The Politics of Mourning

Micki McElya ’94

The Pulitzer Prize jury named The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery by Micki McElya ’94 as a 2017 finalist for general nonfiction. Cited as “a luminous investigation of how policies and practices at Arlington National Cemetery have mirrored the nation’s fierce battles over race, politics, honor, and loyalty,” McElya’s latest tells the story of the country’s official resting place.

Resting on a former plantation built by slave labor, Arlington was designated a federal cemetery in 1864. Until 1921, when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was erected, it was seen primarily as a memorial to the white Civil War dead. But as a century of wars secured its centrality in the American imagination, inclusion within its gates became a prerequisite for broader claims to national belonging.