Memorial Day holds a special place for many Americans, especially those who serve in the nation’s military. While past and current members of the armed forces are most certainly honored, what few realize is that the practice of celebrating America’s soldiers gained popularity due to a group of freed Blacks in the South.
In the town of Charleston in South Carolina, the celebration of what was called “Decoration Day” was held to give respects to fallen soldiers from the Union Army in the North. The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, with the Union victorious over its Confederate foes. In order to celebrate the victory and honor the dead, on May 1 of that year around 10,000 freed Black men and women gathered in historic Hampton Park.
The group placed flowers on the graves of unknown soldiers, a practice held often in times of war. The event caught the attention of the nation, and it was largely understood by Whites to be a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation passing in 1863. However, it was far more than that for those gathered.