In May, 1865, the black residents of Charleston, South Carolina, erected a memorial arch in a local park to honor fallen soldiers from their community, declaring a day of tribute for those who had bravely served in the US Civil War. This collective action was covered by a news correspondent from the New York Tribune, with the story serving to disseminate the notion of Memorial Day to the US population at large.
At the time of the first Memorial Day, news stringers and telegrapher operators were the sole source of “news” and information. Who was the brave stringer pitching this story within a fractured and marginalized society? And, who was the editor with enough veracity to green light its publication? Without press resolve, today would be just another Monday in May.
So much of how we formulate our own truths and subjective responses to the world around us stem from the press’s ability to communicate freely and clearly from their respective posts. The voice or tone with which information is conveyed has the ability to soothe or excite. Images can portray visceral reality when words fall short.
For example, the public outrage expressed by US citizens in response to the litany of photographs displaying flag-draped caskets of our young men returning from war, served as an impetus for ending our country’s active combat in Vietnam. This era set the precedent to the US government’s current ban on war dead photography from the War on Terror.
But, before Southeast Asia’s dispatchers and the Middle East’s imbeds, there were the brave female stringers of World War II. After the suffragists and before the bra-burners, these women shattered the ceiling of what had been entirely a man’s world: giving voice to the front lines of war.
The horrors of destruction, devastation, and depravity were suddenly expressed through the pensive eyes and reflections of sisters, daughters, wives, and mothers. Without them, the legacy of the Greatest Generation would be unwritten. Though the realities of this war brought the world to its knees, it raised journalist integrity and equality to new heights.
Today, we write to honor the memory of our sisters, saluting those who fell in battle, holding the truth, that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.