Written by Rosa Morgan
Dear Ladies & Gents,
Did you grow up thinking the only significance to Memorial Day was that it signaled the time to switch your black shoes and purse for white ones? Was it the beginning of your Summer vacation and perhaps warranted a trip to the seashore?I'm Sergeant William Carney, a member of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the first African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I'm here to tell you the origins of this day.
Memorial Day was initially called Decoration Day, and the first known event occurred in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865 at the Washington Race Course. More than 200 Union soldiers had died there in a Confederate prison camp and been buried in a mass grave.
After hostilities had ended, the freed slaves exhumed the bodies and reinterred them in individual graves.
On May 1, thousands of people, mainly black freedmen, came to decorate the graves, giving solemn speeches for the heroic dead.
In 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, put forth that "Decoration Day" should be observed nationwide. May 30th was chosen as the day because it was not the anniversary of a battle.
The Women's Relief Corps led the way in the annual celebrations. Speeches became opportunities for patriotic nationalism, often making the point that the German and Irish soldiers had become "true Americans" in the baptism of blood on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s bitterness between the North and South was easing and speeches praised the brave soldiers of both Blue and Gray.
The term "Memorial Day" wasn't popularized until after WWII and not declared the official name until 1967. When I was praised for my acts on the battlefield, I replied, "I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground." So, today when you light up the grill or take a dip in the pool, take pause, and consider all the soldiers of all the wars who have taken their last breath for our country.
Dear Gentle Reader, Please leave a comment as to how you spent your Memorial Day.