Black Origins of Memorial Day

I want to say thank you to all of men and women that serve in the US Military. I have a deeper appreciation for the African Americans that fight for the United States. Every war or conflict America has been involved African Americans displayed their loyalty through fighting for the United States. As we celebrate another Memorial Day I believe it is important  that we have knowledge of the origins of this holiday.

Charleston, South Carolina Memorial Day 1865

David Blight Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory suggests that Charleston was occupied by Union troops in the Spring of 1865, while most of the white residents fled the city. The free black population of Charleston, primarily consisting to proclaim the meaning of the war as they saw it. On May 1, 1865, at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, which was an elite facility. Previously it was used by the Confederates as an gruesome prison  and mass grave for unlucky Union soldiers. Black laborers dug up the remains of Union soldiers, as a way to give them a proper burial, and built the trappings of a respectful cemetery around the site to memorialize their sacrifice.

African American War Memorial in Washington, DC

A new tradition emerged. Black and white leaders came together to organize a parade of 10,000 people. The New York Tribune wrote an article about the parade. Both the book and article discuss the scene of the first Memorial Day Parade. At the front of the parade were 3,000 Black children, laden with roses and singing the song "John Brown's Body," while bringing up the rear was a brigade of Union troops. These troops included the Massachusetts 54th Regiment and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops. They were the focus of the 1989 film Glory.

First Memorial Day Black Infantry

San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, James De Wolf Perry
Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory David Blight (2001)


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