May 5, 2016 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year, the 27th day of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar is set aside for recognizing and remembering the horrific genocide of a nation of people targeted by a mad man who considered them unworthy of living. Even though the tragedy took place in Europe, and the day of remembrance was set by the Israeli parliament, it is equally recognized here in the United States on the calendar date that matches the designated Hebrew calendar date. According to the US Holocaust museum website, “the US Congress established Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust and created the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a permanent living memorial to the victims” and in 1980 unanimously passed a law to create the US Holocaust Museum Council which determined that “Days of Remembrance is meant to memorialize the millions of victims of persecution and mass murder… (and) it is important to organize commemoration activities that show respect for the victims and survivors and that recognize the scope and scale of the Holocaust.” Extensive coverage was dedicated to the building of the museum and people travel from all over to visit the site and to remember, as should be remembered, a terrible period in history of unimaginable hatred and murder. Remembrance events are scheduled every year across the nation in schools, communities, and in state and local government offices to make sure that the tragedy of the Holocaust is never forgotten. It’s a systematic, widely supported intentional effort to never forget. And it should never be forgotten. But neither should slavery. The tragic and systematic mistreatment of millions of African people that resulted in the death and suffering of millions that took place right here on American soil.
A co-worker and friend once talked about the Holocaust Museum and how she so wanted to visit it, having heard how spectacular it is and how beautifully it was created. I remember having an immediate and pretty strong reaction to the conversation and pointed out how an event that didn’t even take place in this country is given more honor and respect than the one that did even though many aspects of the two events and time periods can be equally compared. It’s pretty much a slap in the face to the slaves that suffered the abuse of their masters and the institution that continues to affected their descendants in many ways generations later. The leaders of this country made it possible for slavery to continue to the extent that it took a war and almost the destruction of the United States to bring it to an end. Past presidents and most certainly members of Congress owned slaves and used them to build this country. Now, when times and circumstances have changed, instead of taking the opportunity to pay respect to those slaves and the people that descend from them, that honor is given to a people that, though they deserve it, receive it from people that don’t necessarily owe it to them. There’s no move of Congress to make sure that the world doesn’t forget the horrors of slavery and how it destroyed its victims and stripped our history and identity causing the long-lasting and damaging impacts that are still felt today. Let me make it clear that my feelings are NOT rooted in prejudice, racism, hatred or any such negative place. I do, however, feel a sense of betrayal, if it can be described that way, and a blatant disrespect when one racially motivated tragedy is so revered while another is so ignored. Let’s make some comparisons.
When the US Holocaust Memorial was established in 1980, it was tasked with the following recommendations:
- That a living memorial be established to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust will be taught in perpetuity
- That an educational foundation be established to stimulate and support research in the teaching of the Holocaust
- That a Committee on Conscience be established to collect information on and alert the national conscience regarding reports of actual or potential outbreaks of genocide throughout the world
- That a national day of remembrance of victims of the Holocaust be established in perpetuity and be held annually
No congressional council exists to make sure that the victims of slavery are remembered or institutions created to encourage or support education about its effects or lessons. Most days of remembrance centered around significant events or people in African American history came about because of grassroots efforts most often by leaders within our community that fought long and hard to make sure they are recognized. As we speak, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the last Smithsonian museum to be built, is under construction in DC on the National Mall, scheduled for opening in September of this year. I cannot put into words the excitement that I feel about this museum but there was no broad announcement about this awesome institution. I live less than an hour from DC but only found out about it by stumbling upon the construction site in the Spring of 2015 when visiting the MLK memorial, the first memorial on the National Mall to recognize a person of color, by the way. The MLK memorial opened in 2011 after being raised as a concept in 1984 and eventually authorized by Congress in 1996. The Holocaust Memorial came about as the result of a Presidential Commission in 1978 that was authorized by Congress in 1981, only three years later. The National Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 and will finally open its doors this fall, thirteen years later. However long it took and whatever mountains had to be moved to make it happen, I look forward with great pride and anticipation to its completion and grand opening.
I want to stress that I am by no means a racist or a radical activist, for that matter. I just feel a strong sense of injustice about an issue that means a lot to me and, I’m sure, to a lot of other people. History has spoken volumes about the value, or lack thereof, of Black people in America and it’s something that I wanted to give voice to in my own way. There has been progress through the years but we have so far to go. The events over the last couple of years that led to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and even the hateful racist reactions to the announcement of Malia Obama’s choice of a college are a testament to just how much work still needs to be done. The sad thing is that no one can change the heart or mindset of a person. That’s a very individual and intentional decision. Institutional changes, though, can perhaps encourage such changes over time. There is in fact a day dedicated to the remembrance of the slave trade. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2007 designating March 25th as the annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. There’s no media coverage or fanfare about this day; I only found out about it after my own research. I’m just one voice but maybe a voice like mine, joined with other voices, can call enough attention to issues like this that eventually things will continue to change. Other people just like you and me raised their voices about issues and started initially alone and unheard but, over time, became loud enough that they forced great change. Your issue may not be the same as mine but your voice is just as important. Raise it loud and be heard!