This Day in History: 1865-05-01

Over 10,000 formerly enslaved African Americans establish the precedent for our modern observance of Memorial Day when they march onto the former Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina, which had been turned into a prison camp for Union Soldiers, in order to commemorate the hundreds of soldiers who had died on those grounds. The African American freedman had worked in the previous weeks burying the bodies of the soldiers. They also cleaned up the grounds while creating an enclosure and an arch that stated “Martyrs of the Race Course”. The day, which was called “Decoration Day,” was attended by the freedman, teachers, missionaries and members of the National Print Press. The marchers brought flowers, sang songs, prayed, listened to sermons and later had picnics.