The Incredible [Black] Origins of Memorial Day

“The ‘First Decoration Day’ came to be recognized in some circles in the North when an estimated 10,000 people, most of them former black slaves, gathered at a place called Planter’s Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina. The race track was a prison for Union soldiers, of whom at least 257 died. They were buried behind the judge’s stand in unmarked graves. The African American citizens of Charleston built a fence around the graves, landscapes the area, and painted a sign which read ‘Martyrs of the Race Course.’ On May 1, 1875, the 10,000 blacks marched round the Race Course and formally dedicated the martyr’s cemetery. Thus, the first Memorial Day was born.”

[excerpt from On the Altar of Freedom]


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