2022 Memorial Day/Prince Hall thoughts
First Vice President, Arlington Historical Society
Prince Hall Cemetery, Arlington MA
Memorial Day May 30, 2022
Welcome Masons, Society members, and all who have joined us here today to remember. We at the Historical Society are honored to participate in this event as we have done for more than thirty years and we appreciate the opportunity to speak today.
We are gathered here on Memorial Day to remember those who came before us: those who sacrificed their lives to preserve us and our society, and those who worked to make our world a better place.
We live in a time when there are serious challenges to that society; this week, this month, this year, almost any recent period you might consider recalls terrible events. It seems that things are particularly tough right now.
But if you look back, you can see that times were equally or even more challenging 250 years ago: they dealt with oppression, revolution, slavery, inequality, and economic upheavals with the development of new technologies that changed how people lived.
Political scientists and historians can draw direct lines from the issues of those times until today: as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are still dealing today with the consequences of ideas and actions from those times. This is why, if there were no other reason to do so, it is important to study history: so we can understand how we got here, and to recognize ideas from the past whose time has passed.
But then, as now, there were people who recognized that there can be, that there must be a better way forward. A way for us to live together and work together and to make a peaceful, prosperous society that is fair to all.
The founders of our country were among these. They were human and thus imperfect. They had the right idea: that it is – or should be – self-evident that “all men are created equal”. But they didn’t take it far enough: all people are created equal. They didn’t always live up to their own ideals. But they were pushing in the right direction, and thank goodness others came along to shine a light where those original stirring words were insufficient to fully show the way. Prince Hall was such a man, and it is fitting that we recognize that as we meet today.
He said, in this town, in 1797, “When we hear of the bloody wars which are now in the world, and the thousands of our fellow men slain; fathers and mothers bewailing the loss of their sons; wives for the loss of their husbands; towns and cities burnt and destroy’d; what must be the heart-felt sorrow and distress of these poor and unhappy people! Though we cannot help them, the distance being to(o) great, yet we may sympathize with them in their troubles, and mingle a tear of sorrow with them, and do as we are exhorted to — weep with those that weep.”
Distances today are not what they were then, and we can do more than weep: we can help each other. Prince Hall finished that speech by saying,
“[…] in the common affairs of life we sometimes enjoy health and prosperity; at another time sickness and adversity, crosses and disappointments. So in states and kingdoms; sometimes in tranquility; then wars and tumults; rich today, and poor tomorrow; which shews that there is not an independent mortal on earth; but dependent one upon the other, from the king to the beggar.”
Men and women such as these give us hope for a better future and help us to understand how we can make ourselves better, creating a society for our fellow citizens — and not just citizens — that is fair to all.
Thank you for being here with us today to remember the past, to learn from it, and hopefully to work together for a brighter future.