Monday, May 25, 2015

It's Decoration Day: Be Solemn and Respectful

From TPM:

Yet Memorial Day’s original meanings and narratives are significantly different from, and would add a great deal of complexity and power to, how we see them nowadays. The holiday was first known as Decoration Day, and (per thorough histories by scholars like David Blight) was originated in 1865 by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. The slaves visited a cemetery for Union soldiers on May 1st of that year and decorated their graves, a quiet but very sincere tribute to what those soldiers have given and what it had meant to the lives of these freedmen and women.


Yet despite this telling national shift, former slaves continued to honor the holiday in their own way, as evidenced by a powerful scene from Constance Fenimore Woolson’s local color short story, “Rodman the Keeper” (1880). Woolson’s protagonist, himself a Union veteran living in the South, observes a group of ex-slaves leaving their decorations on the graves of the Union dead at the cemetery where he works as a caretaker.

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