Mayor Brandon Johnson summoned the “soul” of Chicago’s ancestors at a Memorial Day ceremony with veterans and their families in Grant Park on Monday.
Other dignitaries at the hour-long ceremony reflected on the complicated history of Major General John A. Logan, the Illinois native and Civil War general who helped start the holiday.
Logan’s statue is a Monday memorial.
Participants walked up a small hill towards the monument and laid a wreath to honor the fallen members of every branch of the armed forces — including a wreath for the newly formed Space Force.
Johnson, speaking at his first major holiday event since his inauguration in mid-May, reflected on the struggle for national unity in the Civil War, and the service of black soldiers who fought for democracy but still lack full citizen rights.
“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that I would not be here representing the souls of our ancestors in the city of Chicago were it not for soldiers whose humanity is disowned. They support democracy,” said Johnson.
Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony Monday in Grant Park.
Johnson recalls how black people decorated the graves of black soldiers who died in the Civil War.
“Through the collective struggle for democracy and liberation… this nation does not flinch or fold when anyone wants to divide us,” Johnson said. “Knowing the danger and the risks, these heroes forge ahead to serve their true calling.”
“So of course it’s our job as grateful citizens to preserve the values they stood for, and to build a Chicago that is better, stronger, safer, and a nation worthy of their sacrifice,” Johnson said.
Graham Grady, treasurer of Lincoln Academy of Illinois, remembers his great-grandfather, who died in the Civil War. Born a slave in Kentucky, he was released to serve in US Troop of Colour in the Tennessee military. He served as a cook and died of pneumonia in 1864. Most of the people killed in that war died from disease, not from fighting.
A wreath lies at the foot of a statue of Major General John A. Logan during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Grant Park.
“My great-grandfather did not die with a shotgun in his hand. He is a cook. He died with a spoon in his hand,” said Grady.
Cook County Council President Toni Preckwinkle reflected on the complicated history of General Logan, whose statue was placed atop a grassy hill in Grant Park in 1897.
Before the war, Logan was a politician in southern Illinois who successfully pushed for a state law that imposed a 10-day prison term for freed black slaves who entered the state. Preckwinkle called the so-called “Logan law” a “despicable” part of her and the state’s history that we should never “ignore.”
“We live in a complicated country with a complicated history. And we shouldn’t pretend that the people we respect are perfect,” said Preckwinkle.
Mayor Brandon Johnson prepares to lay a wreath at a Memorial Day memorial at the statue of Major General John A. Logan in Grant Park on Monday.
But Logan changed himself, changing his views on black people after fighting alongside them in the war. He eventually switched political parties and supported President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.
Logan is credited with founding Remembrance Day by calling for a national “day of decoration” for laying flowers on the graves of the Civil War dead.
Preckwinkle’s father served in World War II. It was, he said, a “really sad experience for him” which he never talks about.
“But I thank him for his service,” he said, “and for everyone who wears the uniform in the United States; everyone, including General John Logan.”
A statue of Logan riding a horse is among them 41 reviewed by the Chicago Monument Projectthe city’s organized effort to study city-wide statues and monuments dedicated to historical figures and events with controversial places in history.
Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony was held in Grant Park at a statue of Major General John A. Logan, who is credited with starting the holiday by urging the public to lay flowers on the graves of those who died in the Civil War.
Air Force veteran Aaron Blaylock had never heard of the history of Logan’s boxes until attending Monday’s ceremony. Now, he says, he wants to read more about it.
Blaylock, 64, said he worked as a KC-135 tanker mechanic at the former O’Hare base from 1979 to 1984. His family carried out military service. He has ancestors who served in nearly every major war of the last century, he said.
The Bronzeville resident said he spent the day reflecting on the sacrifices of other soldiers, and a call to serve all experienced veterans.
“When it’s time for war, I’ll go,” Blaylock said. “I will make the final sacrifice.”
Aaron Blaylock, 64, an Air Force veteran, placed carnations during a Memorial Day ceremony in Grant Park on Monday.