Skip

The First Decoration Day
May 28, 2010 10:34 AM   Subscribe

The First Decoration Day was held by freed slaves on May 1, 1865 at the Washington Race Track in Charleston, South Carolina to honor "The Martyrs of the Race Course": Union POWs who had died in a Confederate prison camp there. Decoration Day later became known as Memorial Day.

Two hundred and fifty-seven Union prisoners had died at the prison camp and been buried in mass unmarked graves. The former slaves reburied the solders in individual graves and decorated them with flowers. The ceremony commemorating the POWs involved a parade of 10,000 people, the 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops.

The Charleston ceremony had been largely forgotten until Yale History professor David W. Blight
rediscovered it while doing some research (fom his excellent course The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877.)

The former Washington Race Track is now part of Charleston's Hampton Park, named after Confederate general and South Carolina governor Wade Hampton. Seven Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day as a separate holiday.
posted by kirkaracha (18 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I never knew it was in honor of Union soldiers after the Civil War. I was never good at history.

In a way, that makes it all the more appropriate that Obama is honoring Memorial Day at a cemetery in Illinois where Union soldiers are buried. And to head off dumb debates about whether Obama should have gone to Arlington or not, keep in mind he's not really the first to not go to Arlington for Memorial Day.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:56 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seven Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day as a separate holiday.

Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:57 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


At this point, aren't all the confederate soldiers so long gone that nobody alive even remembers them firsthand? And it's not like they were fighting for something noble (unless you pretend the Civil War wasn't about slavery, which is one nasty plate of beans to deal with).
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2010


Seven Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day as a separate holiday.

Jesus fucking Christ.


Don't knock it. I get the day off work.
posted by dortmunder at 11:09 AM on May 28, 2010


Yeah, my guess is that no politician in his right mind is going to take away a holiday.
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2010


Thanks for the informative post, by the way. Fascinating backstory I was completely unaware of until now.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:17 AM on May 28, 2010


I was also unaware that both Texas and Arkansas celebrate said Confederate Memorial Day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A total coincidence, I am sure.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:20 AM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just finished David Blight's _Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory_. He talked about this, and how about it was twisted and co-opted.

Very hard, very sad book. Unfortunately it supports my long time conclusion that the Confederacy lost all the battles but, eventually, won the war.
posted by QIbHom at 11:22 AM on May 28, 2010


I'm going to celebrate Memorial Day by burning a Confederate Flag. Never forget.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


the Confederacy lost all the battles but, eventually, won the war.

If they hadn't, we would've never needed a Martin Luther King. And we wouldn't need another one now (instead of his pathetic 'successors').
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2010


That sounds like a good plan, Oneswellfloop. Any idea on how to get a confederate flag without giving money to racists? Or should I just learn to sew one myself?
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:35 AM on May 28, 2010


Any idea on how to get a confederate flag without giving money to racists?

Too bad it's gonna rain here this afternoon. Normally, I'd offer to go walk around the neighborhood trailer park and steal one for you while the residents are sleeping off their meth binge.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:40 AM on May 28, 2010


"I never knew it was in honor of Union soldiers after the Civil War. I was never good at history."

Well, I was (am?) ok at history but apparently only as good as the material I was provided because this is new information to me. Perhaps it's because I'm 46 and grew up in Seattle where I've never heard of either Decoration Day or Confederate Memorial Day.

I think that one day some acknowledgment specifically of the deaths of Confederate soldiers is due both as cautionary and because a population is never monolithic. I don't think we are anywhere near that though.

Good post.
posted by vapidave at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2010


I'm going to celebrate Memorial Day by burning a Confederate Flag. Never forget.

I was tempted to say in the post that some states observe Confederate Memorial Day as a separate but equal holiday, but I didn't want to editorialize.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:16 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Blight's lectures in Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 through Yale's Open Course are absolutely fantastic. I've listened to tons of pedagogical audiobooks and recorded courses over the years and this one might be the very best ever in my experience.
posted by turbodog at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Florida still celebrates the confederate version, how come I have never heard about it till today? I wasn't off from my job at a state college on April 26.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:23 PM on May 28, 2010


This post, and Blight's book, have inspired me to ride my motorcycle to Antietam this weekend. It just seems appropriate.
posted by QIbHom at 7:09 AM on May 29, 2010


Seven Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day as a separate holiday.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Don't knock it. I get the day off work.


dortmunder, you are not funny.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:58 PM on May 29, 2010


« Older None of them ever came home.   |   Caped Crusader against Corruption Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post