The Village

  • The Origin of Memorial Day

    May 6, 2013. Written by Karen Safo-Barnieh

    According to some historians, Memorial Day originated following the U.S. Civil War as a tradition celebrating the emancipation of former slaves and to honor those who gave their lives for that cause.

    The significance of Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day, has evolved over the years into a general celebration of all soldiers and veterans regardless of the war they served in.

    Many believe that the meaning of the day evolved to ‘remember the sacrifice’ of all U.S. soldiers was not a coincidence and that the shift in purpose was imposed intentionally to prevent blacks from honoring and appreciating the efforts of our ancestors who fought for freedom.

    In his article “How Memorial Day Was Stripped of Its African-American Roots”, Ben Becker states that this change was established during the Jim Crow period, when the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country under political mourning. This required the removal of the diverse political issues the black community fought for.

    The removal of ‘politics’ from Memorial Day, weather intentional or not, limits the ability for the black community to acknowledge the role they played in their own emancipation which inspired Decoration Days initially.

    Could our governing bodies enact policies to eradicate certain parts of history?  Or was Memorial Day really established to genuinely celebrate various soldiers and veterans who fought for freedom.

    If we are to truly understand our identity, we must study and preserve our history to pass on to future generations. This Memorial Day when we honor soldiers and veterans throughout history who have stood on the front line fighting for freedom, let us not forget the fight of our ancestors, and honor their memory and the origins of Decoration Day.