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22 May

Memorial Day, 2015

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Fiance killed in Iraq in February, 2007

“They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.”

Henry Ward Beecher

 

Sam

Sam, Female,  18 Years of Age

The McGlynn, Originally Published In 2007

Jackie Evancho – My Heart Will Go On – National Memorial Concert 2014

History books credit a Union officer with the idea of a holiday to remember the war dead. But the first people to honor those who died had far less power

john logan

This man is generally credited with creating the first Memorial Day. But the history of the real originators has almost been forgotten. Photograph: Design Pics Inc/REX_Shutterstock

African Americans have fought and died for America from its earliest days, from frontier skirmishes to the French and Indian Wars to the fall of Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, immortalized as “the first to die for American freedom”. And though most official histories of Memorial Day credit with its founding a white former Union Army major general, whose 1868 call for a Decoration Day was reputedly inspired by local celebrations begun as early as 1866, the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.

The city of Charleston was, like many places in the South, physically devastated by the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy, which began in its harbor with the attack upon Fort Sumter in 1861. But Charleston was more than just the place where the war of brother against brother began: it was also the entry point for a quarter of all enslaved Africans in the colonial period, accounting for more than any other port. As the international slave trade faced its inevitable abolition, traders delivered more than 90,000 humans into enslavement through the port between 1803 and the (official) end of the American slave trade in 1808. Charleston was a center for the trading of enslaved people across the Deep South and the exit point for the valuable crops of rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton produced completely by enslaved labor – crops which made millions for the South’s wealthiest and most concentrated planter elite.

The enslaved Africans who formed the majority of the local population were some of the most un-assimilated blacks in North America at that time. They were the Gullah people, descendants of those sold into slavery from the rice-growing regions of West Africa and the Kongo-Angola region of Central Africa. The plantations of the lowcountry and the seedy streets of antebellum Charleston were horrific places for the Gullah people: malaria, yellow fever, cholera, malnutrition, physical violence, sexual exploitation and the constant threat of separation from the family abounded in the lives of the enslaved. Tropical diseases forced plantations into isolation and the Gullah developed their own language, a unique syncretic religion blending African and Christian elements, a food culture that birthed Lowcountry foodways as we know them, and they preserved names, stories, traditions and customs from across the African continent. One of the most important rituals that they preserved and passed on was the honoring of the ancestral dead and giving proper due to those transitioning out of this world.

When the Civil War came, the response of the Gullah people was to use their knowledge to further the cause of freedom: from the heroic acts of Robert Smalls to the enthusiasm of the Port Royal Experiment to the call for 40 Acres and a Mule, it was these uniquely cultured and empowered people who perhaps most enthusiastically embraced both resistance to the planter regime while yearning for the American dream. And, on 1 May 1865, they performed an act of gratitude to the country that had first enslaved and finally freed them, firmly based both in their African and American heritage that became part of what we now celebrate as Memorial Day.

As the war ended, behind the Italianate grandstand at Charleston’s Washington Race course – which, in the pre-war years had been the playground of the rice and cotton planter elite – there was a mass grave holding over 200 Union soldiers, because the track served an outdoor prison during the last year of the war and many prisoners died of disease and exposure. At the war’s end, after the city was surrendered to African American troops and largely abandoned by whites, the Gullah people were ready to begin facing a new reality of emancipation – but first they chose to pay homage to those who had died.

In the West African tradition from which Charleston’s Gullah people came, honorable warriors deserved sacred burial, and the dead were seen as part of a cycle of souls entering and leaving the world. To disrespect those dead was to ensure a negative energy in the future, so 28 Gullah men dug up the 200 men in that mass grave behind the grandstand and gave them proper burial – horrific work under the best of circumstances.

On 1 May, “in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers”, 3,000 black children bearing roses led women bearing wreaths and men, marching together in a circle to honor the newly-buried war dead. Black troops were present at the commemoration – including some of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (who were later memorialized in the movie Glory). That the Gullah people performed a march and parade in a circle was no accident: movement in a circle – the Ring Shout – was the most sacred rite brought by the enslaved to North America. In a mixture of African and American custom, the Gullah put to rest the Union soldiers, who in part, lost their lives to ensure the freedom of those who later marched for them. Black people and white marched together, and the site was dedicated as a memorial burial ground. As the children sang “The Star Spangled Banner”, the men and women wept and prayed as they expressed gratitude that the long nightmare of slavery was over.

Three years later, just days before Major General John A Logan declared that 30 May 1868 should be a “Decoration Day” to commemorate the war dead, many of the people who participated in the 1865 ceremony returned to decorate the graves of those that they’d interred. America takes time each year to celebrate the sacrifices of our war dead; this year, we should take a moment to also honor those who, despite facing hardships of their own, chose to commemorate the lives that had been lost partly in the service of securing their freedom from enslavement.


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23 May

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

Ahead of the official result, follow the latest news and reaction as Irish voters appear to have approved Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage

Yes supporters gather in Dublin Castle square as the referendum on same-sex marriage appears to have been approved by Irish voters.

