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Memorial Day’s Timeless Legacy 🇺🇸

On May 30, 1871, President Grant and members of Congress gathered around the Monument to the Unknown Dead at the Arlington National Cemetery. Predating the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by over fifty years, it was the first monument dedicated to soldiers whose remains could not be identified.

Back then, what we call Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. All over the country, families would decorate the graves of those who perished in the Civil War.

There were many speakers at Arlington that day, but one stood out. His name was Frederick Douglass, and his words are truly timeless. One of the great statesmen in American history, Douglass had a very personal reason for being at Arlington: He was a former slave.

Douglass knew it was the sacrifice of the 16,000 soldiers buried there – and the hundreds of thousands laid to rest elsewhere – that ended slavery forever. So, he delivered an address that resonates even know, because it reminds us why Memorial Day is so important.

Here are a few excerpts of what he said:

Decoration Day Speech, 1871

by Frederick Douglass

Friends and Fellow Citizens: Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle, and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul, it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.

Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring today is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.

Those unknown heroes whose whitened bones have been piously gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits, reaching, in their glorious career that last highest point of nobleness beyond which human power cannot go. They died for their country. No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefactors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognized soldiers when we write above their graves this shining epitaph.

But the essence and significance of our devotions here today are not to be found solely in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. We are not here simply to applaud many courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause.

We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers.

If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood…

If now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage…

If the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to a mocking earth…

If the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country have before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization…

We are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.


Memorial Day is a chance for us to remember the sacrifices of all those who died for our country. It’s a chance to remember that their sacrifice mattered. Every good and great thing about our nation; every aspect we appreciate, admire, and take pride in was bought by them at the cost of their own lives. Independence. Liberty. Freedom. Equality.

They are, as Douglass said, truly the greatest benefactors our nation will ever know.

Memorial Day is a chance to pay homage to them. To remember the debts we owe them. And to heed the lessons they still whisper to us today. May we never forget to take that chance.

On behalf of everyone at intellicents, we wish you a safe and peaceful Memorial Day.




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