Memorial Day Has African American Roots; First One Was Conducted By Former Slaves

by Kwik


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Seems like giving black folks credit for anything in America except crime and poverty is controversial.


And the origin of Memorial Day is no different. Some want to say it started out as "Decoration Day," which was started in northern states in 1868, or that the first Civil War soldier's grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia, on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. However, in my opinion laying flowers on a grave doesn't meet the standard.


The overriding consensus is that the first "Memorial Day" was organized and held by former slaves in Charleston, S.C. in 1865 to honor Union troops who lost their lives in the Civil War and were buried nearby.  Here's part of the Wikipedia entry:


The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course." Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen's schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries.   Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park.  Years later, the celebration would come to be called the "First Decoration Day" in the North.

David W. Blight described the day:


"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.”


Even though I'm a military veteran, I didn't even know that history until I saw this on Twitter yesterday: 

KHARY PENEBAKER @kharyp  ·  May 24


#MemorialDay was started by former slaves on May 1 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers #UniteBlue


Great stuff.

Happy Memorial Day!!




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