Not everyone lives a full life in crescendo. Some people’s lives are cut short in pursuit of their dreams. After the Civil War the federal government began a program of creating national cemeteries for the Union dead. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, the first known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who had been prisoners of war were detained in the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Freedmen (freed slaves) knew of the Union dead and decided to honor them. Blacks in Charleston organized a May Day ceremony that was covered by many national reporters. Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is known as Hampton Park.

Historian David W. Blight described the day: “This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”

So as you celebrate Memorial Day, consider the significance of how many people laid down their lives in pursuit of freedom and the ability for all humans, regardless of race, creed, sex or origin, to pursue their dreams and live life in crescendo.


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