May 28, 2021
Memorial Day
The Beginning of Summer
Crowds welcoming home the predominantly African American unit known as the Harlem Hellfighters
after the conclusion of World War I.
There is great anticipation this holiday weekend as we get out, travel, have barbeques with family and friends or go to our favorite beach or vacation destination. Why? Because it is Memorial Day weekend and we have been cooped up for over a year. It also is the unofficial beginning of summer as we celebrate those who have served in our U.S. military. 
African American Veterans Association Marches in a Memorial Day Parade, Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 1945.
Champion Newspaper’s Gale Horton Gay spoke of growing up in Mt. Vernon, New YorkMemorial Day, the parade in Mount Vernon would pass by our block. And, I remember… hearing the bands coming down the street and thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta get outside the parade's coming.”[1] For educator Frances T. Matlock (1907 - 2002):“May the 30th, Decoration Day, as we called it back in those days … my mother took us to see all of them [parades]. We would…sit down in front of the Art Institute [of Chicago, Illinois] and sit on the curb and watch…we were just so happy.”[2]

U.S. Army Signal Corps Military Band, 1942.
Philadelphia’s A. Bruce Crawley told of being kicked out of band when he chose his own amusement over obligation to the band at St. Joseph's Preparatory School: “I was first trumpet, and I was in the marching band, the dance band, concert band, and on one day, I remember the priest, Father Pickla [ph.], saying to me that we had to, as a band, go to a parade in a predominantly white community and… it was on Memorial Day… I said, ‘Father, you don't understand, I can't do that; every Memorial Day, everybody in the projects goes to Willow Grove Amusement Park… I go every year, my friends go to Willow Grove.’ And he said, ‘Well… if you don't come to the parade, I'm putting you outta the band.’ And so I thought, 'He can't put me out; I'm first trumpet, they won't have a trumpet section, the band will collapse without me.’ And… I went to Willow Grove and I came back and they kicked me outta the band and I started my own band; we called ourselves the Jamaica Rums, and we played little gigs at the high schools.”[3]

Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman
First Lieutenant Paul T. Short, Jr. (1942-1967)
Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, the second African American in the Marine Corps to reach the 3-star rank, shared his favorite Memorial Day tradition in honor of those who had lost their lives in military service:  “You get dressed up in your khakis and…you'd go to the cemetery and… [There was] people standing on the corner waving flags and all that.”[4] Lawyer Wendell Holland also shared a story: “One of my role models was a guy by the name of Paul T. Short … Paul was killed in Vietnam.  I remember how it touched his sisters… We had our classic Ardmore Junior High School [Ardmore, Pennsylvania] patriotic Memorial Day ceremony and… I remember how they had to walk across the stage with two roses in their hand in honor of their brother. They were crushed needless to say, and it was something that kind of followed me all along in my life because you kind of say to yourself, boy that could have been me. There was nothing different about his DNA, about his achievements, about his abilities than I… but he lost his life..[5]

Cookout at the park, c. 1971
Political strategist Minyon Moore told of happy times in Chicago: “Memorial Day, you dressed up with your new shorts and went  outside and played and ate barbeque.[6] Also growing up in Chicago, journalist John Wesley Fountain spoke of: “The best of smells…of someone pulling out their grill especially on… Memorial Day… the smell of a fresh snow cone, the sound of the watermelon man who had this truck… And the sounds of the ice cream truck, the chimes, hitting the corner and the sound of children's chatter and laughter, the slap of the rope, double-dutch, girls jumping double-dutch and singing the songs. And the bounce of the ball on the street… playing another game.”[7]

Children playing outside, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rita Frances Dove added about her childhood in Akron, Ohio: “Memorial Day… you had to have a picnic. You had to have a grill. And all of those relatives… they'd just kind of sprout… they came down from Cleveland [Ohio], they came from north Akron [Ohio], and they would usually congregate at my paternal grandparents' [Lucille Nettle Dove and Joseph Dove] house. Sometimes they came over to our house and… And it was just so much fun, particularly for a kid because suddenly there would be all these cousins. And cousins that we usually didn't see during the week, but the thing about family… There's always a feeling of being loved and included… I had about four cousins my age… So that was our group… And you'd learn how to play together… you'd sneak around and listen to the grownups because as they had more beers, interesting things would come out.”[8]
Depiction of a family cookout, artwork by Eric Robinson.
The 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lonnie Bunch, similarly shared about his youth growing up in New Jersey: “My parents were always… social, they were very big on having… barbeques on Memorial Day and… suddenly all these black folks would show up in Belleville [New Jersey]. And so that would be where I would… get immersed in music and…in culture. And my father had… cousins… And they would throw a barbeque. They lived in Newark… And I can remember sneaking into the backyard as an eight year old so I could listen to the men talk… [They] would talk about Jackie Robinson…and they'd talk about baseball, and then they'd talk about… discrimination that they experienced. And then they'd chase me away. And I can remember being twelve or thirteen when I snuck in and they said, ‘You can stay, boy.’ And that's when I felt like I was really part of something. So it was those sort of barbeques in a way that kept me connected.”[9]

This Memorial Day weekend, let’s connect with friends far and wide. Enjoy!
[1] Gale Horton Gay (The HistoryMakers A2006.172), interviewed by Denise Gines, December 14, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 13, Gale Horton Gay describes the sounds, smells, and sights of her childhood.
[2] Frances T. Matlock (The HistoryMakers A2002.083), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 3, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 10, Frances T. Matlock remembers meeting a stranger at the Decoration Day parade in Chicago, Illinois.
[3] A. Bruce Crawley (The HistoryMakers A2002.182), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 9, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, A. Bruce Crawley talks about his school activities and jobs.
[4] Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman (The HistoryMakers A2013.050), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 16, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 4, Ronald S. Coleman talks about the return of the black soldiers to Darby, Pennsylvania.
[5] Wendell Holland (The HistoryMakers A2012.128), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 24, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 5, Wendell Holland remembers the deaths of his mother and his role model.
[6] Minyon Moore (The HistoryMakers A2004.187), interviewed by Racine Tucker Hamilton, September 30, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 7, Minyon Moore shares memories from her childhood.
[7] John Wesley Fountain (The HistoryMakers A2012.114), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 16, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, John Fountain describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood.
[8] Rita Frances Dove (The HistoryMakers A2007.324), interviewed by Adrienne Jones, November 6, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 5, Rita Frances Dove remembers celebrating the holidays with her family.
[9] Lonnie Bunch (The HistoryMakers A2003.212), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, September 5, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 11, Lonnie Bunch discusses his exposure to black culture as a child.