Memorial Day’s African American Origins, Argentina’s Black History, and a Hidden Figure of Horse Racing

Catch up on the race and racism news you might have missed this week.

We’re in the middle of graduation season — praise and congratulations for all those who have completed their high school, college, or advanced degrees! But even if school is out, there’s still so much interesting race and racism news to learn about. This week’s roundup features some African and African American history you might not have seen in your textbook.

Memorial Day’s Black roots

Whether you marked Memorial Day with barbecue or with solemn reflection on the nation’s war dead, you have formerly enslaved Americans in Charleston, S.C., to thank for it. That’s right — Black people originated the holiday. In 1865, the city’s Black laborers took it upon themselves to disinter 257 Union soldiers from a nearby prison camp’s mass grave, create a cemetery, and give them a decent burial. To honor the soldiers’ sacrifice, thousands of African Americans gathered to march to their new burial place, bearing flowers and crosses to decorate the graves. This video at The Root tells the story.

Recognition without restitution

After years of talks, Germany is officially recognizing its early 20th century massacres of thousands of members of the Herero and Nama tribes in Namibia, its former colony, as a genocide. About 65,000 Herero, the majority of the tribe, were systematically murdered, along with at least 10,000 members of the Nama. Germany is pledging 1.1 billion euro to be used for “rebuilding and development” — but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas specifically noted, “legal claims to compensation cannot be derived from this.” Emsie Erastus, a Namibian analyst, calls Germany’s actions “hollow,” pointing out that tribal chiefs say descendants of the genocide’s victims weren’t even consulted during the talks. Germany’s declaration is also being slammed as insufficient by Herero and Nama representatives.

Continued racial inequality in the ranks

The U.S. military is often held up as a microcosm of American society. That includes the presence of deep-rooted racism, discrimination, and microaggressions, according to an investigation by The Associated Press. Black personnel described White subordinates who refused to salute them, being labeled as “aggressive or difficult,” and in one case, being ordered to search through a dumpster at a medical facility as his superiors watched. The investigation describes some of the problems the military has in tracking and addressing incidents like these, and how they relate to the overall problem of right-wing extremists hiding in the ranks.

Know her name: Cheryl White

Fifty years ago, a 17-year-old Black girl named Cheryl White rode into horse racing history as the first Black female jockey. But this pioneer is little known, even in racing circles. White went on to win 227 races and rack up more than $760,000 in earnings over her 20-year career. Now her family is fighting to make sure she gets her due. Read more about White’s legacy, and about the role Black jockeys have played in the origin of the sport, here at the New York Times. Maybe raise a mint julep to White while you’re at it.

“It’s time for Argentinians to take their Black grandmother out of the closet”

Argentina has long portrayed itself as a country made up of European immigrants — completely ignoring the fact that more than 200,000 enslaved Africans came into its ports in the 16th through 19th centuries. In 1778, Africans and those descended from them made up about a third of the population. But Argentina spent much of the last couple of centuries trying to erase Blackness from its origin story, the better to portray it as a land of opportunity for White immigrants. This Guardian article tells how a small group of Afro-descendant researchers is trying to write the country’s Black ancestors back into its history — and in doing so recognize the needs and existence of Afro-descended communities. “Argentina needs to understand that it is both very racist and very Afro,” Black activist and researcher Alí Delgado told The Guardian.

Passing the TransGriot’s torch

We open LGBTQIA pride month and close this roundup in honor of Black trans activist Monica Roberts, who died suddenly in October at 58. Roberts, a journalist, used her TransGriot website to connect, inform, and defend trans people of African descent. That often included raising her voice against transphobic laws and making the world pay attention to the thousands of trans people murdered around the world. The good news is that one of Roberts’ proteges, Dee Dee Watters, is trying to keep her work alive. Watters is looking for an editor to run TransGriot, and hosts weekly live sessions and guest columnists on the TransGriot Facebook page.

Stephanie Siek is a writer and editor who loves cats, cookie dough and aborted alliteration.

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