You might not have heard about this in history class, but it's a powerful post-Civil War story.

"I'm much more interested in the meaning that's being conveyed in that incredible ritual than who's first."

Memorial Day marks the day each year when Americans honor the country's fallen soldiers.

Falling on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971. The holiday often is celebrated with parades, picnics, and just some general patriotism. It along with Labor Day serve as unofficial bookends to the "summer season."


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Interestingly enough, the exact origin of the holiday remains a hot topic of debate, with a number of locations around the U.S. taking credit for starting the tradition.

Was it in Waterloo, New York, in 1866 that sparked nationwide celebrations? Or maybe Major Gen. John Logan's May 30, 1868, observance that kicked things off?

Regardless of who celebrated it first, people have been honoring fallen soldiers in Memorial Day-like traditions for quite some time.

One of the earlier, lesser-known stories involving these types of traditions was that of Charleston, S.C., in 1865.

In the spring of 1865, the Civil War came to an end with the Confederacy's surrender. In total, somewhere between 618,000 and 850,000 men died over the course of the four-year war.

With the war over, the almost exclusively black population of Charleston began the long process of picking up the pieces of the torn city.

Images by PBS.

Toward the end of the war, Washington Race Course was used as a prisoner-of-war camp for Union soldiers.

More than 200 Union soldiers died while being held at the racecourse, most to disease and exposure. At the time, those men were buried in large mass graves.

The bodies were buried behind the racecourse's grandstand, and so the men, women, and children of Charleston decided to do what they thought best and most respectful: they offered the bodies a proper burial.

The celebration began with the building and painting of a fence with the words: "Martyrs of the racecourse."

Yale professor and author David Blight did some of the most in-depth coverage on those April and May 1865 events.

Blight has made the argument that this is the actual first Memorial Day celebration, but as mentioned above, it's not really known whether or not this is what influenced the first official day.

He described the events like this:

"At nine o'clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren marched around the racecourse, each with an armload of roses and singing 'John Brown's Body.' The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freed people. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens. ... This was their way of saying what the war meant to me and what America means to me. They were now freed men and women." — David Blight

Does it really matter who started Memorial Day? Maybe not. As Blight has said, "I'm much more interested in the meaning that's being conveyed in that incredible ritual than who's first."

Watch David Blight elaborate on the story of what happened those days in Charleston, S.C. in this PBS clip.

More
Courtesy of Houseplant.

In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
popular