Memorial Day is probably one of my favorite holidays because it’s where we celebrate the legacy of those service members who put their life on the line for our freedom. And did you that the holiday was first celebrated by black soldiers?
According to Yale University history professor David Blight, he says that blacks in Charleston, South Carolina launched the first Decoration Day, in which they decorate the graves of dead soldiers, in honor of the Union’s war dead on May 1, 1865.
Following the Confederate surrender ending the Civil War, blacks went to the place where hundreds of prisoners had been buried, many in mass graves. Those blacks, many of which were recently freed slaves, gave the soldiers a proper burial, explained Blight. Following the burials, there was a ceremony. “They put up a fence around the area and painted it,” he said. “More than 260 were buried there. We don’t know the names. We don’t know the race.”
Over the next 50 years, though, Memorial Day changed. It became a tribute to the dead on both sides, and to the reunion of the North and the South after the war. This new holiday was more inclusive, and more useful to a forward-looking nation eager to put its differences behind it. But something important was lost: the recognition that the Civil War had been a moral battle to free black Americans from slavery.
That ceremony on May 1, 1865 was actually the first recorded Decoration Day or Memorial Day,” said Blight. Three years before the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic called on Union veterans”.
Blight admits that finding an account of the celebration was difficult at first. That story got lost, it got lost for more than a century. Today, the national observance on the last Monday in May still serves as a day to remember those who died in wars. It’s also mixed with parades, picnics and other displays of patriotism.
So when you see a service member today thank them for the services