(CHARLESTON – May 25, 2019) – Did you know that Memorial Day, although it is not a well-known fact, was started by ex-slaves? Credit is often directed to May 5, 1868: “In a formal sense, the modern Memorial Day originated with an order issued in 1868 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, for the annual decoration of war graves.”
However, according to History.com, what has become America’s Memorial Day had roots three years prior: “As the Civil War neared its end, thousands of Union soldiers, held as prisoners of war, were herded into a series of hastily assembled camps in Charleston, South Carolina. Conditions at one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure, and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.
Three weeks after the Confederate surrender, an unusual procession entered the former camp: On May 1, 1865, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the Union dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the ‘Martyrs of the Race Course.’”
It is not unlike America to fail to acknowledge the role of African Americans in every era of this country’s evolution, including the Revolutionary War. Even more, there are still those who think that the first Africans came to America by way of a slave ship.
Thank goodness we know better!