The Curated Memorial Day Celebration of 1865

One of the first curated Memorial Day celebrations can be traced back to 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.  Free black Americans held a series of commemorations in the Spring of 1865 after Union soldiers, including members of the 21st United States Colored Infantry, liberated the port city of Charleston, S.C.

One of the largest of these commemorations took place, May 1, 1865 at an old racecourse and jockey club where hundreds of captive Union prisoners had died of disease and been buried in a mass grave.  The black residents exhumed the bodies and gave them proper burials.  They built a fence around the cemetery, and an archway over it with the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

10,000 people, mostly black residents formed a parade of mourning, led by thousands of schoolchildren carrying roses and singing the Union anthem “John Brown’s Body.”

Hundreds of black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.

Black men, including Union infantrymen, also marched.

A children’s choir sang spirituals and patriotic songs, including “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Black pastors delivered sermons and led attendees in prayer and in the singing of spirituals, and there were picnics.

All is this was captured and documented in the Charleston Daily Courier and the New York Tribune newspapers.

Just reading the account of this curated celebration brings me JOY!

That’s the power of a curated celebration- they are multi – sensory and immersive, creating memories for years and generations to come.

Talking with my mom, this day would come to be know as ‘Decorator’s Day’ in the black community.  A day you not only take the time to clean up and decorate the graves of those that served our country, but your family grave sites as well.

Our family will carry forward some of these same traditions in our own way, a small curated family cookout and visiting family member grave sites to decorate.

How are you celebrating the start of summer and commemorating our fallen hero this Memorial Day holiday?

Learn more about this early curated Memorial Day celebration here.

Our sited account of the commemorations in the Spring of 1865 was taken from Times Magazine article, ‘The Overlooked Black History of Memorial Day’ by OLIVIA B. WAXMAN, MAY 22, 2020 12:00 PM EDT