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This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend! What are your plans? Known informally as the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day is the national holiday set aside to honor those who died fighting for our country, but did you know that the Memorial Day celebration in the United States was started by Black people, specifically emancipated former slaves? Here’s a story for the gang at the cookout, after the parade, or maybe after visiting the gravesite of a fallen hero or family member…

May 1st, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, a group of emancipated former slaves, knowing of a mass grave at the site of of a confederate prison camp, containing the bodies of 257 union soldiers, decided to do something remarkable. They dug up all 257 bodies and worked for two weeks to give each soldier a proper burial in gratitude for those soldiers dying to help gain the slaves their freedom. After the work was completed, a parade was held with 10,000 participants, including by 2,000 Black children, marching,singing and celebrating their freedom. There were speeches by Union officials and sermons by Charleston’s local Black clergy, followed by a dedication of the site and a full brigade of Union troops marching around the graves. People stayed on the scene to eat, socialize and enjoy bands playing celebratory music.

Though the custom of observances honoring those who gave their lives in military service goes back hundreds, even thousands of years worldwide, and though there are other claims about the origin of Memorial day, the custom of doing so at this specific time of year goes back, in the United States, to those grateful, freed slaves in South Carolina at the close of the Civil War.

The custom spread across the country until, in 1868, Major General John A. Logan,the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Union Army) gave an order for the decoration of the graves of fallen soldiers, Decoration Day, to be observed on May 30th each year. The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the day was New York in 1873. By 1890 all the northern state had officially adopted it. It wasn’t until after World War 1 that the south came aboard,when the holiday was changed from honoring just Civil War dead, to honoring the dead from all US wars. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday in May, after passage of the National Holiday Act by Congress in 1971.

by Jerry Wells – from

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