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The Village Lou

Uncovering the Truth: How Black Americans Founded Memorial Day

May 15, 2024 02:01PM ● By Marie Lewis

As Memorial Day approaches each year, Americans gather to honor and remember the brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. While many are familiar with the traditions of Memorial Day, few are aware of its origins rooted in the efforts of Black Americans.

The History Channel and many credible historians have confirmed that the popular holiday was, in fact, initially an event held by newly liberated Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina. It happened on May 1, 1865, right after the Civil War ended. Thousands of newly freed slaves and regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops gathered to march around a Confederate Army prison camp in honor of the unnamed fallen Union soldiers who fought for their freedom. Also in attendance were thousands of Black women and children who reportedly sang hymns and carried flowers, wreaths, and crosses.

This act of remembrance and reverence, known as the "First Decoration Day," was one of the earliest instances of Memorial Day observance in the United States. It was a powerful testament to the resilience, bravery, and humanity of Black Americans, who, despite enduring the horrors of slavery and oppression, demonstrated unwavering patriotism and devotion to their country.

However, the holiday was later whitewashed. Historian and author, David W. Blight, said in his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory that years later African Americans were suddenly erased from the story at the end of Reconstruction. Yes, that's right. A day that originally celebrated Black liberation was now being utilized for white supremacy, and it apparently all started from an 1865 article that was published in the Charleston Daily Courier that tried to discredit the facts.

As we commemorate Memorial Day each year, let us remember and honor the legacy of those who paved the way for this solemn day of remembrance, including the courageous freedmen of Charleston who founded Memorial Day with their unwavering commitment to honoring the fallen. Let us ensure that their contributions are acknowledged and that the true history of Memorial Day is preserved for future generations.

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