Yes supporters gather in Dublin Castle square as the referendum on same-sex marriage appears to have been approved by Irish voters. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

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  • Administration has not applied to secret court for 90-day extension
  • USA Freedom Act fails in early hours after long Senate session

Capitol, Stop Spying sign A huge slogan board stands in front of the US Capitol building during a protest against government surveillance. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media

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23 May

United States Wars, News and Casualties

War News

Iraq News

05/23/15 afp: Iraqi forces reclaim territory captured by Islamic State east of Ramadi, military officials say

05/23/15 ibtimes: Shiite Militias Deploy To Take On Islamic State Insurgents Near Iraq’s Ramadi

05/23/15 AFP: Iraqi forces move to Anbar frontline as anti-Daesh fightback nears

05/23/15 Reuters: US, coalition hit Daesh targets near Ramadi in Iraq

05/23/15 Petra: Iraqi forces kill 60 Daesh militants in Salahuddin province

 

Afghanistan

05/23/15 KP: Two soldiers kidnapped in Herat

05/23/15 KP: 23 terrorists detained in Nangarhar

05/23/15 ToloNews: District Governor Killed in Uruzgan Roadside Mine Blast

05/23/15 AP: Roadside Bomb Kills 2, Including Afghan District Chief

05/23/15 KP: BM-1 rocket hits Qargha military base in Kabul, no casualties reported

05/23/15 ibtimes: US Drone Kills Taliban Commander In Afghanistan

Coalition Deaths

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22 May

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Irish abroad return to vote in gay marriage referendum

Irish people living overseas have been tweeting news of their journeys home to vote in same-sex marriage poll

Riyadh Khalaf’s alternative look at the gay marriage referendum – video

Irish citizens have been sharing photographs and stories on social media as they travel home to vote in the gay marriage referendum.

Ireland could become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a referendum. More than 3 million people are eligible to vote, including 60,000 expats. Those who have left the country less than 18 months ago are able to vote in the referendum, but need to show up at a polling station in person.

Before the vote on Friday, Twitter was filled with pictures of people returning home to have their say on gay marriage, with some decorating their trains accordingly:

View image on Twitter

This is the scene on the 9:10 London to Holyhead train as Irish abroad return

  • 18 vessels deployed after 105,000 gallons leak into ocean from burst pipeline
  • Rescuers try to save wildlife from oil around Santa Barbara

Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio state beach in California.

Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio state beach in California. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP

A grand jury has brought charges against six Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody, Baltimore city’s state attorney, Marilyn Mosby, told a news conference on Thursday. Gray’s death on 19 April set off weeks of largely peaceful protests in Baltimore, punctuated by a day of rioting and arson after his funeral on 27 April, when rioters threw rocks at police and set buildings and cars on fire.

 

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Berenice left Honduras ready for the risks of crossing the border but like many families hope dissipated upon learning of life in captivity indefinitely in the US

Berenice, Honduran immigrant, Dilley detention center, Texas

Berenice with her four-year-old daughter. The two were being held at the Dilley detention center in south Texas – a family residential facility that migrant mothers call a prison. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

in Bay Shore, New York

It’s not as though the weeks leading up to Berenice’s suicide attempt in a US immigration family detention center in Texas were a bed of roses.

She’d fled her native town, Tocoa in Honduras, after her family had received death threats from a local gang.

Last November, she set out with her four-year-old daughter on the perilous 1,600-mile journey north to the US border in search of a safe future for the little girl. They snuck a free ride on the freight train known with reason as “La Bestia”. As she entered Mexico she had to grease the palms of Mexican immigration officers with $400, then as she left the country into the US, crossing the Rio Grande in a flimsy inflatable raft, she had to pay again, this time $800 to the Mexican drug syndicate the Gulf cartel.

It was testament to the powerful attraction of the US that she was prepared to risk so much in the hope of giving her child a better life. It was testament to a different kind of US power that – having endured the violence in Honduras, the dangers of the journey, the threats and the bribes and the cartels – it was not until she was in the “care” of the US immigration service that she felt driven to end her own life………………………

child

 

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Tzipi Hotovely gives speech to Israeli diplomats in which she says she will try to achieve global recognition for West Bank settlements

Israel’s new deputy foreign minister on Thursday delivered a defiant message to the international community, saying that Israel owes no apologies for its policies in the Holy Land and citing religious texts to back her belief that it belongs to the Jewish people.

The speech by Tzipi Hotovely illustrated the influence of hardliners in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government, and the challenges he will face as he tries to persuade the world that he is serious about pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

Hotovely, 36, is among a generation of young hardliners in Netanyahu’s Likud party who support West Bank settlement construction and oppose ceding captured land to the Palestinians. Since Netanyahu has a slim one-seat majority in parliament, these lawmakers could complicate any attempt to revive peace talks………………….

 

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Other News & Analysis

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