Today is a holiday that in my lifetime has been overshadowed by bbq, crabs, and trips to the beach or amusement parks, depending on where you live. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first called when it was celebrated at the close of the Civil War, was a much more solemn occasion.
According to David W. Blight’s book, “Decoration Day: The Origins of Memorial Day in North and South”, In Charleston, South Carolina in 1865 Freedmen celebrated at the Washington Race Course. The site had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp for captured Union soldiers in 1865, as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, Freedmen exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard.
On May 1, 1865, a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2800 children, proceeded to the location for events that included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the nation’s first Decoration Day.
That’s a far cry from what Memorial Day has ‘devolved’ to these days…the ‘unnofficial’ beginning of summer.
Go to a National cemetary and pay your respects, or sit down and talk to your uncle, aunt or grandfather about WW II, Korea, or Vietnam…or maybe it’s your brother or sister that has served in our most recent conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Thank a veteran, or a service member today for their service, and remember freedom has never been free.