The real history behind Memorial Day has been diluted over the years. In 2021, many recognize the national holiday as a time to celebrate and pay tribute to war veterans and U.S. troops currently serving their country.
But as people whip out their barbecues and raise their American flags and party hats, the history behind the holiday is one more deeply profound.
Memorial Day was initially referred to as “Decoration Day.” The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, after the Confederate army was defeated. On May 1, it is reported that as many as 10,000 freed Black men and women assembled in historic Hampton Park, where they placed flowers on the graves of unnamed soldiers. The crowds were led by thousands of schoolchildren carrying roses and singing the Union anthem “John Brown’s Body.”
Mainstream renditions of the day’s history vary.
“The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration,” Dr. David W. Blight, a historian at Yale, wrote in an for The New York Times in 2011. “The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”
On Saturday, Dr. Greg Carr spoke in depth about the real history behind Memorial Day during “In Class with Carr.”
You can watch the class in full below if you missed it live.
If you haven’t already signed up for Knarrative, home to the largest Africana studies class in the world, you can do so here.