Today is… Memorial Day!
A lot of folks celebrate Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries, some by flying the U.S. flag, and others by having barbeques, picnics, family get-togethers and attending firework shows (or any combination thereof). The swimming pools open — it’s the first sign of summer!
But when and where did the holiday start? After doing a little digging, it seems there are several claims to the “first” Memorial Day. I’ve known for some time that Memorial Day is a commemoration to all who have died defending the United States of America, but, here’s what I didn’t know. During the Civil War, the Washington Race Course in Charleston, SC was converted to one of several Confederate camps for Union prisoners of war. Where men died and were buried in unmarked graves. In April 1865, “freedmen” (freed enslaved Africans) exhumed the bodies from the mass grave to give the men a proper burial. They built a fence around the burial ground, with an arch reading “Martyrs of the Race Course.” On May 1, 1865, thousands of freed slaves, children, and Union soldiers made a procession to the cemetery. They laid flowers on the graves, and picnicked on the grass — they called it “Decoration Day”. There was also a separate day to honor the Confederate dead created for those who did not want to celebrate the honoring of the Union dead. During the mid-20th century, all of the celebrated days were merged into what is now known nationally as Memorial Day.
As we go about our the day with Memorial Day picnics, barbeques and other celebrations, let us also honor and and remember all of the men and women who gave their lives in service to this nation. And God Bless Our Troops please, Always with Love!
Have a Happy Holiday — And if you are one of the 34.3 million travelers this year… safe travels to you!
© 2011 Preservation Society of Charleston
Courtesy of The South Carolina Historical Society
To Appomattox and Beyond: The End of the War and a Search for Meanings
By David W. Blight – Yale