Every last Monday in May, Americans celebrate the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have died in wars. Memorial Day might very well be America's holiday that has the most interesting histories, and one of the least well-known origins: it began as a way for freed black slaves to say "Thank you" to the killed Union soldiers who had liberated them.
"There were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy."
The story begins at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina, which had been converted into a Confederate prison during the Civil War. 257 Union troops had died from the horrible conditions at the prison, and they were buried without coffins in unmarked graves behind the old judge's stand.
On May 1, 1865, less than a month after Lee's surrender, about 10,000 people, most of them freed slaves, observed what is called the first "Decoration Day" ceremony. The day began at 9am, with 3,000 black children, newly-enrolled in school, marching around the Race Course; followed by 300 black women who brought crosses, wreaths, and flowers for the graves; and finally the members of the Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men. The day included a dedication that was given by the ministers from all the black churches in Charleston; 30 speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionists; laying flowers at the graves; a parade of Union infantry; and picnics on the grounds. A newspaper reporter recorded the event:
"when all had left, the holy mounds--the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them--were a mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond... there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy."
This Memorial Day, join us in remembering those who have fallen and what they died for.
MyHeritage lets you record the memories and deaths of your ancestors. The Family Tree Builder Virtual Cemetery allows you to record people who have died and any information relating to their death, such as the date, place, and cause; and if they were serving in the armed forces, the war, battle, and any other information.
If a person in your family tree has information in their Virtual Cemetery, a small tombstone image will appear on their card. You can access this information by clicking on the icon. You can also search for information in the Virtual Cemetery using the query feature. This is a great way to quickly find information about your ancestors.
We hope the Family Tree Builder Virtual Cemetery helps you record the lives of your ancestors, so that you can remember all that they accomplished in life.