For many of us Memorial Day is another day off. But this national holiday has a humble and storied beginning.
Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day. The holiday was created to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. In the American south ladies would honor the fallen Confederate soldiers around the same time but no official date was set.
The first recognized ceremony took place in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. People freed from slavery honored the fallen Union soldiers who died as prisoners of war while being held at the Charleston Race Course.
Almost 10,000 freed people gathered on May 1st to honor and commemorate the dead. According to historian David Blight:
"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.”
In the 20th century Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day, was rededicated to honor all fallen U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines, and was set for the last Monday in May.
Wikipedia. Memorial Day. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day
Blight, David, Lecture: "To Appomattox and Beyond," itc.yale.edu
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