In 1900 the United States Congress authorized $2,500 for Confederate soldier remains buried around Washington to be reinterred in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery. These 262 Confederate dead joined the likely Confederate remains in the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns. There are now 400 Confederate veterans buried in Section 16.
On Confederate Memorial Day in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt sent a floral arrangement to Section 16. This began a tradition. President Obama modified the tradition by sending two wreaths. The second was delivered to the African American Civil War Memorial to honor the United States Colored Troops. In today’s environment there is a significant lesson in President Obama’s gesture. His actions suggested that we expand how we remember and honor, not destroy.
The way Arlington National Cemetery remembers and honors veterans has changed over the years. Like the United States military, Arlington was segregated until 1948. Think of all the black men who died in service to the country from 1864 to 1948 including the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII. The government of the United States would not bury blacks with the same honors as whites in Arlington National Cemetery.
According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, in 1871, “a group of black soldiers had petitioned the War Department to move the graves of hundreds of United States Colored Troops (USCT) from the ‘Lower Cemetery,’ where they were buried alongside former slaves and poor whites, to the main cemetery near Arlington House, where white Civil War veterans lay at rest.” The request was denied. Those graves are in what is now known as Section 27.
How is it that we have come to a place where we dismiss the history of one section of the country with visible antipathy, when there is ugliness in every section and with the country at large? The double standard is clear, and it is not sustainable. What country destroys a memorial in a national cemetery that has stood for more than a century?