The Pardu

The Pardu
Watchful eyes and ears feed the brain, thus nourishing the brain cells.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The First Memorial Day (dead Union soldiers honored by freed slaves)

Special recognition to www.usslaves.blogspot.com and Wiki



As an avid history buff I am surprised, elated and a bit disappointed with the fact that historians are now writing the Memorial Day was a commemorative day founded by freed slaves. Why am I suffering from a triad of emotions?
A.) Surprised the no place in my early educational development was I exposed to the information about Decoration Day (Later to be become Memorial Day).


B.) Elated to know that US History is, indeed, that of a culturally diverse amalgamation and rituals, that has contributed to the end of may celebration.

C.) Disappointed that my supposed knowledge of History has serious shortcomings, in part, due to unfair and unbalanced treatment of informative aspects US History. Surely, you recognize the last sentence as an agonizing way of saying, "It was not in the history books, from which I learned history as a young boy and young man."
Slaves Started Memorial Day



The Post and Courier (no longer a valid link) article, "Slaves Started Memorial Day," published on May 27, 2010, by Brian Hicks -- Charleston was in ruins.

The peninsula was nearly deserted, the fine houses empty, the streets littered with the debris of fighting and the ash of fires that had burned out weeks before. The Southern gentility was long gone, their cause lost.

In the weeks after the Civil War ended, it was, some said, “a city of the dead.” 
On a Monday morning that spring, nearly 10,000 former slaves marched onto the grounds of the old Washington Race Course, where wealthy Charleston planters and socialites had gathered in old times. During the final year of the war, the track had been turned into a prison camp. Hundreds of Union soldiers died there.


For two weeks in April, former slaves had worked to bury the soldiers. Now they would give them a proper funeral.

The procession began at 9 a.m. as 2,800 black school children marched by their graves, softly singing “John Brown’s Body."

The First Memorial Day



The historian David W. Blight described the day:
"This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.


Detailed WIKI information to follow.

WikiPedia on the First Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day)

Memorial Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the American holiday. For other uses, see Memorial Day (disambiguation).

Memorial Day
Memorial Day


Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May.[1] Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. (Southern ladies organizations and southern schoolchildren had decorated Confederate graves in Richmond and other cities during the Civil War, but each region had its own date. Most dates were in May.) By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.[2] As a marker it typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.


Early History


The historian David W. Blight described the day: 
Memorial day has its origins in a Decoration Day, which began during the civil war among Freedmen (freed slaves) and other Black American families, as a celebration of both black and white Union soldiers who fought for liberation and justice [5]. Together with teachers and missionaries, Blacks in Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen had cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course." Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 schoolchildren newly enrolled in freedmen's schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park.[6]. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the "First Decoration Day" in the North.

"This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”[7]

Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The first known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.[8]

The sheer number of dead soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who perished in the civil war meant that burial and memorialization would take on new cultural significance. Particularly under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had already taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began a program of creating national military cemeteries for the Union dead; Decoration Day was soon expanded (and de-politicized) from its origins in Black America to the broader Memorial Day tradition more well-known today.

In the North 


The friendship between General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, New York, and General John A. Logan, who helped bring attention to the event nationwide, was likely a factor in the holiday's growth.[citation needed] On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic - the organization for Union Civil War veterans - Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" should be observed nationwide.[9] It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle.[10]

Events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near the battlefields and therefore mostly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the War - and at first to rehash the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the "baptism of blood" on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s much of the rancor was gone, and the speeches praised the brave soldiers both Blue and Gray. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.

Ironton, Ohio, lays claim to the nation's oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. Its first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since. However, the Memorial Day parade in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, predates Ironton's by one year. [11]

In the South 

Historians have traced how a separate tradition of Memorial Day observance which emerged in the South was linked to the Lost Cause and partially merged into the national day of memory. Historians acknowledge that the Ladies Memorial Association played a key role in that development.[12] Starting in 1866, the Southern states established Confederate Memorial Day, with dates ranging from April 25 to mid-June. By 1916, the June 3 birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was observed as a state holiday in 10 southern states.[citation needed]Across the South, associations were founded after the War, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for Confederate soldiers, organize commemorative ceremonies and sponsor impressive monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate cause and tradition. The most important was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from 17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by World War I. They were "strikingly successful at raising money to build Confederate monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks."[13]

On April 25, 1866 women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers at the graves of both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.[14] The early Confederate Memorial Day celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to honor the day and attend to local cemeteries. Around 1890, there was a shift from this consolatory emphasis on honoring specific soldiers to public commemoration of the Confederate cause.[citation needed] Changes in the ceremony's hymns and speeches reflect an evolution of the ritual into a symbol of cultural renewal and conservatism in the South. By 1913, Blight argues, the theme of American nationalism shared equal time with the Lost Cause.[15]

At Gettysburg

The ceremonies and Memorial Day address at Gettysburg National Park became nationally well known, starting in 1868. In July 1913, veterans of the United States and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War's bloodiest and most famous battle.

The four-day "Blue-Gray Reunion" featured parades, re-enactments, and speeches from a host of dignitaries, including President Woodrow Wilson, the first Southerner elected to the White House since the War. James Heflin of Alabama was given the honor of the main address. Heflin was a noted orator; two of his best-known speeches were an endorsement of the Lincoln Memorial and his call to make Mother's Day a holiday. His choice as Memorial Day speaker was criticized, as he was opposed for his racism. His speech was moderate in tone and stressed national unity and goodwill, which gained praise from newspapers.

Flags at half-staff until noon 

On Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.[16]

The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.


Name and date 

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to the original date, although the significance of the date is tenuous. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.[17]


Since 1987, Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, has introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date.[18]

After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress's change of date within a few years. Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer.

Traditional observance 

Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm local time. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

For many Americans, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities all over the country. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme with the National Guard and other servicemen participating along with veterans and military vehicles from various wars.

One of the longest-standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, an auto race which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. It runs on the Sunday preceding the Memorial Day holiday. The Coca-Cola 600 stock car race has been held later the same day since 1961. The Memorial Tournament golf event has been held on or close to the Memorial Day weekend since 1976.  

Because Memorial Day is generally associated with the start of the summer season, it is common tradition to inaugurate the outdoor cooking season on Memorial Day with a barbecue.[19]

The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. The concert is broadcast on PBS and NPR. Music is performed, and respect is paid to the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

Start of "summer"

Most school districts that had their school year begin in late August will end school on the Friday before this day, while schools that started the school year the day after Labor Day in early September will remain in session until early June.

Across most of the central and southern continental United States, summer-like weather generally does begin reasonably close to Memorial Day time (somewhere between mid-May and early June being the norm). But in the northernmost and westernmost parts of the country, the holiday makes a far less reliable seasonal marker. In these areas, cooler and unsettled spring weather often continues into June. (In the Pacific Northwest, there is a somewhat popular expression that "real" summer begins on the 5th of July.)


Additional Reading via Talking Points Memo 2015

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