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Amplifying the Black Origins of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers, a day to honor their ultimate sacrifice. But did you know the Black origins of Memorial Day? Black Americans birthed the tradition of honoring and mourning those we lost while serving in the United States Armed Forces.



While the official national commemoration began in 1868, there's its origins began much earlier. In May 1865, just days after the Civil War ended, freed Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina, held a solemn ceremony at a former racetrack that had been a Confederate prison camp. It was here, thousands gathered to honor Union soldiers, many of whom had fought for their freedom.


Newspapers of the time documented the event, describing a parade led by 3,000 Black schoolchildren carrying flowers and singing "John Brown's Body," a powerful anthem of the abolitionist movement. Black ministers delivered sermons, and the day concluded with prayers and spirituals. This emotional tribute, organized by Black Americans themselves, is strong evidence that they, not long removed from slavery, were the first to commemorate fallen soldiers.


General Order No. 11, was issued in 1868 by General John A. Logan, formally established a National Day of Decoration for soldiers' graves. This order is often credited with starting Memorial Day. However, the aforementioned Charleston ceremony predates it by three years, highlighting the tradition and gratitude of Black communities.


Remembering this often-forgotten history is imperative. It underscores the complex narrative of the Civil War and its aftermath. Black soldiers, who fought bravely for a Union that hadn't fully embraced equality, were the very ones who first honored their fallen comrades. Their actions not only reflected their respect for those who died but also their own yearning for a just and free society.


As we observe Memorial Day, let us honor and remember all who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice. Let us also acknowledge the echoed whispers of our ancestors who played a pivotal role in shaping the American tradition - Memorial Day. Our ancestors' voices, and act of honor is one of resilience, gratitude, and an undeniable understanding of the true cost of freedom.

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