Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day and the Former Slaves Who Started It

h/t Kris Broughton at Big Think/Resurgence for starting me on this trail. I'm all for honoring the fallen each Memorial Day. I want to honor all the fallen, though, and this is my contribution to that end. From another perspective it's a good case study of how history may be "lost" and how it can be rediscovered.

Broughton's May 30 post popped up on my Blogger reading list with the headline "S.C. Black Freedmen Organized First Memorial Day Celebration In 1865"-- and after replacing my uppers, I went straight to Wikipedia, font of all wisdom. Sure enough, the Memorial Day entry says, and I quote:

Formerly known as Decoration Day, which was first recorded to have been observed by Freedmen (freed enslaved southern blacks) in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, at the Washington Race Course, to remember the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. Today, what is now known as Memorial Day, is a day of reflection and recognition of ordinary people who sometimes visit cemeteries and graves to honor their deceased relatives while also commemorating all U.S. Service Members who died while inmilitary service.[2] The recognition of the fallen victims was then enacted under the name Memorial Day by an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)[3] — to honorUnion soldiers of the American Civil War. Over time, it was extended after World War I to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.

I knew about the expansion after WWI part, but not the prior history of the holiday. That never got mentioned, somehow, in the required history that was covered during my military service.

After a quick skim of the Wikipedia entry, I dutifully went to the Broughton post. Seems he had been inspired by a Ta-Nehisi Coates post at The Atlantic... (with some quite cogent comments there, by the way, and not too much racist chaff, as TNC screens for that)

...which was in turn inspired by an excellent David Blight article in the New York Times...

...which drew upon research Blight had done some time earlier, and earlier discussed near the end of...

...a lecture he gave about the end of the Civil War called "To Appomattox and Beyond: The End of the War and a Search for Meanings." [video at the link, transcript available here]

Back to the Resurgence/Big Think post, there was one link I had skipped so I went back for it. The link leads to an article titled "Slaves Started Memorial Day" that was republished in May 2010 by the L.A. Watts Times. (This Brian Hicks article first appeared under the title "The First Memorial Day" on May 24, 2009 in the [Charleston, S.C.] Post and Courier. It may be read here.)

The Hicks article also brings a bit more of the local view and that makes it worth a read.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"Later" turns out to be "now" for California prisons

There's a new conversation at subrealism about the Supreme Court decision on California prisons. Too many prisoners, too little space, too few services. (Services, if you're concerned about taxpayer dollars, are things like just enough medical care to keep the state out of "cruel and unusual punishment" territory if administered properly.)

We've known the extent of the problem for some years, thanks to Judge Thelton Henderson's constant admonitions, but as a state we kind of dragged our societal feet until, oh, right this minute. Shifting prisoners to the county jails and declaring victory is not going to work well, as there is overcrowding and underfunding there too, and the sheriffs are pretty upset about the whole thing. Add potential layoffs to the mix and it's even less pretty.

ProfGeo comment is at the "new conversation" link above, with some informative discussion from CNu and the crowd as well. Please check it out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A "Fair Use" shot across the bow

The folks at Racialicious have heard from New York magazine over a recent (May 13) post that quotes from an article on Asian Americans. My guess is they are discussing the amount of the article that is quoted vs. the amount of new commentary from the Racialicious blogger. I don't think the magazine is trying to shut down discussion of the subject matter itself, in this particular case.

Those of us who largely blog in "reactive" mode, citing the news of the day, should take note of the proceedings. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, there are four tests for fair use and a body of case law. There is no simple, hard and fast rule that applies to everyone all the time. We are concerned in academia as well as in the everyday world of sharing.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) didn't help. The waters have been further muddied over the past several years as certain outlets (e.g. major networks like MSNBC; TED...) have actively promoted embedding and in some cases even provided tools to selectively clip/edit their stuff for sharing. New York is old school print and they seem to be reacting to Racialicious from that perspective.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why, Clearly, America has a Fighting President, not just a Black President*

Since Sunday night, May 1, when President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed, the tenor of media coverage everywhere has changed. Although some right-wingers are paying left-handed compliments to our left-handed President, at least they're compliments for the moment.

MSM have resurrected a few media zombies such as Paul Wolfowitz, Alan Dershowitz, Michael Steele (who never really disappeared) and let them take the bit in their teeth. There is some second-guessing over whether to release photographs of the body, but everything else is like water off a duck's back, a bit of unseemly but not unexpected quibbling.

There has been a lower-key response from the more peaceful and peaceable among us. Some with Buddhist perspective, most about the sanctity of life, most, I believe, a reaction to the finite-game, sports-victory home-team aspect of the "spontaneous" celebrations Sunday night. (Where did they get all those flags that late at night, anyway?)

But for the moment, the President is just the President. I choose to savor that part of it.

*This post's title is dedicated to Gene Wolfe.