I took this photo yesterday while walking The Boston Common. The flags represent the 37,000 fallen Massachusetts service members from the Revolutionary War to the present. In the background is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which was dedicated in 1877.
This editorial by Jamie Malanowski, which appeared today in the New York Times, reminds me of Edward Sebesta’s petition to have President Obama end the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. In the end it stirs up emotions, but fails to produce anything constructive. Malanowski’s contribution to our collective conscience this Memorial Day weekend is to remind the public that 10 military bases located around the country are named after Confederate generals. And you guessed it, those names need to be changed.
Malanowski begins with the questionable assumption that the “humble idea” of decorating graves “quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.” It didn’t. Decoration Days were incredibly divisive throughout the period between the 1860s and the early twentieth century. Recent studies by Caroline Janney, William Blair, and John Neff suggest why this was the case.
It’s not that I am against changing the names of public places, but in most cases the push is local. For example, consider the recent controversy in Memphis, Tennessee surrounding the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. These are questions that need to be resolved by the members of the community. Continue reading