Monday, May 25, 2009

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 and was then known as "Decoration Day." It was a day to honor the then recently fallen Civil War soldiers by decorating their graves.

It was originally observed on May 30, 1868 by proclamation of a General John A. Logan. At the very first Decoration Day celebration, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and over 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 confederate and union soldiers.

By the late 1800s, the day had come to be known as Memorial Day. Following World War I, the celebration expanded to memorialize those who had died in all of the Nation's wars.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated across the country to honor those who has served in our Nation's armed forces as well as all others who were near and dear to us.

What is ironic to me though the fact that 141 years after the 1st celebration and speech at Arlington National Cemetery, our new President Barack Hussein Obama, the nation's 1st black president delivered the speech today at the annual event. The irony to me comes from the fact that the Civil War was fought over the enslavement of blacks and that most of those buried there that fought in that war, died over the issue.

This is just a testimony of how far we have come as a Nation.

1 comment:

Kevin Fogle said...

Hi Karen,

I am an archaeology graduate student in South Carolina and have started a project on Witherspoon Island Plantation in Darlington County. The project will involve research into the enslaved community and I wanted to reach out and see if you had any sources of information in Louisiana on the plantation, the descendants of the enslaved community or the Witherspoon descendants. I suspect some of the family records and maybe plantation records moved to your area with Boykin Witherspoon in the mid-19th century. I would really appreciate your knowledgeable help!

You can reach me at

Thanks so much,


Kevin Fogle
University of South Carolina
Department of Anthropology
Doctoral Program