Monday, May 28, 2007

The History of Memorial Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was a day set aside to honor the nation's Civil War casualties by decorating the soldier's graves.

Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorates the sacrifices of the Civil War soldiers. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former soldiers and sailors proclaimed the following:

"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

At first observance of Decoration Day, in 1868, General James Garfield (it would be another 14 years until he would be President) spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. Afterwards, some 5,000 attendees helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 soldiers from both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

Many Northern and Southern cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some of these include Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg.; and Carbondale, Ill. However it is Waterloo, New York who officially holds this honor.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo was chosen because it had first celebrated a similar holiday on May 5, of 1866, and had made the day an annual community-wide event, where businesses would close and the townsfolk would decorate the graves with flowers and flags.

After World War I, the observances of the day began to honor those who had died in any and all of the American Wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday which was to be celebrated or observed on the last Monday in May. Veteran's Day, a similar observance is celebrated on November 11 each year. I'm not exactly sure what the difference is.

Today, like the original observance in 1868, Memorial Day is celebrated with a big to-do at Arlington National Cemetery. Small American flags are placed on each grave, and it is tradition that the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the dead. A wreath is layed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.

Additionally, many Southern states set aside another day honoring the dead of the Confederates. It's usually called Confederate Memorial Day. I'm not sure why this day would be any different from Memorial Day or Veteran's Day, but it must not be that important because I've lived in Georgia for two years and have never noticed April 26 as being Confederate Memorial Day.

Mississippi and Alabama celebrate the day on the last Monday in April. North and South Carolina it is May 10. Louisiana and Tennessee, June 3. Texas is January 19. And finally, Virginia takes the cake by celebrating Confederate Memorial Day on the same day as the Federal issued Memorial Day, on the last Monday in May.

That is it that the famous Virginian, Robert E. Lee said? Something about my state before my country. State before the country is the reason the Articles of Confederation failed... but that is for another time.

Even if you don't agree with our current conflict in Iraq, or if you were against our involvement in Vietnam. If you're still confused about our involvement in Korea, or agree with isolationism in World War I. Or have sour taste in your mouth about World War II. Even if you're a pacifist through hand through... today is a time to honor those that have died. Some are heroes, some are schleps. Many were suckered into going to war. Many were too scared to dodge the draft. Some want to be there. Some don't.

All of them are to be honored.

Thank you to each and every person who's had a hand in protecting the freedoms of Americans, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Iraqis. Those that rid the world from Hitler and Mussolini. The ones who died protecting southern culture, or fighting for the equality of all men.

Thank you.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lincoln On Leadership: Circulate Amongst the Troops

I'm in the process of reading a pretty good book for executives and historians alike. It discusses executive strategies in leadership using Abraham Lincoln's approach. You'll learn a lot about the person underneath the Stovepipe hat and even more about the person reading the book (Yes, you!)

The first chapter's advice is to " Get out of the Office and Circulate among the Troops".

Lincoln surely did this. Often times Lincoln would be found with the troops, riding his horse through the ranks, amidst a background of cheers and applause. Lincoln found that casual contacts with "subordinates" was as important as formal meetings. He believed that people would feel less intimidated and be more open when in a relaxing atmosphere, as opposed to closed up in a meeting room.

Lincoln was known for motivating the troops by telling them his long term vision of the United States. From this, the troops would see the big picture and understand their role in that picture. Giving someone a sense of importance is a motivating factor which is very effective.

The picture to the right shows Lincoln who came to Antietam after the Battle of Bull Run to fire General McClellan. The picture shows Lincoln amongst the troops after the battle. Surely, Lincoln could have fired McLellan via telegram. But Lincoln is a stand up guy and probably used this as a way not to show panic amongst the troops.
The picture to the left is Lincoln talking to McClellan.

To this note, it is well known that Lincoln changed Civil War generals several times before sticking with U.S. Grant. Some say Lincoln was too involved in the decisions of the war, or that he was micromanaging. The fact remains, he did what needed to be done to keep the Union together. This could be an entirely new entry, so I'll leave it at that.

Honest Abe had an open door policy and would rarely turn anyone away. According to some observers he would spend 3/4 of his time out of the office taking what Lincoln referred to as "public opinion baths". Literally bathing himself in the thoughts of the common man. Lincoln himself said, "I have little time to read the papers and gather public opinion that way... as a whole [it] is renovating and invigorating."

Obviously, in this day and age, it is a lot harder for a president to 'circulate' amongst the common man without causing chaos. Lincoln would often refuse protection and was comfortable with his ability to relate to everyone. His amiability was one of his best qualities. A quality which allowed him to gain trust from the common man. He was self-deprecating in social settings, in such a way where his stories, would keep people entertained, but at his own expense. This, might be a result of his melancholy and a way to hide his true feelings of depression. Regardless, he was very like-able in these situations.

During the War, Lincoln could usually be found sitting next to the telegraph machine waiting for the latest battle update. This, instead of waiting across the street in his office for a messenger to deliver the news. This strategy, of looking over the decoder's shoulder, allowed Lincoln to read the telegram quickly, and immediately write a response to be quickly relayed back to the appropriate party. It allowed him to make quick decisions, something that is vital in times of war.

Future leaders can learn from Lincoln's example of getting wide acceptance of a philosophy by demonstrating it in your everyday actions. By entering your subordinate's environment, you establish a frequent human contact which develops a sense of commitment and community. With this comes trust and access to vital information that might otherwise be spread behind your back.

There is no question that Lincoln's style was effective.
PS - The book is: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. It is a quick read which gives you great insight into how Lincoln operated.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. The Board of Education

In 1954 on May 17th the Supreme Court made a decision that would change the way people lived in the United States forever.

It was on this day that the Supreme Court overturned the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson. For 50 years, the Supreme Court upheld precedent which permitted racial segregation in public facilities.
Separate bathrooms, separate water fountains, separate schools, separate rail cars etc... It was determined that "separate was equal."

However, it is well known that these separate schools were hardly equal. The black schools were the ones that were worn down. The black schools had the old books. The black schools were further away. The black bathrooms weren't cleaned as often. The black rail cars were not close the platform... this is not equal.

It was this way until a little girl and her family fought back.

The case was actually a class action suit filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas, made up of 13 Topeka parents fighting on behalf of their 20 children.

Linda Brown, a 3rd grader, was denied enrollment in a white school just seven blocks from her home, and was instead instructed to go to her designated black school, which was across a set of rail road tracks and over 1 hour away This, is not equal.

Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall led brown’s legal team. Marshall was sensitive to issues like this. Incidentally, Marshall applied to go to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. Instead, Marshall went to Howard University Law School where the new dean instilled a desire in the the students to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans.

Marshall, was reluctantly living the life of the Plessy v. Ferguson era. Going to a black school, having been denied acceptance into the white school. He would, however get his just deserts, as his first major court case came in 1933 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American. That is justice.

In the Brown case, Presiding Cheif Justice Earl Warren wrote the unanimous decision stating that racial segregation was unconstitutional… (totally different world to think that anyone would think the opposite.)

The decision's basis was that "separate is inherently unequal…" Our Constitution's 14th Amendment clearly states that no citizen of the united states should be denied the right to life or liberty.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
I don't see any ambiguity in this one... No State, shall make any Law which shall abridge the privileges of its citizens. Period.

This case, paved the way for civil rights and should be celebrated as one of the greatest victories in American History...
Excellent resource for classrooms: