Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day


Memorial Day.  

It has become a day to sit out and have a cookout here in the US, think about your veterans, perhaps do some more.

In this day of the Internet, stories get flung around about things, and of course there's always a varied degree of truth to the stories.   Some of the most outrageous ones are the political and truth there is rarely the object of the story, it exists as a call to action to get people to agree with a cause.

One of the stories was a romantic retelling of the origin of Memorial Day.  It gave me pause and a reason to do a little bit of research.  Since people have been remembering their fallen for as long as there have been people, this idea of a day of remembrance isn't new, but the way we did it was new and unique to America.

The story goes that former slaves reburied dead Union Prisoners of War in May 1865 in Charleston, SC and held a cemetary dedication ceremony.  They had a celebration that led 3000 black schoolchildren who marched around the grounds decorating them with flowers and setting aside the land at a race course behind a whitewashed fence which was consecrated with an official dedication ceremony conducted by the ministers of the black churches in Charleston.  This was the same city where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor, seemingly coming full circle.

That happened.   It didn't create a national Memorial Day holiday, but it is a wonderful story.  The implication was that these freed black slaves were grateful to their liberators that they spontaneously did this act in order to honor their release. 

There was an event around the same time that started in Waterloo, NY in the summer of 1865 with a local druggist suggesting to his friends at a social gathering that while praising the living Civil War veterans was great, it would be well done to remember the war dead by placing flowers on their graves.  As with most good ideas, this was a false start, but on May 5, 1866 the city was decorated and flags flown at half staff in a sign respect.  This happened again next year and by 1868 Waterloo joined in with the Grand Army of the Republic's observance on May 30th.

The original holiday was created three years later when the Commander in Chief of the Union Veterans Organization called the "Grand Army of the Republic" established Decoration Day as a day of remembrance and a day to decorate the graves of the fallen.  The date was picked as May 30 since it was late enough in the year to allow flowers to bloom all over the country.  Everyone will then have a chance to participate.

The timing of the two events coincided to allow the holiday of remembrance to continue and build steam.   It became a national event through time, and official in New York State on March 7, 1966.  The US House and Senate passed the concurrent resolution recognizing the birthplace of Memorial Day as Waterloo, NY on May 17 and 19th of 1966.  President Lyndon B. Johnson signed that proclamation on May 26, 1966.

While the trauma of the Civil War faded, the need to honor those who kept us free hasn't.  However you do celebrate it, have a happy Memorial Day.

No comments:

Post a Comment