June 12, 2011

A Christian, African-American Reflection on Flag Day

On Memorial Day (once known as Decoration Day--a day to commemorate the war dead and place flowers, flags, etc. on their graves), I visited the cemetery where my parents are buried, did some clean up, and placed flowers and a flag.

The flag almost didn't make its way to the gravesite.

After fighting mosquitoes away while doing the clean up, taking photographs of the flowers on the grave to share with family, I was all ready to leave the cemetery and return to my Memorial Day holiday break. As I drove out of the cemetery, I remembered I hadn't stopped by the cemetery office to get a flag for the gravesite. I turned around, stopped by the office, picked up a flag, and drove back into the cemetery to place a flag on the grave.

Why did I do it? Why did I have to go back for the flag?

My father was a veteran of World War II and Korea. My grandfather was a veteran of World War I. Their service under this flag transformed not only their lives, but the life of this nation.

African-American soldiers who lived in the segregated American South experienced a new level of learning and insight when they traveled around the world "fighting for democracy." These men and women left behind a society in which they could not vote, could not use many government buildings without incident, and could not receive the common courtesies extended to adults of their age and station.

Despite this,they were drafted into military service and most of them performed very well. When they returned home, these veterans were much less inclined the silently accept the second hand treatment much of American society offered them. The Red Summer of 1919
and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s grew largely out of their refusal to accomodate themselves to the unfairness of segregation after having served and risked their lives overseas for the nation.

It was because they believed in the concept of what the flag represented that these veterans were assured of the rightness of their case. Many of them never forgot that generations of their ancestors worked to build wealth in this country, even though those ancestors did not properly benefit from their labor. These veterans knew they were as "American" as anyone else, perhaps even more so than many. Racism did not--nor does it now--change the truth of their belief. The racist beliefs of certain people never cancelled these veterans' contributions, their service, or their worthiness of military honor. In fact, it was the moral and physical courage of these veterans (and others) that led the way in transforming American society into more of what it should have been.

That's why I had to go back for the flag.

No comments: