Monday, May 21, 2018

Hometown Heroes

As a Quaker, I follow the Peace Testimony, and have for as far back as I can remember. Even when I slipped away from the Society, I was still a pacifist. Being a pacifist and non-violent is not an easy path, especially when you are young. It's even harder when you are young and poor, because there is so much violence around you. Also, anger is  easier than serenity. Serenity requires effort.

Due to the fact that I have always been a pacifist, I've become somewhat sensitive to the militarism and violence in our culture. The aggressive national anthem. Our near sanctification of active duty military personnel (only as long as they are convenient). Jingoism and nationalism replacing patriotism. The list could go on nearly endlessly.

I want to make one thing clear. I am personally a pacifist, but I do not have any disrespect for those that felt called to join the military. I have quite a few family members and friends who did serve, and I understand why they did. This blog post is not about servicemen and servicewomen. This is about the need to promote peace, and peaceful activities, as well as war. A goal that I know many people who have served agree with.

Within the last month I became aware of the "Hometown Heroes" program. Hanging from lampposts in our downtown, and other downtown districts in the region, are banners with the pictures and names of former military personnel. I was looking at one of the banners hanging outside of my bank and I started thinking to myself. "Why is it always soldiers? Why don't we ever honor local civil rights and peace activists?" Having had some time to think about it, I also want educators, doctors, and inventors honored. Soldiers are not the only heroes in the world.

In all honesty, I can only think of a few non-military "Hometown Heroes" that I have been taught about. John W. Jones, a former slave that made sure the confederate soldiers that died in the Elmira Prison Camp during the Civil War were given a proper burial in Woodlawn National Cemetery. Then, a current resident of Woodlawn Cemetery, Samuel Clemens. Better known as Mark Twain. The first African American Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, also lived here. In fact, the local middle school is named after him. Outside of that, everyone else is a "Hometown Hero" for being from here. 

There is a statue of Thomas K. Beecher in the local Wisner Park in downtown Elmira. I know two things about that statue. Thomas K. Beecher was an educator, and my ancestor John Cartledge (or one of his sons) carved the base that it stands on. I don't know if it is the oldest, but it is definitely one of the oldest statues in my city. However, I have no idea why he was that beloved. Statues aren't cheap, especially over 100 years ago, and he has the central statue in what could be called our town square. All of the other monuments date to after him, and are the normal run of war and soldier memorials. Starting in the Spanish-American war.

I want to see us honor more people like Thomas K. Beecher. (Who I just discovered has a Wikipedia page.) To bring out the hidden history of the good and kind in America. We do not need yet another Wall of Names of the fallen. We need a Wall of Names for the educators, builders, creators, and champions for justice.

P.S. Woodlawn National Cemetery (as far as I know) has the distinction of being the location of the northernmost Confederate Monument. It is dedicated to the fallen Confederate soldiers. Their cause was unjust, but everyone should be remembered.