularly during Memorial Day lessons when I was in school and I doubt much has changed about that. It also isn't something that was brought up in my US History courses. It wasn't until I got to college and elected to take Ethic Studies courses that I ever even heard it in a classroom setting. As a Black Mother, this is why I will always celebrate Memorial Day in the way I do. I have to provide a learning environment for my son that is separate from the one he has at school. I have to teach to him that there were soldiers that have died for our rights as Black Americans and that one huge example of that is Fort Pillow. in 1864, a year after the war ended and the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, more than 300 soldiers bravely fought confederates who would have kept us in fields without rights and were murdered upon surrender. This is gruesome and swept under the carpet year after year, but these men deserve to be celebrated no matter how we feel about the current climate or any wars that came after.
Fast forward and we are dealing with Jim Crow segregation laws and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). One of the most popular acts of civil disobedience was the Woolworth's Lunch Counter protest in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. Four Black college student refused to leave their seats when being denied service for no other reason than being Black. To this day I am terrified of the Carolina's and will probably never visit there because their racism is legendary. For this reason, I am so appreciative of these students and their bravery. They were slapped in the face, had smoke blown in their faces and had liquids poured on them while sitting at those counters. Knowing that the dehumanizing treatment they were enduring would ignite a flame in the hearts of Black people across the south who were tired of being treated as 'other'. The amount of violence that these protesters faced knew no bounds because they were not seen as human by Confederates in the south, and the audacity of them to demand equality had deadly consequences. There were countless crosses burned on people's lawns, children terrorized, women raped, families lynched and more. For these seemingly forgotten and unnamed hero's, I celebrate.
Another Civil Rights protest of notoriety was the Montgomery Bus boycott of 1955 lasted 13 months as a part of the Civil Rights movement until 1965. It took a decade for southern states to be forced to let Black people sit on the bus, eat at lunch counters, drink from water fountains and use bathrooms. Thankfully, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed in enough time for Martin Luther King Jr. to see some of his hard work and sacrifices pay off before his assassination and all of the rumors and claims surrounding it. Whether it has been about going to the same schools, living in the same neighborhoods or just sitting down, our existence as Black Americans has been one riddled with turmoil. Our battles on American soil go far beyond Federally recognized holidays so it's important that we remember what we did on this long road to "freedom" in America.
Even as we drift into this present day, there are still protests for Black people in America to have basic human rights and not to be discriminated against. From the school to prison pipeline to the NFL kneeling protests being banned, there are attacks on our communities that have been codified, both old and new, that we excuse them or no longer recognize them for what they are or what they were originally intended to do.
In 2018 the fight continues for Black Americans to be treated as human beings, to be provided access to the same resources, to be provided the same opportunities. In many ways we are still just as dependent on one another and our fighting spirit to thrive in a world that is set up for us to fail. So this Memorial Day remember those who fought and died so we can make fun of BBQ Becky for calling the police on us for doing nothing even though that very action still has the same deadly implications that it always has carried for Black Americans. Without them, we may not have been afforded the luxuries that we have today even though it's clear we would still have this same battle laid out at our feet. Happy Memorial Day.
A Word During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Bella Eiko is a single mother of a 6 year old boy, freelance journalist, foodie & Civil Rights activist that is dedicated to building a better world by increasing communication & applying positive changes to her everyday life. This endeavor includes educating both herself as well as her son about sustainable living and healthy alternatives to everyday products using practical application.
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