27 May 2013

Memorial Day History

Charleston, S.C. 1865
I couldn't resist passing on this wonderful photograph and bit of history that was being shared on Facebook. I have never seen this picture before. 
"According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first Memorial Day was observed by formerly enslaved black people at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, formerly enslaved people exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard. The work was completed in only ten days. On May 1, 1865, the Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2,800 children, proceeded to the location for a celebration which included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day."
Edit: I was informed that although the story is historically true the photograph is not from Charleston but a scene in Hampton, Virginia. This link has more information on the beginnings of Memorial Day

13 comments:

  1. Beverly4:10 PM

    What a great piece of Memorial Day and Charleston history. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

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  2. What a great bit of history.

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  3. Thanks Joan. I thought that photograph looked like around here too, but with leaves not really on trees as of May 1 I am wondering if it was in fact a May 1 photo, and maybe a Feb photo, which in fact I really think it looks like. (A Live Oak - a big native here- stands in the background.) Great story.

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    1. Good point. It is a school picture with the students saluting the flag so probably not related to Memorial Day at all. We are guessing someone read the word Hampton and related it to Hampton Park where the event took place in Charleston. Now it is being spread far and wide as a Charleston photo on Facebook.

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    2. Anonymous11:21 PM

      Just goes to show you that you can't believe everything you read or see on the internet.

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  4. john prince8:27 PM

    A lot of things masquerade as fact on the internet. But I know one thing: that this is not a May 1 photo in either Charleston or Hampton Va (SE Tidewater, where I live) It looks like a photo in the dead of winter here, and whoever posted it as a May 1, 1865 photo is just not sharp.

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    1. Yep. The photo doesn't belong with the content. Cool photo though and made me learn more about it.

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  5. Joan, my dear friend, I am sure you have found several photos that are of the actual time period, so I will not bother to direct you to another. What I will offer, however, is that is a local that, in fact, uncovered this, and shared his research with Dr. Blight. Unfortunately, he was never credited. Nevertheless, I encourage you to look up Dr. Damon Fordham and read what he has done and is doing for research and the community. He is on FB.

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    1. Thanks Donna. It is an amazing picture. I think the Hampton, Virginia/Hampton Park thing got mixed up but not before it got passed along everywhere.

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  7. interesting way of saluting the flag. Roman influence among blacks of the time?

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    1. Read back through the entry, comments and edits. Wikipedia has a lot of info on the beginning of Memorial Day as well.

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