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African American Soldiers Decorated for Heroism

Recognizing the brave sacrifices of Black soldiers on Memorial Day. Source: Historical / Getty

Memorial Day marks the official start of cookout season and family gatherings. A day to rest and reflect, Memorial Day also provides an opportunity to process the many ways Democracy and freedom are under attack. 

With conservative lawmakers and judges eroding freedom and liberty at a record pace, it’s time to reckon with what it means to honor the “sacrifices” of those seen as dying for our freedom. 

The same people who are quick to use fallen soldiers and veterans as a shield when it suits them wrap themselves in the hypocrisy of freedom for only those deemed worthy. Abortion rights, bodily autonomy and privacy, gun violence and honest social and political discourse are among the many areas quickly being sidelined. 

Conservatives pretend that allowing guns to flow unrestricted into the hands of teens and young people and into various communities at home and abroad is about protecting freedom and not padding their pockets. Meanwhile, they

Black soldiers have served in every way since the country’s creation. Often credited with the first Memorial Day celebrations, Black soldiers and their communities have been at the forefront of fighting for Democracy for all and not a select few.  

On Memorial Day, we should also recognize those Black soldiers who died upon returning home—serving their country only to be lynched and denied their humanity. The Equal Justice Initiative outlined the challenges faced by Black veterans.  

“No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than Black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I and World War II,” read the report. “Because of their military service, Black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” 

Yes, there is Veterans Day. But we must not overlook the long battle domestically for justice and equality. Individuals who risked their lives abroad to come home must also be memorialized and celebrated.  

But honoring the commitment and “sacrifice” of fallen Black soldiers is more than putting a few burgers on the grill. It also requires more than flying a flag or a quick happy Memorial Day post on social media.  

As state and federal elected officials offer, the real question is, what are they willing to personally sacrifice for Democracy? What are these people who make loud and bold pronouncements of morality and ethics willing to do this Memorial Day holiday beyond meaningless words on social media?  

Honoring the lives of Black and other soldiers who allegedly died to protect American Democracy requires respecting Democracy in practice. This is not a buffet or a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story.  

Also, protecting rights does not mean individual desires outweigh the greater good. The selective outrage and fixation on freedom while maintaining harmful practices should not be ignored.

So enjoy the family and festivities. Eat good food. And while you’re letting all that food digest, take a moment to get clear about the road ahead.

There is a clear choice point ahead for all Americans, particularly those eligible to vote. Now is the time to decide what side you are really on? More empty words and rhetoric, or taking action that will benefit the lives and experiences of millions of people in this country. 


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Commentary: Memorial Day Demands Reflection And Commitment to Upholding Democracy  was originally published on