Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States. The day is to remember and honor people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. What most people do not know is that Memorial Day was started by former slaves!
In his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Professor David W. Blight made the case that former slaves started Memorial Day. On May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina they honored 257 dead Union Soldiers. They had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.
They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children. They were newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. They marched, sang, and celebrated, and built an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
In 1868 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868. The head of an organization of Union veterans established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
General Logan declared it to be celebrated on May 30th of each year. Many will say that this event was not the origin of the modern holiday observation. It was officially known as Decoration Day. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
“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.”