It’s the last Monday in May, and the United States is honoring their nearly 3 million military casualties of war. Since 1775, the occasion now commemorates 105 American Wars and conflicts of which five are active — Syria, Niger, Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine — along with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott joining a crowded Republican race for President of the United States.
Announcing the formation of an exploratory committee for a 2024 presidential run, Scott chose Charleston Harbor and the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter as a backdrop.
On this day, in this harbor, the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. Today, divisions of color are still deep.
While Scott highlights America’s divisions, he takes a wide berth around South Carolina. On 12 April 1861, South Carolina's Militia artillery fired from shore on the Union garrison and Major Robert Anderson was forced to surrender the following day. South Carolina went on to secede and lead the most divisive and deadly event in American history.
Though Scott bemoans the nation’s divisions, he largely embraces his party's 'Lost Cause of the Confederacy' legacy through state laws protecting Confederate Monuments, a commitment to limiting voting access, and by introducing legislation (S.Res. 246) condemning the Critical Race Theory in public schools K-12.
While 'Lost Cause' claims the Confederate case during the American Civil War was just, heroic, and not centered on slavery, it can be fairly be said that the ‘divided nation' of which Scott speaks remains the enduring legacy of American Civil War.
Black Memorial Day
At the conclusion of the American Civil War, Charleston South Carolina lied in ruins, occupied by Union troops. Among the first to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepting the city's official surrender.
Whites had largely abandoned the city and thousands of former slaves remained, conducting a series of commemorations to declare victory over their emancipation from servitude and slavery. The largest of these events took place at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club on May 1, 1865.
During the war, Confederate soldiers had converted the city's Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were incarcerated in the interior of the track; where at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston, black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery.
They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course." The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy's bastion was not lost on the newly freed people, who, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track.
A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before." The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song "John Brown's Body." The newly consolidated nation's now African-American women followed with baskets of wreaths.
White Memorial Day
The Ladies’ Memorial Associations were locally organized groups of southern white women, who, following the American Civil War, tracked down the scattered remains of 260,000 Confederate soldiers, reinterred them in Confederate cemeteries and placed sympathy flowers on their graves.
Confederate cemeteries weren't furnished by local, state or federal governments, nor were they organized by Confederate veterans. In fact, the Ladies' Memorial Associations created the Confederate cemeteries for approximately 80 percent of the fallen soldiers, raised monuments and were the first proponents of 'Lost Cause.'
In 2022, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and the National Cemetery Administration credited their Treasurer Mary Ann Williams with originating the idea of strewing the graves of Civil War soldiers with roses.
General John A. Logan first commented on the observances in a speech to veterans on July 4, 1866, and later commissioned General Order No. 11 to the Grand Army of the Republic to observe 30 May 1868 as the first national observance of “Decoration Day.”
By 1890, every state in the Union had adopted the tradition and World War I expanded the remit. By 1971, Congress standardized the last Monday in May as "Memorial Day" to encompass all military personnel who died while serving in the United States armed forces.
Scott repudiates the Critical Race Theory which asks, 1) Do U.S. institutions and case law perpetuate racism, or 2) is racism a 'confirmation bias' that interprets any inequity or imbalance anywhere as proof of institutional racism?
“Hear me clearly,” Scott concluded, in his declaration for president on Monday. “America is not a racist country." Noted expert on Black men, Joy Behar, from "The View" pushed back on Tuesday with a challenge to Scott's reconciliations: "He’s one of these guys who believes in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, rather than understanding the systemic racism that African Americans face in this country. He doesn’t get it."
U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds's replies on Wednesday:
Joy, dressing up as a Black woman with dark paint on your face doesn't make you Black, or an expert on what it's like to be Black. From one Black person to another White liberal who got a pass for wearing Black face, sit this one out.
We agree. Because "a rose is a rose is a rose," wrote Gertrude Stein, a child and scholar of the Civil War era. Developing the Law of Identity at Radcliffe with William James, Stein later explained to an audience at Oxford University how a negative proposition (Lost Cause) and its contradiction (Critical Race Theory) could negate both (Equity) in the United States (Equality).