Veterans Day garners even more recognition than ever this year, as it takes place on 11/11/11 and, thus, should be a time when, more than ever, we pause to recognize those who fought and sacrificed for the defense of freedom.
That recognition, however, goes far beyond one day of easy platitudes about “our brave men and women in uniform,” who are all too often sent into harm’s way by questionable political policies and, truth be told, are all too often not treated with the fairness and respect they deserve by the very government that sent them to war when they return home.
Veterans Day in 2011 challenges us, as a nation, to right these wrongs and to honor those who serve 365 days a year.
Yet, this is only the beginning of the challenges, and opportunities, that this date presents in 2011, which, unbeknownst to most of us, has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year for People of African Descent, a global call to the human family to recognize the centuries of injustices still being done to some of its members. It is also a call to the peoples of the African World to show ourselves strong in all of our struggles and achievements.
In this light, Nov. 11, 2011, has an even greater significance for America, in many ways, because of what occurred right here in the U.S., not in Europe or elsewhere, 170 years ago, on Friday, Nov. 11, 1831, at noon, in Jerusalem, Va.
That was the day that Nat Turner, leader of the most famous slave insurrection in the nation’s history, which had been launched in August of that year, was hanged and his body skinned and dismembered, with pieces handed out to onlookers as souvenirs. (One person is reported to have made a wallet from a piece of the skin.)
Nat Turner led a fight for freedom of the enslaved, against slave owners who had no intention of ever ending the crime of slavery, which they made legal, while escape or resistance was illegal. While there may be nothing to be glorified in the rampage which killed some 60 whites, including women and children, as they slept, there is even less to glorify the conditions which caused this revolt in the first place, or in the torture and rampant murders of hundreds of black people at random, as far away as in surrounding states by racist militias and vigilantes, in retaliation.
Nov. 11, 2011, thus provides us with what today is called “a teachable moment,” a time to reflect on how many human lives have been sacrificed, and continue to be in the name of freedom for some and oppression for others.
Nat Turner’s was no isolated revolt. He was born only eight days before the hanging of Gabriel Prosser, whose revolt in Richmond was betrayed, in the same year (1800) that John Brown was born, and the year when Denmark Vesey, who would lead a revolt in South Carolina, purchased his freedom.
Slavery was violently enforced, but not passively accepted, and revolts like Turner’s were the violence that violence begat. Despite slave owners’ desperate attempts to keep them ignorant, black people were keenly aware of their condition. Turner’s revolt occurred only two years after the publication of David Walker’s Appeal, for example.
This was the historical foundation of the struggles, and achievements, of black and other “minority” veterans, as well, which also must be recognized as we pay true tribute on Veterans Day on 11/11/11.
Not the least of local achievements to be recognized is the brave participation by returning sailors in the 1945 protest which led to the creation of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, the establishment of model communities for “Colored” veterans like Richmond Heights and Bunche Park in 1949 or the defense of the Liberty Square neighborhood against white racists by black veterans in the area which would come to be known as “Little Korea,” among the many unheralded contributions that African-American veterans, who often had to “fight to fight,” rather than be relegated to menial tasks, during their military service, have made to their community and the nation.
Photo: Dinizulu Gene Tinnie