2022 – The Black Origins of First Memorial Day were almost wiped out of history

Korean veterans of the all-black and first-ever Ranger unit during the Korean War.

  • Newly liberated African Americans who fought in the Civil War decorated soldiers’ graves on the first memorial day cited on May 1, 1865.
  • More than 10,000 former slaves and white missionaries held a parade at the racetrack in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Memorial Day became a national holiday in 1889.

The origin of Memorial Day has been hotly debated, with many cities across the country claiming it was the birthplace of the first celebration. These include Waterloo, New York, Carbondale, Illinois, and others.

However, in Charleston, South Carolina, one celebration is believed to have preceded any other in the country. In 1865, newly freed African Americans fighting in the Civil War decorated soldiers’ graves in the first recorded commemoration of Memorial Day, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David W. Blitt.

At that time it was called “Decoration Day”.

According to Blight’s 2001 book, Race and Reunification: The Civil War in American MemoryOn May 1, 1865, more than 10,000 former slaves and white missionaries staged a parade in which schoolchildren, members of Black Union battalions, and black religious figures walked through a racetrack in Charleston.

“There was a file that had ‘First Decoration Day’ written on it, and inside it was on a piece of cardboard a handwritten account by a veteran and a date referring to an article in the New York Tribune. This narration told us the gist of the story I finished telling in my book about those Marching on a racetrack in 1865,” Blitt told history.com about the discovery in 1996.

James Redpath, the white director of the Freedmen’s Bureau (an organization that helped establish schools for newly freed slaves), had more than two dozen Union officers, missionaries, and black ministers give speeches while attendees sang songs like, “We’ll Rally Around the Flag” and “Stars and Stripes.”

Later that afternoon, three white and black Union officers walked around the soldiers’ graves and paid tribute.

The New York Tribune called it a “parade of friends and mourners unlike anything South Carolina or the United States had ever seen.”

“The war is over, African Americans hold Memorial Day in a rite of remembrance and dedication,” Blitt wrote in his book.

According to Blight, “Charleston Whites banished this institution from memory for many years.” It is alleged that someone at the Confederate Girls’ Union asked the Charleston Ladies’ Memorial if the 1st May 1865 memorial ceremonies had actually taken place, and one woman said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t gather any official information in response.”

This refusal was routine for many archivists in the area.

By 1868, the Memorial Day observance had been entered into the historical record under the direction of General John A. Logan, President of the Union Army Veterans Group. He urged Americans to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington Cemetery with flowers on May 30.

In 1889, Memorial Day became a national holiday.

About 620,000 soldiers died in the civil war, most of them from disease.

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. It is a federal holiday in honor of those who died in service.

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