NBC12 VIEWPOINT: The First Memorial Day

By: Kym Grinnage email

On Monday earlier this week, we celebrated Memorial Day to commemorate all of the American fallen soldiers of the combined wars in our history.

There are many accounts of the first Memorial Day, some in the south some in the north, but there is one Memorial Day celebration that many consider to be the first organized recognition.

The Race Course camp in Charleston, South Carolina, a place that would later be known as Hampton Park, had been turned into a prison camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

For two weeks former slaves, teachers and missionaries worked to create a proper cemetery for 257 dead Union soldiers. The groups that organized the works were know as the "Friends of the Martyrs" and the "Patriotic Association of Colored Men".

On May 1, 1865, 10,000 former slaves, along with missionaries and teachers honored those soldiers with a daylong ceremony which included sermons from preachers; songs sung by 2800 black children and of course a picnic. During the ceremony the grave sites of the soldiers were decorated with flowers and this day became known as Decoration Day.

A year later, Waterloo, N.Y., celebrated what has been credited as the first Decoration Day. A tradition began and within 20 years this holiday changed to Memorial Day.

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